Casting Crowns

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad…Psalm 40:16

True confessions –like many of you, my nativity set includes three wise men. I know that their visit was likely a year or more after the event in the stable, but I like the visual of both rich and poor, wise men and shepherds, those from faraway lands and nearby fields, all worshiping together at the manger. It brings to mind the passage in Revelation 5 when God has purchased those from “every tribe and language and people and nation” to serve as priests in God’s kingdom. The incarnation was for everyone.

Last night I dreamed I was about to drive off the edge of a cliff. I say “about to” because, as is often the case in this type of dream, I woke up at just the right time to avoid crashing. Because of this, Matthew's passage (Matthew 2:1-23) which said the wise men (and later, Joseph) were “warned in a dream” stood out in stark relief against the background of the story. How did they know they were receiving wise counsel during the night, as opposed to, say, reacting to some spicy pizza? What made the wise men “wise?”

Their story begins with the clue that “they came…asking.” For some reason, they knew that the star in the sky had significance. This “star of wonder” did not just cause awe and amazement, but it made them “wonder” what they should do about it! Following the star (and perhaps some astrological charts and kingdom prophecies), they came to Jerusalem asking “Where is the child? We have come to worship.” They are seeking to know the God who created this star, the God who communicates through creation, as well as through dreams.

King Herod gets wind of their questions around town and learns of the “ruler who will shepherd Israel.”Herod feels threatened by this other king and calls the wise men in to find out more. The wise men don’t know of Herod’s plan for evil and continue seeking. They are willing to search long and far in order to worship this king. When they see the star over the home where Jesus was, they are “overwhelmed with joy.” They “knelt down” to pay homage; the child was exalted. They gave lavish, expensive gifts (and traveled a long way to give them); their worship required sacrifice.

All of this gives me pause as I consider my own life. Modern assumptions about the sufficiency of scripture and confidence in all I’ve studied may lead me to conclude I already have the answers. But “they came asking.” Am I truly seeking out this king-child Jesus? Am I looking for Jesus in those around me, expectant of his presence? Or have I become complacent in the incarnation story, lazy in its familiarity? The story of the Magi reminds us that Jesus welcomes those who are asking and seeking. In fact, later in Matthew’s gospel we read that Jesus encourages such asking – he reminds us that “everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds” (Matt 7:8). Even skeptics full of doubt are welcome at the manger.

The Magi search is rewarded with the presence of the king, and their joy leads to worship. The scene here reminds me of one in Revelation 4 where the 24 elders fall at the throne, casting their crowns at the foot of the one who lives forever. This is a beautiful word picture. When you think of a crown, don’t you think of royalty, and riches, and diamonds?Something you would value highly? But like the wise men in Matthew 2, the elders in Revelation lay down their crowns…their symbols of leadership, power, and possession. When we ask, we may find that some of the answers are hard. Does our own seeking lead to joyful, extravagant worship? Are we willing to lay down our crowns at the feet of the child-king?

As we wind down these last few days before Christmas, I am thankful for Advent reminders to wait, to watch, to seek, to ask. Don’t fall prey to the constant clamor to do and buy more. Our waiting and seeking will be rewarded. The Psalmist reminds us:

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts… They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, Who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Are you asking and seeking after Jesus this week? You are in good company.

Dawn Gentry Johnson City, TN MDIV student at Emmanuel Christian Seminary Member of Grandview Christian Church

On Following Stars and Dreams: Hope in the Unclear

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 

While Mary had just finished her season of expectation, the wise men’s journey, predicated on a cryptic, yet profoundly meaningful message, a star, had begun. We don’t know what kind of star it was, but to the wise men, who were known for their esoteric knowledge and certainly studied the movement of stars, this was a special message that the baby king had arrived; a sign that they evidently expected to see because they knew its meaning as soon as they saw it. Living some distance away, the message of this star was so impressive that it motivated what they did next. This king, like the stars in the sky, could be witnessed by anyone. The impact of Jesus instantly spread all over the world at his birth.

The wise men pursued the star in response, using it as a light source and roadmap as they traveled in foreign territory through dark nights, laden with expensive gifts and expecting to get to their destination safely. The promise of the star assured them that they would find who they were looking for once they got there. For the wise men, Advent was not merely waiting and watching for stars, but it encompassed advancing upon the star and a foreign king.

What did the baby king mean to the wise men? These were men who were not considered to be God’s people, yet they understood the significance of this star, as well as the birth, enough to risk traveling a great distance to pay homage. They were strangers who approached King Herod with confidence, sure in the promise of this birth and the place they had in it. Their confidence was rewarded, unwittingly in dangerous circumstances, with the final steps they needed to get to Bethlehem.

Matthew tells us that the wise men were overwhelmed with joy on seeing that the star had stopped (2:10). They were men who likely didn’t expect to live to see this great kingdom come to fruition and didn’t expect to be part of it. Fruition for them was seeing the star stop moving and the baby, not in a palace, but in a modest home.

Later in the chapter, God’s messenger communicates to the wise men (2:12) and to Joseph (2:13, 2:19, 2:22) through a series of dreams giving them travel instructions. Get up and go.

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 

Like the stars, dreams typically appear to us at night and even the most intense or lifelike dreams usually become foggy and forgettable within hours of waking. What can appear quite meaningful at night becomes less significant in the daylight when one is conscious. But like the star, the message and the messenger of these dreams emerged from the shadows of sleep and memory loss as an overwhelming light compelling the wise men, and Joseph, to follow their instructions.

They traveled in hope – the wise men, hoping to see the child, while Joseph, who was now experienced at receiving and obeying the messages in these dreams, traveled to save the child. He left by night into a foreign country to keep his family safe and then back into dangerous territory in hope that the promise of the child would come to fruition. And when Joseph was unsure of where exactly in Israel to go, he was given further direction when he needed it.

As we wait for Christ during this Advent season, consider that the meaning of Advent pushes beyond hopeful expectation into real action. It is getting up and going without having a clear picture of where to go or what to expect once you get there. It’s trusting God to get you there safely when you don’t know what the consequences are for following His instructions. It’s having enough faith in your journey to ask for help along the way. It’s preparing for the arrival with gifts ahead of seeing that there will be something to celebrate. It’s confidently knowing that even as an outsider, you belong and that the promise is for you too.

LaCanas Y. Tucker Manhattan Church of Christ New York, NY