What does the coming of Christ mean to you? The reality of his presence means different things to different people. The wise men travelled a great distance with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to adore the newborn king. Why? A new star appeared in the sky.
The New American Bible commentary explains that it was a common belief in the ancient world that the appearance of a new star signified the birth of a ruler and indeed the heavens had been altered with the Star of Bethlehem to announce the King of kings' arrival.
Many biblical scholars believe the wise men came from Persia (modern Iran). The Bible identifies the wise men as magi – a term used for a Persian priestly caste. They were astrologers.
Thus the magi's question, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." (Matthew 2.2) The magi travelled from Persia to Bethlehem – a journey of about 1,500 km – to see the Christ child.
On the other hand, Herod's response to Christ was very different. Herod felt threatened and tried to kill the Christ child by killing all the male children two years of age and younger in the Bethlehem area (Matthew 2.13, 16).
More than 2,000 years later, people still respond in very different ways to the prospect of Christ entering their world. I'm no different. For many years Christ was a threat to me too. I was afraid that if I welcomed Christ into my life his presence would demand something of me. I was right.
An encounter with Christ would cost me my immoral lifestyle, my stubborn self-will and ego-driven life. I would have to deal with my sin. I was not prepared to do that and so I pushed Christ away.
I rejected God's great gift to humanity: the gift of his Son. I fled from him. It was no use. As the old saying goes, I could run but I could not hide.
The poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907) wrote about a man's flight from God and God's pursuit of man.
In his poem The Hound of Heaven, we read:
"I fled him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled him, down the arches of the years;
I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears . . ."
It concludes with,
"But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat – and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet
'All things betray thee, who betrayest me.'"
In my own case, it was only after years of fleeing God – when my immoral lifestyle and self-will reduced my world to shambles – that I finally allowed Christ entrance into my life. What a terrible indictment!
It was only when I had nothing left worth having that I finally gave the tatters and shards of a broken life to God. As the poet Thompson so aptly put it, I betrayed myself by betraying God's love for me. The truth remained (and remains) constant: It is only through God's love that I can discover the purpose for which I was born.
I was born to love Christ and live for him. It's simple enough for a child to understand and obey yet so hard for this man. Even today, so many years after first surrendering to Christ, I continue to discover new perspectives to the plain meaning of life.
I am now convinced that a person who seeks glory in anything other than Christ may find temporary happiness but never true and lasting joy. Without Christ, people will become entangled in the affairs of life and confronted by obstacle after obstacle that will rob them of divine joy.
Joy that comes from Christ is not dependent on anything other than abiding in his love, loving other people for the sake of Christ and loving Christ for his own sake.
Nothing brings this emphatic truth clearer into focus than the prospect of death. Every deathbed or gravesite challenges the priorities, possessions and affections held most dear during life. We will take nothing with us except love. God is love, manifested perfectly in the gift of his Son.
How do you and I respond to that perfect gift? Have we let that gift of Christ's presence enter and permeate completely through our lives? That is the key question facing every one of us and everything that ultimately matters hinges on the answer.