Preparing for Messiah

I see him, but not here and now.
I perceive him, but far in the distant future.
A star will rise from Jacob;
a scepter will emerge from Israel.

Numbers 24:17 NLT

Let’s take a look at the Christmas story through the eyes of the Magi. Have you ever wondered about the wise men, who they were and how they recognized THE star that pointed to Jesus’ birth?

Who were the wise men? We get our word magic from the word “magi,” the term attributed to the wise men of the east. They were brilliant scholars who studied medicine, prophecy, religion, and astronomy. They studied the skies to find answers to questions about life. It was not uncommon for them to associate an unusual appearance in the heavens with the birth of a king.

The Bible does not tell us how many wise men there were, just that they brought three gifts. They were possibly from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen (Persian empire). Although tradition calls them kings, they were likely advisors to a king.

For years, the magi studied the stars, but what made them connect the coming of the King of the Jews with this particular star? They may have known the prophecy of Balaam (Numbers 24:17), and they would have been aware of Jewish prophesies of a coming Messiah.

The Persians knew about the prophesy of a Jewish messiah from their interaction with Daniel and other Jewish people hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. We don’t know what convinced them that the star they saw one night was so extraordinary that it must point to the birth of the Messiah, but we know God must have had a hand in it.

They had been waiting and preparing for this moment for years, so they packed up their gifts and brought their servants along for the long caravan trek west to Bethlehem, following the star for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles. How’s that for a high-tech navigation system engineered by our Creator?

My friend, Todd Agnew, recalls, “I was reading about the wise men and God really challenged me, saying “Do you see how they prepared?” They had studied, they journeyed to see him, they pursued him, they brought the most worthy gifts they could find. God said, ‘Todd, are you willing to prepare for Christmas?’ I’d never really thought about it before. You try to make sure your shopping is done and at the last moment you say, ‘Oh Jesus, thank you for coming.’ But he said, ‘Will you prepare for an encounter with the Christ child this year?'”

We read the Christmas story once a year, and over the years we think we know all the details there are to learn. What if God has more to show us if we take the time to meditate and listen to the Spirit’s prompting instead of hurriedly reading the passages we know so well?

How would your life be different if you began preparing for an encounter with Jesus early in December with the same enthusiasm you have in decorating your house, buying presents, going to parties, and baking cookies?

It’s easy to get disillusioned and cranky at Christmas when people don’t act the way you expect them to, when you run out of money before you buy all the gifts on your list, and when the family dinner leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps we are looking for and expecting the wrong things. C. S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you get neither.”

What can we learn from the wise men? (There’s much more to their story, but we’ll get to that another time.)

* They had a sense that God was up to something.
* They were looking for Messiah so they could worship.

What about you? What is God up to in your life? Are you open to the prompting of his Spirit or does the busy noise of life drown out his voice? Are you looking for him every day or just on Sunday? Or maybe just at Christmas?

“The wise men studied.” They devoted their lives to studying the heavens for a sign from God. We are blessed to have ancient scriptures preserved and translated into many languages, paraphrases, and versions, yet how seriously do we study it or even casually read it?

“They journeyed.” We may travel hundreds or thousands of miles to go on vacation, but do we make that kind of effort to know God better? If the answer is no, why not? What if journeying toward God means much more than just going to church once or twice a week? What if it means walking next door or in the neighborhood toward people who need to know you care.

“They pursued God.” They must have been full of excitement and anticipation to meet a king, not realizing that he was their creator and redeemer. Today with our understanding of who Jesus is, why aren’t we more overwhelmed and passionate when we come together to worship?

C. S. Lewis wrote, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

“They brought the most worthy gifts they could find.” What are the most worthy gifts you can give to a king who owns the whole world? Yourself, your time, your possessions, your affection, your money, your plans, your heart.

My Lord and King,
I love you. I admit that I get sidetracked by the craziness of this season and take my focus off of you. Forgive me for being self-centered and obsessed with my own comfort. Prepare my heart for your coming. Open my eyes to see your glory all around, not just at Christmas, but every day of the rest of my life. Ignite a greater passion in my heart for you. Help me share your love and kindness as a lifestyle, not just a holiday discipline. Thank you for coming to be Immanuel–God with us.



Copyright (c) 2017 Brenda Branson

God With Us

You can find the music used for these devotionals from three CDs available at Amazon or iTunes:

Do You See What I See by Todd Agnew & Friends
Christmas Stories by Jason Gray
Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson