December 19: True Joy!
December 19, 2015
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
by Josh Moody Each year our family has a tradition of opening one Advent Bible reading starting on December 1 and finishing on Christmas Day, December 25. This year I am sharing those Bible readings with some thoughts based on them for use as a devotional during this season. To receive these Advent readings directly in your inbox, sign up here. Matthew 2:7-8:
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”In the Bible, Herod comes across as a real piece of work. Likewise, the historical accounts of his behavior are not favorable to his reputation – redeemable as we all are by grace if God wills. Herod acts with suitable cunning that fits his malevolent reputation. He calls the Magi “secretly” – anything done in secret, in the dark, has a reason not to want to be in the light. There may well be, and of course are in certain circumstances, reasons to keep confidences, but secret political deals in smoke-filled rooms are rarely commendable. This one was certainly not commendable. He wants to know more details. Perhaps his reason for bringing the Magi back to him, and for them actually returning to him willingly, was to feign an academic interest in the astrological stargazing technicalities that so clearly fascinated these “wise men from the east.” Having gotten them back into his presence, and won them over with pleasing academic discussions about their passion, he comes to the real point at hand. He “sent them to Bethlehem.” He wants to know where the child is, and what could be a better way of discovering that than using these inadvertent and unwitting Magi as tools for that end. The Magi themselves had innocent, noble, and high reasons to find the child, and so their “searching carefully” for the child would not rouse suspicions among friends and neighbors the same way that a cohort of Herod’s guards or some secret police or agent would arouse suspicion. The child and his parents are less likely to hide from Herod if they do not know that Herod is looking for them. If Stalin’s agents came knocking around the neighborhood asking where a certain person was, then people would likely be suspicious. If a friendly foreigner, with no apparent agenda, asks to find a local newborn child, then the good-willed friends and neighbors are far more likely to be forthcoming about where the child might be. Apparently, Herod is not above outright lying. He wants to go to Bethlehem too and “worship him.” Who was he kidding? He was pretending to be an outright seeker after God, a pious devotee, someone who wanted nothing better than to bow the knee before the Christ-child. Unfortunately, there are those who pretend to be interested in spiritual things for no other reason than for what they can get out of those spiritual things. When religion is popular, some will join and “worship” in order to make good contacts for their business or their career. Their real agenda is quite different than the worship songs or the preaching or the service events of the worshipping church. They are really there for something else – to make contacts with people for their own ends, and come across as a good person by being seen to go to “worship.” When religion is not popular, then people may want to “worship” for other reasons: to find out where the worship center is, secretly hidden, to hear what is being said by the preacher so it can be maliciously reported to the news, to undermine from within by lies and gossip. Unfortunately, not all that glitters is gold, and it is wise for churches to not only welcome all to come to worship Jesus, but to have some sort of membership process to establish, in the judgment of charity, who is really a member of Christ. This part of the Christmas story reminds us that while there is much about Christmas that is kindly sentimental, sweet, and deliciously peaceful, even at the first Christmas, Christ came to a world desperately in need of peace. If this Christ-child can rule at the first Bethlehem, and in that place with the Roman Empire and Herod as king, then he can certainly rule in our world today and bring peace to us all through genuine worship of Him.
How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of His heaven. No ear may hear His coming, But in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive him still, The dear Christ enters in.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Phillips Brooks, 1868]]>
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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