The Gift That Keeps on Giving

hockey-stick

At our recent Bedford Carols Mash Up I mentioned the phenomenon of the Four Gift Rule. I didn’t make it up. It’s a thing apparently. I got it from the BBC website here.

Here it is in outline: want, need, wear, read. It’s essentially parenting by numbers. And honestly, sometimes in parenting, numbers is just what you need. The gist of the article is that it’s possible to establish a watertight contractual arrangement between parent and offspring whereby they accept that they only receive four gifts at Christmas as long as each of the four presents fulfils one of the following criteria.

1. One must be something that they want.
2. One must be something that they need.
3. One must be something to wear.
4. And one must be something to read.

Three of those are dead easy. Number two son is getting a set of Simon Mayo’s ‘Itch’ books. Mrs P needs a new iron. Don’t worry. It’s not the only thing she’s getting. I’ve bought her socks as well. Favourite daughter will happily wear a new cycling top. But what they want, that’s a shocker. Number one son wants a new hockey stick. The top of the range option is £270. For a hockey stick! That’s not happening.

But what do they want? I could ask them. But that’s risky. I don’t want them to think that my enquiry signals some sort of implicit commitment to fulfilling their desires. But what do they want? And, more importantly, why do they want the things that they want? That’s got to be worth asking, hasn’t it? After all why do any of us want the things that we want? Surely we want what we want because of what we believe it will offer us. Deep down, what we want reveals what we really want. And that’s worth knowing.

I wonder whether what we want boils down to one of three essential things. We want security, significance or satisfaction. In other words we want to feel that it’s all going to be OK and that we’ll be safe. That’s security. We want to feel that we mean something and that we really do matter. That’s significance. And we want to feel that we’re fulfilled. That’s satisfaction.

We may well get presents this Christmas that offer us one or more of those things. I’m hoping for a week long cycling trip to Tenerife. And that’s all to do with satisfaction. A little to do with significance. I’m getting older. My powers (though not inconsiderable) are on the wane! I feel like I have a little bit less to offer as I get older. That makes me feel a little less significant. But cycling long distances with a group of others who are similarly minded gives me an identity. And that matters to me. Probably more than it should given that who I am needs to be rooted in Christ and the gospel. But I’m simply revealing why I want the things that I want.

We may give and receive ideal Christmas presents this year. They may be what the recipients or we want. But all our brilliantly chosen Christmas gifts will wear out or their effect will wear off. No created thing can offer us ultimate security and guarantee that everything will be alright in the end. No created thing can offer us ultimate significance and guarantee that we matter. And no created thing can offer us ultimate satisfaction and guarantee unending pleasure. But God has given us a Christmas gift that will. This gift will fulfil every aspect of our deepest desires. The gift of Jesus will one day provide us with unmatched security as we rest at peace forever in his glorious New Creation. He will provide us with eternal significance because we’ll belong to his people as his treasured possession forever. And he will provide us with unstoppable joy as we take pleasure in who he is and what he’s given us. That’s some present, isn’t it? It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Each present we give or receive will at best provide us with only a temporary glimpse of the greatest present of all. So let’s make sure that in the midst of all our present opening we don’t neglect the greatest gift of all. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ John 3:16.

A myrrh-velous gift for Jesus!

the_knitivityIn an idle moment this week, I googled images of the nativity depicted in a variety of artistic genres. It was a slack week. I found computer generated imagery, an ancient fresco, stain glass from the Cathedral in Chicago, a cross stitch picture and my personal favourite, a model kit known as the ‘knitivity’. Do you see what they’ve done there? Can you guess what was wrong with them? I don’t mean from an aesthetic point of view. I think we can safely assume we’re all on the same page with regards to that. My interest is not so much with the how it’s portrayed but with what these images portray. My issue with these is that it that they represent something that never actually happened.

I’m not talking about the birth of Jesus. I’m not one of those church leaders that rewrite the Christian faith to fit in with the mood of the nation and ‘get down with the kids’! I’m convinced by the wealth of historical data that Jesus’ birth happened as it’s described in the Gospels. Jesus was born. To Mary. In Bethlehem. Having been miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit. And born as the Son of God. With shepherds. And angels. What I don’t believe actually happened is what’s depicted in those pictures I found on Google. You see, the shepherds and the wise men never met. They never visited Jesus at the same time. In Luke’s Gospel we’re told that the shepherds pitched up on the night that Jesus was born. But in Matthew’s Gospel we’re told that the wise men came to visit Jesus in a house some time later. Even though it’s become common practice to collapse these two events into the traditional nativity, it never actually happened. And that’s the problem with lots of the events around Christmas. What happened and what we choose to believe happened are sometimes two very different things. Perhaps never more so with the events captured in the Christmas Carol ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’. Apart from the fact that they weren’t kings, there weren’t three of them and they didn’t come from the orient, it’s right on the money!

So let’s get a few things out of the way. If you’ve got Matthew 2:1-12 to hand, you’ll find it helpful to see where I’m getting my facts from.

Traditionally we describe these visitors as kings. But the Bible calls them Magi. They studied the stars and interpreted ancient writings. From their astrology and their interpretation of literature they were convinced that a birth had taken place that was worth investigating. They had a point! It just so happened that their interpretation about ‘the one born king of the Jews’, was spot on. Traditionally there are three of them. But the Bible doesn’t say how many of them there were.  We assume there were three because there were three types of gifts. But when was the last time you went to a party and all the blokes remembered to bring a present? It’s much more likely that there were more than three of them. Tradition has given them names; Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar, which are great names for goldfish. But there’s no evidence whatsoever that these were their real names.

So now we’ve cleared away the inaccurate tradition we can get on with what really happened. During the week I asked our congregation to name the worst present they’d ever received.  And the reason I did that is because I want us to consider very briefly the presents that these wise men presented to Jesus. But before we do, it’s worth hearing some of their answers.

  • Laura’s Mum was one of six kids and one year they were each given a fire extinguisher.
  • One year his family didn’t know what to buy Tom. And so they pretended that he was really into meerkats and bought him meerkat memorabilia including toys, models and calendars. It turns out he wasn’t.
  • Ed’s friend was given the Lester Piggott autobiography three years in a row. And as he pointed out, it was a bad choice the first time.
  • Claudia was given hand made woollen underwear by her Grandmother. Feel the love!
  • Staying with the underwear theme, Phil knew a bloke who was given edible chocolate pants. Only marginally preferable to inedible chocolate pants! I am available for panto.

Matthew tells us that the Magi or wise men opened their treasures and from them brought out gold, frankincense and myrrh. He says nothing at all about the meaning of these three gifts. Obviously there’s been lots of speculation. Down the centuries Christians have suggested that there’s deep symbolism to their choice of gifts. We need to remember that most blokes don’t give a lot of thought to the significance of their gifts when they buy them. But as it turns out two of the gifts are ideally chosen. Gold is a precious metal. It’s usually associated with royalty since it signifies extravagant wealth. Frankincense is a glittery, smelly resin taken from the sap of a tree. It’s usually associated with worship because when it burns it produces a smoky incense that rises up to God in the heavens. There’s something appropriate about those two gifts. After all, by virtue of his birth into Joseph’s family Jesus was born as a descendant of the great King David. Jesus could claim to be the rightful ruler of God’s kingdom. And, by virtue of his birth through a miraculous conception Jesus was born as the divine Son. Jesus could claim to be God in a human body. These two gifts were entirely fitting.

And then there’s myrrh. Myrrh has got to be one of the worst choices ever.  I’ve given some pretty inappropriate presents in my time but none of them comes close to the disaster bringing myrrh to Jesus. I’m bad but I’m not as bad as my American friend Bill. He’s consistently played me onside. He’s got an unmatched history of choosing inappropriate gifts for his wife; the vacuum cleaner for Christmas, the kitchen bin for her birthday and the toilet seat for their anniversary was a particular low point. He’s from Texas. But I’ve checked and it’s not normal there either. But none of them comes close to the shocker of choosing myrrh for Jesus. Myrrh was commonly used in the first century as embalming spices. It’s what you put on a dead body so that you can’t smell it as it decays. It covers the foul stench of death. And so giving Jesus myrrh is like going to a kids’ baptism and bringing a coffin. It’s so not what you get a baby boy for Christmas. There was something very wrong about this present.

And yet there was also something very right about it as well. After all, what do you get for a baby whose crowning achievement is going to be his own execution? What else do you give a boy whose life is going to be forever defined by his death? From our perspective it’s just awkward. It’s a really badly judged present. But it’s not like that. It’s brilliant. We often struggle to connect Christmas with Easter. But Christmas and Easter go together like mistletoe and wine, Marks and Spencer or Ant and Dec. The gift of myrrh helps us make the connection. Jesus was born as the Messiah, you can see that in (4). And the Messiah was the character the Old Testament predicted would come to rescue God’s people. The Messiah was always going to be a saviour. A Christian writer has summed it up in these words, ‘If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been financial, God would have sent us an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Saviour’. Jesus Christ was born to save us because we need forgiveness. He came to save us from our sins by providing forgiveness through his death. We’ve all made a mess of the life that God has given us. To varying degrees no doubt. And if we’re honest with ourselves we’ll admit that. But none of us has lived life in the way that treats God as God. Not with any consistency. And he’s rightfully angry with us for that. So we desperately need His forgiveness. Which he provides. In his Son. Because He loves us. Of course, Jesus saved us not in his birth, but in his death. But Easter needed Christmas. But he came to die. That was his crowning achievement. From our perspective it looks like a senseless waste of a promising life. But it was his finest moment.

I read a story this week about a private in the British Army, a man called Robert Key. He died in 1944 during the Allied Liberation of France. It had been thought that he had died as a result of messing around with a hand grenade. But historical accounts have recently come to light which tell quite a different story. Eyewitness reports say that he snatched a live grenade from a young boy who had picked it up and was playing with it. Key ran away with it to protect the boy and twenty other school children. He sacrificed Himself so that he could save others. In some small way that illustrates what Jesus Christ accomplished in His death. He saved us by sacrificing himself. It wasn’t the full force of a grenade’s explosion that Jesus removed; it was the full force of His Father’s anger. He did that so that we would never need to face it. So that we could be forgiven.

The gift of myrrh reminds us of that. I don’t imagine for a minute the bloke who gave it had the first idea what he was doing. Like most men he’d probably left his Christmas shopping till the last minute. Myrrh was all that was left in the gift department at John Lewis. It was that or a nativity snow globe. With the shepherds. And the wise men.  The gift of myrrh reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Saviour. And that Jesus is the saviour for sinners.  The gift of myrrh reminds us of Easter and make sense of the gift of God’s Son at Christmas.

Christmas Advertising

A recent article on the BBC website took advertisers to task for their inaccurate depictions of the contemporary Christmas. I think they had the annual John Lewis ads (which I love) in the cross hairs. The article argues that advertisers consistently portray the typical Christmas in the following seven ways…

  1. It always snows
  2. Mums do everything
  3. Everyone is happy
  4. Nobody spends Christmas alone
  5. Everyone has a real Christmas tree
  6. Everyone loves their present
  7. People give to charity at Christmas

On closer inspection, however, the truth is somewhat different

  1. It doesn’t always snow. In fact it rarely snows. We’ve only had a white Christmas four times in the last fifty one years. It’s statistically more likely to snow on Good Friday than Christmas.
  2. Not everyone is happy that Mum is expected to do everything. This year’s Christmas advert from ASDA focusses on a frazzled Mum singlehandedly masterminding the family festivities. It’s already attracted 191 complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency for being sexist. Writing in the Independent, Becca Preston, said ‘it’s insultingly retrograde and simplistic’. But Siobhan Freegard, the founder of Netmums, said the supermarket has got it spot on. And I agree with her. It shouldn’t be like that. But it usually is. As the voiceover in the advert says ‘behind every great Christmas there’s Mum’. It also then says ‘and behind every great Mum there’s ASDA’. And I thought ‘not in Balham there’s not’. Mums in Balham don’t tend to shop at ASDA if they can help it!
  3. A significant majority of people will not be happy this Christmas. Relate, the Counselling Organisation, report that 68% of people expect to row over the holidays. And 39% of people anticipate the biggest argument will take place on Christmas Day! Probably over whether the Christmas special of Downton Abbey should ever have been allwoed to be made.
  4. The charity ‘Friends of the Elderly’ predict that 500,000 elderly people will be alone this Christmas. That is a terrible statistic. There’s nothing funny to say about that. Half a million pensioners will ‘celebrate’ Christmas on their own. That’s miserable.
  5. Somewhat more light heartedly, only a fifth of people will enjoy the pleasure of pine needles dropping onto their carpet this Christmas. At the other end of the taste spectrum, the same percentage go for a coloured artificial tree. Half of the population will be self-deluded since 50% of people in recent years have opted for a ‘realistic’ artificial tree (which I think is an oxymoron like pretty ugly, Microsoft Works and wise men).
  6. If everyone loves their presents, then why do charity shops expect what they euphemistically describe as an ‘uplift’ in donations in the days after Boxing Day? The most popular present purchased last year was reported to be the DVD of Mamma Mia.  The most popular donation to charity shops was the DVD of Mamma Mia. Coincidence?!
  7. Wonderfully it’s true that charitable donations increase by 19% during the month of December.

But apart from the last one, I think we probably ought to conclude that Christmas advertising isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But it’s not always been that way. The first ever Christmas advert was spot on. No one complained to the Advertising Standards Agency about the content of what must have only been a thirty second slot. An angel simply told a bunch of Israeli farmers ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

I am a sinner in need of a saviour. And I’m not alone; there are others like me out there! And God sent Jesus Christ as a saviour for sinners. That’s very good news. It causes me great joy. And it can do for all kinds of different people.

There’s nothing misleading in that Christmas advert now, is there?

However you dress it up …

I cycled past this hoofing great advertisement yesterday morning. It’s in Balham, on the corner of Bedford Hill and Rossiter Road. Despite the early hour and my weary condition, I couldn’t help noticing it. This is surely what ChurchAds.net were hoping for.

They’re a charitable group made up from a coalition of Christian organisations that includes Premier Christian Media, the Evangelical Alliance, the Church Army and CPO. I’m familiar with some of the names who make up the council of reference. Though we don’t move in the same circles; we may not even be on the same theological page. But I like their work.  They’ve been behind the Christmas promotional campaigns over the past few years. You can see some of their previous work here.

The poster is certainly arresting. It wouldn’t look out of place on the front of the Sunday Times colour supplement. The shepherds are re-cast as cycle couriers. The wise men are entrepreneurial businessmen who bear luxury gifts; a Swarovski crystal perfume bottle, a Faberge egg and a Damien Hirst diamond encrusted skull. Mary looks stunning in a dress by Zara and Joseph cuts a dash in a John Varvatos jacket. The shoes by Church’s is a nice touch!

The poster campaign has provoked some reaction in the blogosphere. The Rev Dr Peter Mullen, writing in his Daily Telegraph blog, really didn’t like it. His main beef seems to be that because the redesigned nativity characters are clad in expensive designer clothing, the church is somehow complicit in the rampant materialism that so often accompanies Christmas. I think he’s missed the point. The intention of the ad is not to say ‘it’s OK to dress Christmas up in designer gear’ but instead ‘given that Christmas is already dressed up in designer gear, let’s not make a further mistake and miss out on the centrality of Christ’. And I don’t say that because I rate my interpretative ability higher than The Rev Dr’s. It’s what the designers of the poster say about their work. The website says

‘It’s the meeting of Christianity and high street consumerism, with Christ in the middle’.

And Francis Goodwin, the Chair and Founder member said this,

‘With recent events, from looting of high-value goods to recession and job losses, and with millions of people heading for shopping centres, there can be no better time to remind people that consumerism and expensive brands are not the point of the festival’.

That’s pretty clear then. We can at least appreciate what the authors were aiming for. And let’s not be unfair. This is a poster for goodness’ sake. What the designers can accomplish is limited by the medium that they’ve chosen. It’s not a sermon where we can qualify everything that we say and round off the edges with nuance and clarification. You’ve only got one hit with a poster. And I think they’ve nailed it.

On her blog, Ruth Gledhill has a fuller analysis and some great quotes from the likes of John Sentamu and others who back the campaign.

As for me, I really like it. It works for me. And it lifts my spirits every time I’ve been passed it since. I’m glad that it’s there. And I’m not alone. Apparently 61% of people liked the campaign poster. And 41% said that it made them think about the true meaning of Christmas. It’s hard not to be pleased with that. I’d be happy if 6 out of 10 punters left my Christmas sermon liking what had been said about Christ and 4 out of 10 prepared to think further.

But I like it for other reasons. I like the fact that the gifts are lavish and luxurious. It befits someone who’s worthy of extravagant displays of adoration and affection. I like that Jesus is unseen; untarnished by the consumerism. I like it that Jesus is centre stage; the focal point of the action. I like it that everyone at the scene is captivated by who he is.

I just hope that in amongst the materialism that accompanies my Christmas, I can keep my eyes as firmly fixed on my Saviour as I will on my presents.

We Three Kings …

Every year our preconceived ideas of what happened  are reinforced by the Christmas cards that we send and receive. Most card designers get it all wrong. And I don’t blame them. The original Christmas is so much less appetising than the one that really took place. If you take away the snowman, the robin redbreast and the stable then what you’re left with doesn’t make for a great picture.

I’m not the first person to say that there’s a fair bit of myth in the traditional Christmas. The Archbishop of Canterbury put himself in hot water a few years ago for suggesting something very similar. He argued that much of what passes for the traditional Christmas is simply legend and can’t be established from historical records. I’m not known for defending the Archbishop of Canterbury. But on this one, he’s right.

And so I want to take the opportunity in this post to clear away some of the confusion that’s arisen about Christmas.

Take Matthew 2:1-12, for example. What we’re about to consider is embodied in the carol, We Three Kings of Orient Are. It’s one of those carols for which the dodgy lyrics are so much easier to remember than the real ones. So you’ll have no trouble in remembering

We three kings of orient are, One in a taxi and one in a car, One on a scooter blowing his hooter, Following yonder star.

The second verse may be less well known,

We three kings of Leicester Square, Selling pants a penny a pair, Quite fantastic no elastic, Not very safe to wear.

The internet has made my job so much easier! But even the real lyrics of that carol get it all wrong. Not all wrong, that’s not fair. They get some things right.

We can be pretty sure that they were blokes. If they were women they’d have stopped and asked for directions, got there in time for the birth, helped deliver the baby, cleaned up the stable, cooked a lasagne, arranged a food rota and brought something more useful for the baby than gold, frankincense and myrrh.

But we know that they weren’t kings. They were Magi, a sort of astrology-theology hybrid. Their well intentioned scientific study of the stars and their interpretation of ancient writings provided them work acting as advisers in Royal Courts. It just so happened that their interpretation about ‘the one born king of the Jews’, was spot on.

We don’t know how many there were. It’s a good guess that there were three of them since there were three types of gifts. But when was the last time you went to a party and all the blokes remembered to bring a present? It’s much more likely that there were more than three.

We don’t know what they were called. Tradition has given them the names; Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar, which make great names for goldfish. But there’s no evidence whatsoever that these were their real names.

So what do we know? Let’s put tradition to one side for a moment and look at the Bible.

Matthew, the writer of the gospel named after him, took great care to record historically reliable information about these significant events. He was one of Jesus’ first followers, having left behind his job as a Jewish tax collector. So our author was an accountant working for the civil service. You’ll see where I’m going to go with this. I don’t suppose they’ve undergone significant evolutionary change. The questionable sartorial taste and tedious conversational topics have no doubt remained. But more importantly for our purposes so has the fastidious attention to detail. Which means that when Matthew says in (1), ‘after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod’ we can be sure that this is a deliberate attempt to locate these events in terms of geography and history. Matthew wants us to know that though this is Christmas, it’s not panto. The birth of Jesus took place at a particular place and a particular time.

Matthew is one of two gospel writers, the other being Luke, to spend considerable time on the events around the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew is the only one to record the visit of these astrologer theologians. They came from the east to search out a new king. Matthew wants us to know that this is not only a king for the Jewish people but that he’s king for everyone. But for most people, Jesus is one of the dispensable parts of Christmas. We could never do without mulled wine, mince pies or a tree. But Jesus is expendable. But the wise men realised that he’s the most enjoyable bit.

We see that in their response to finding Jesus. Matthew tells us that they responded in three ways.

1. They were overjoyed (10)

When the wise men saw the star they were absolutely delighted. This was among the happiest moments of their lives. They were so delighted to have found the child king. And like the bubbles in our seasonal Prosecco, their irrepressible elation rose to the surface.

I suspect that we find the jubilation of the wise men a little discomforting. It’s a million miles away from the cool hearted detachment with which most of us respond to the existence of Jesus.  Enthusiasm makes us nervous, especially religious enthusiasm. And above all there’s nothing that unnerves us quite so much as enthusiastic religious men. But their discovery of Jesus was so exciting that they couldn’t contain themselves. For men to get excited it has to be pretty significant. It takes something as significant and rare as English sporting success to get me on my feet in praise.

Are we prepared to get excited about the existence of Jesus Christ? Some of us may not be there yet, but what if we go back a stage. Are we prepared to believe that there’s something about Jesus that might give us reason to get excited? Millions of people around the world have discovered Jesus Christ for themselves, some of them may be known to you, many of them have done that as adults and they’re chuffed to bits.  Could you be next?

2. They paid homage (11)

On seeing Jesus for the first time the wise men fell to their knees. This is an unusual way for a grown up to respond to a child. I have a friend whose young son whose misbehaviour was doing her head in. On the pavement outside Brixton station she got down on all fours and pleaded with him to stop whingeing. It must’ve have made a great sight!

We might expect an adult to stoop down on their haunches and approach a child on their level in order to be understood. But that’s not what’s going on here. The word’s translated ‘bowed down’ and ‘worshipped him’ imply that they prostrated themselves on the ground before him. That’s not normal. Adults don’t usually lie down flat on the ground in front of small children unless they have very good reason to do so. These wise men thought that they did. They were absolutely convinced that this child possessed authority unlike any other.

They knew that this child was already a king. We’re not exactly sure why they came to this conclusion. It may be that since they came from the east they were inhabitants of the Babylonian Empire. Therefore the deported Jewish immigrants taken from Israel under military exile in the 6th C BC might have taught them that the Old Testament. After all, as the quote from the prophet Micah in (6) makes clear, the Old Testament anticipates a new world leader to come from Israel. We just don’t know. But what we do know is that this child is the king of kings.

And so, will we treat this child with the respect that he deserves? Many of us respond to Jesus with indifference, we can’t be bothered to do hostility. But our indifference towards Jesus is not a small thing. It’s one thing to be apathetic about any old newborn. But this is not any old newborn. This child was born the eternal divine king. I can’t expect to persuade you of that in a two thousand word blog post. But the existence of global worshipping communities throughout history who have been absolutely convinced of this child’s uniqueness ought at least to open us up to the possibility that there’s someone to be reckoned with within that manger.

The Bible’s consistent testimony is that every single one of us, regardless of our age, class or ideology should copy these wise men and get on our knees in submission and give him the respect he deserves.

3. They gave gifts (12)

Matthew tells us that the wise men opened their treasures and from them brought out gold, frankincense and myrrh. He says nothing about the meaning of these three gifts. Obviously there’s been lots of speculation. Theologians since the days of Origen have suggested that there’s deep symbolism to their choice of gifts. But we need to remember that their men and most blokes don’t give a lot of thought to the significance of their gifts. They just want them to be expensive, then useful and occasionally they’ll give some thought to desirability.

  • Gold indicates royalty because this child had been born the King of the Jews.
  • Frankincense indicates divinity because this child though a human was also divine.
  • Myrrh indicates mortality because this child was born to give himself in sacrificial death.

What’s most surprising amongst those gifts is the myrrh. I’m pretty sure I’ve given some inappropriate gifts in my time. There was the Christmas when I bought my wife a cookbook, a food mixer and some kitchen knives! It’s what she needed! But giving embalming spices to a newborn takes the biscuit. But actually it’s right on the money. This child was always going to die. Every child will die. But this one had a special death to die. The kid in the manger became the man on the cross. And when Jesus died on the cross, he bore the brunt of his Father’s anger, so that we wouldn’t have to. His death protects us. He saves us from destruction. That’s wonderful. It’s as though, in his substitutionary death, Jesus acted like a lightning conductor. It’s there to protect a building. It bears the brunt of a lightning strike so that the building doesn’t have to. It saves the building from destruction.

Given that Jesus is the sort of divine king that dies to save his people from their sins, we can begin to appreciate why these wise men were so lavish in the gifts they showered on this young boy. They gave their best because he gave himself.

I’m sure it’s entirely fictitious but I heard a story this week about a boy at church who found himself in an awkward position when the collection plate came around. Seeing this large metal plate being passed along the pew on its way towards him he scrambled about in his pockets and brought out a conker, a marble, a piece of used chewing gum and a paper clip. As the plate came to him he put it on the ground and stepped on it. It was a graphic way of saying that he belonged to Jesus because Jesus had captured his heart.

Are we prepared to give ourselves? Does the idea that we could give something of what we have in adoration of and devotion to this child seem utterly preposterous?

Conclusion

I wonder whether you’ve ever had to search for something you really wanted to find. I lost my eldest son once and I was like a man possessed. I needn’t have worried. He’d locked himself in the toilets at Tooting Leisure Centre with a girl from down the street. They were six.

If we want something desperately enough, if we value it highly enough we’ll go to any lengths to track it down. There’s nothing we won’t turn upside down in our relentless pursuit. Everything gets put on hold until we’ve got what we want in our possession.

These Gentile astrologer theologians were absolutely determined to track down a child they regarded as the king of kings. I’m not suggesting that we need to go to the same lengths as they did. The good news is that we don’t need to. But let me encourage us not to give up on the search until we’ve found what we’re looking for.