Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gifts


Rembrandt's Adoration of the Shepherds

On the night Christ was born ---- Mary and Joseph were present, there were shepherds and angels (the former having been invited by the latter), and there were likely a few animals sharing the manger with them. On the night of His birth ---- there were glad tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10). But on that night, there were neither presents nor wise magi from afar. 

On that first starry night, when the Christ child looked up at the stars He had created, no wise men had arrived yet...

It was one to two years after Christ's birth, when the Magi (wise men) arrived bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12).

The manger scene we depict is actually not accurate. We have combined Luke 2 and Matthew 2 into one neat scene ----but it is important to remember accurately, the facts that surround that special night when God's Gift breathed air.

Christ was born in a manger, not in a house or inn. It is believed he was born in warmer months, not in the winter months. Shepherds were in the fields tending their flocks at night (in colder months, shepherds usually brought the flocks in to the manger at night). Angels visited the shepherds, inviting them to welcome the One who had come for all men. So they came to the manger on the very night of Christ's birth.
It was months later before the wise men arrived. They journeyed "from afar" on camels, it was a slow trip. When they arrived they found Mary and Jesus in a house... not a manger (Matthew 2:11).

Rembrandt's Adoration of the Magi

These wise men, two thousand years ago, were among an elite group of scholars who trained, guided, and "made" Kings. Kings who had been born into kingship by the blood in their veins. The wise men knew this baby was the prophesied King, He had been foretold, they had been watching for Him --- from above the world not from within it. When they arrived in Jerusalem they asked,“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) They saw HIS star, they came to worship HIM, they knew the King of the Jews had been born. Herod was horrified at their revelations. Many Bethlehem babies died because they came, they asked, and Herod believed. (Matthew 2:16)
Imagine if the wise men had not inquired of Herod. If we could stick to Luke's telling of the story, where no wise magi are even mentioned and Herod's frantic efforts to destroy the infant king could be erased. Only in the book of Matthew is there a remembrance of the gifts and the horrors that happened months after Christ was born.

The birth of Christ as told by Luke, is the humble, peaceful remembrance where "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2: 19).
However, Matthew, the ex-tax collector, looks at the remembering in a more complicated way. For Matthew, the visiting of wise men, wealth, and gifts is worth noting --- but with their part of the story comes the horrors of Herod's fearful response to the birth of the prophesied King of the Jews. Could we trade in the gifts from the magi for the havoc their visit caused in Bethlehem? It wasn't their fault. They didn't trust Herod either. But if they had never come, would Herod have remained oblivious to the birth of the King? Their visit ultimately cost the parents of Bethlehem their baby boys' lives, therefore, we should glean all we can from their part of the story.  They came, they searched for the prophesied One, and they brought gifts. The gifts must have mattered, a huge price was paid at the time of their arrival.

Why these three gifts for the Christ child?

Gold is very valuable and it was in those days as well; it is superior to other metals in many ways. It's a precious metal that is resistant to corrosion and is the most malleable metal in the world. So --- this shiny, valuable gift, would not "rot", would speak of "royalty", and would whisper of the Saviors ability to transform from God-child to son of man back to Son of God. To find gold, you have to dig, mine, blast, search. The most valuable gold has been refined --- it's endured the refining fire --- the furnace.

Frankincense is tapped from the very scraggly but tough Boswellia tree by slashing the bark, called striping, and allowing the draining resins to bleed out and harden. The hardened resins are called tears. Frankincense trees are also considered unusual because of their ability to grow in very unforgiving environments, sometimes growing directly out of solid rock. Once processed, one popular use of Frankincense was burning, whereby its smoke and aroma rising upwards represented prayers being lifted to Heaven.

Myrrh had (and still has) several medicinal uses but in early Egypt it was most often used for embalming or anointing of the dead. Myrrh was associated with mortality, suffering, and sorrow. Typically less than one pound of myrrh would have been used during Israelite funeral preparations. However, when Christ was entombed Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing around 75 pounds. (John 19:39) It is worth noting that over the years, the value of Myrrh has fluctuated greatly, but there have been times when myrrh was more valuable than gold. Myrrh is harvested from a tree grown in Yemen, Somolia, and Ethiopia, by wounding the tree and gathering the resin that bleeds out.

It takes my breath away to realize ----- the three gifts given to the Baby Christ were all items found in nature and acquired through such means as :wounding the tree, bleeding the resin, slashing the bark, stripping the tree, and purifying through fire. 
Those are painful words ----- wound, bleed, slash, strip, and purify.
All were later lived out by Christ.
The Passion of our Christ.

Our Savior did not receive royal robes (soft and elegant) or a kingly crown (polished and commanding of respect). He received gifts of great value yes, but still they were gifts that echoed of suffering and death.
His first gifts ----- foreshadowed His final gift.
The gift that gives us life.

Makes me want to shield my eyes from the gifts we pass around this time of year ---- and focus --- with deep sincerity.

All gifts come with some sort of price.
The more valuable the gift ---- the greater the price.
The first gifts our Christ received came at a high price ---- we could ask the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem about that. Those same gifts foreshadowed the ultimate gift our Savior was preparing for us.
May we measure carefully our response...

Luke 2: 8-20 (NIV)
 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 910 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 1718 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,

Matthew 2: 1-16 (NIV)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
   who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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.”
 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's the Why and How

A precious lady lays in a hospital bed, no longer stable in her thoughts as a stroke and confusion of age has overwhelmed her ability to think clearly. But to me --- she was and is a ray of Sonlight. We met one time (only once). But after that one meeting, she poured love into me through letters and cards up until this illness. She explained to me that God had pierced her heart to pray for me --- intensely. Once, she gently reprimanded me when i wrote her a thank you note for her outpouring of love through words to me. She said, "you have a specific high calling, you should not spend time writing 'thank yous' to me --- you need to be strengthened to attend to the calling God has placed on your life -- keep your focus donna" (It still makes my knees feel weak even as i type her words). She was strong and loving with her words. She said more, she was very clear. She said she was doing exactly what God had instructed her to do, pray. Her blessing of prayer over me was an obedience to her Father. I fell silent at the beauty of her selfless gift...

These love letters came even before the call to Kenya had arrived. She "somehow" knew, i was in for a ride and i needed prayer cover to prepare me for what was ahead. Once she almost frightened me with the seriousness of her "knowing" that much would be asked of me and i needed to prepare. She seemed to know my life was not going to look "normal". She never prophesied over me, but instead she just walked solidly in her attitude that my life was not going to unfold as i had perhaps thought it would, and i needed prayer cover. She said she knew all this because of God's whisper to her when i spoke of Him.

 As we continue to prepare for the move to Kenya, i treasure the people and the words that have breathed life into my trembling "tent". And i'm often, often, reminded of the scriptures below. 

We are not home yet ---

this is not our home --- 

we are not designed to be here long --- 

what we do while we are here matters --

but not in the ways we may think.

My dear ailing prayer warrior friend might live for many more years. If so, the world would be blessed. She might outlive me. But regardless of who gets there first ----- she and i both ---- will JOYFULLY "take down our tents and fold them away" someday.

I'm just suppose to put up my tent in Kenya before i get to make that final move.


2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (The Message)

 1b-5... "when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmadeand we'll never have to relocate our "tents" again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what's coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we're tired of it! We've been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what's ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we'll never settle for less.  6-8That's why we live with such good cheer. You won't see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don't get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It's what we trust in but don't yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we'll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.
 9-10a But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that's what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions."


Some people do nice things ---- hoping their good deed will "please God" and reflect well on them (both to God and to others). Wondering if and hoping that others might say --- "did you see what___ did? they are so wonderful..." But that would be the Martha syndrome taught in the Mary and Martha lesson. (And truthfully, haven't we all worn our Martha aprons before?)
(Luke 10:38-41)
But ------ 
Truly pleasing God looks very, very different...
And cheerfully pleasing God is suppose to be the main thing...

Mary pleased God by being attentive to Him and centering her all on Him. Then the overflow of her life was a blessing to others --- but it was not because of "what" she did for them ---- it was because of "why" she did it and "how" she did it. And ultimately --- the overflow of Mary's actions brought the focus right back to God (not herself). No one was saying, "She is so amazing." But instead, perhaps many were wanting more of the Lord because of the way He was reflected in her eyes.
The "why" and "how" ------ matter much more ----- than the "what".
"Why" we do something and "how" we do it ---- matter more than "what" we actually accomplish. 

"What" this precious lady did for me was beautiful ----- but "why" she did it and "how" she did it dripped of God's presence and His grace. She modeled for me what it looks like to "please God" in this world. I will forever be changed ---- not only because of the words of encouragement --- but even more deeply because of the overflow of her obedience that brought more of God's touch to my life. The cards were just the "carrier" of the more important gift. The days ahead can be better handled because of her obedience to pray and God's faithfulness to answer -- in Jesus' Name.

God Himself models this by His most treasured gift to us. The fact that God gave us His son is amazing beyond words. But  -- the "why" and the "how" make the gift overwhelmingly life-changing. God gave us Jesus --- "why"? because "He loved the world" and wanted to help us find our way to Him.  And God gave us Jesus ---- how? born in an humble manger to people of no stature or influence.
It's the beautiful story of our God's sacrifice and our Savior's arrival.
But ----
What if He had given us His son because He was angry with us for our sinful ways and He wanted His Son to pour out His wrath on us? That would have been a painful "why".
Or what if Jesus, had come to us as a royal, aloof king that lorded over us in anger, superiority, and power? That would have been a grueling "how".
Instead, "what" God did for us becomes even more astoundingly remarkable because of the "why" and the "how" He chose.

God modeled it ---- Mary showed it ---- my friend has lived it ----- i've had lots of opportunities to learn it now...

Here at the Christmas season ---- i'm focusing ---- it is not the "what" that matters most. What we give, what we get, what we say or what we do.

It will be the "why" and the "how".

And long after Christmas has passed ----- this truth will still remain...

1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
 6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.      2 Corinthians 5: 1-10 NIV

Photos taken by Maggie in Savannah, GA 

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Regardless of what else you put on -- Wear Love

These are the words that have captivated me this week ---- 
as we "remember" the birth of the One ---- 
there are no words to add.

He Is Your Life
 1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.  3-4Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectatorsis with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
 5-8And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
 9-11Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
 12-14So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
 15-17Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

Colossians 3:1-17 The Message (MSG)

(photo by Maggie) 

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe