The week between Christmas and New Years is unique. If they can, many enjoy downtime from work and spending quality time with friends and family. As the week progresses, we look forward to what 2024 has in store. However, before we turn the page on 2023, let’s let some of the lessons of Christmas carry over into our new year.
The week between Christmas and New Years is unique. If they can, many enjoy downtime from work and spending quality time with friends and family. Churches worldwide celebrated Christmas Eve. Many services were filled with readings from Luke 2 or Matthew 2. Something binds these two sections of Scripture together: the anticipation and the purposeful looking forward to the Lord Jesus Christ.
For years, I have enjoyed leading trips to Israel. I enjoy seeing the Bible come alive for those walking through the Holy Land with me. One of my favorite places in Israel is Bethlehem. Not the Church of Nativity, which is built over the cave Jesus was supposedly born in. The stable Mary gave birth in would have been a cave. My favorite sites are the shepherd’s fields. I look out and see the valley that David describes as he wrote the 23rd Psalm. I look out and wonder where the shepherds were that Christmas night. Were they gathered together or spread out over the vast area? I look up into the sky and wonder how full Christmas night was with angels. Luke 2, verses 13-14, tells us there was a “multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.'”
Can you imagine what that moment must have been like? The shepherds were not looking for Jesus, but God was looking for them. Does that describe you, a family member, or maybe your friends? Are you content or so busy with all you have going on that sometimes you must remember to look for Jesus? Know that you are NEVER out of His sight or heart. In 2,000 years, His message has NOT changed; it is still “I bring you good news of great joy.”
The Wise Men
Once the angel made the shepherds aware of the birth of Jesus, they quickly went to see the newborn king. Another group looking forward to seeing Jesus was the Magi, or wisemen, from the East. We know from Matthew 2:7 that “Herod secretly called for the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.” We also know “the star, which they had seen in the east, went on ahead of them until it came to a stop over the place where the Child was to be found” (Matthew 2:9). The star stopped over the exact house the Holy family were staying in. Was this an actual star or the Shekinah glory, the same glory that led the Israelites through the desert before they entered the Promised Land (Exodus 13:21; 14:24-25)?
The Magi came from the East, probably Persia, which is modern-day Iran. Their journey was almost 1,200 miles — the distance from Iran to Jerusalem. When detailing his missionary journeys, Paul, in the New Testament, described a day of travel by foot as a 20-mile day.
In California, all the cities that start with the prefix San — cities like San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco — were once the sites of Christian missions. By design, they were located 20 miles apart because 20 miles would have been a day’s walk separating one mission from another. So, for the wisemen to travel 1,200 miles at 20 miles a day, that would have taken them at least 60 days to travel one way. It would be the same timeframe for returning home, which means their effort would have taken four months of traveling with a caravan of animals (camels) and servants (who served the kings). All for the pleasure of worshiping Jesus! Another nugget we can take into 2024 with us.
When the Magi did reach their destination, look at how Scripture describes their reaction. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And after they came into the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary; and they fell down and worshiped Him” (Matthew 2:10-11). They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy and fell and worshiped Him; THAT is something we all can take into 2024!
I know many manger scenes have the Magi there the night Jesus was born, but that is not an accurate picture. Leviticus 12 explains when a woman gives birth to a son, she is ceremonially unclean for 7 days. On the 8th day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait 33 days to be purified. This means Joseph and Mary had to stay in Bethlehem for at least 40 days before Mary was considered purified and able to welcome guests. Shortly after this purification timeframe, the wise men from the East would have arrived.
The shepherds hurried to see the newborn baby Jesus. The Magi traveled a great distance to witness the same site.
Another Bible character who had great anticipation of seeing firsthand the Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords, was a man named Simeon. Luke 2 reveals that “the Holy Spirit revealed to him (Simeon) that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” On the eighth day, Mary and Joseph followed the Law of Moses and brought Jesus to the Temple to be presented. Simeon, realizing the Lord had just fulfilled His promise, held the newborn baby in his arms, and as he held this eight-day-old baby boy in his arms, he knew WHO he was holding. Simeon was looking, waiting for the Messiah. This moment brought him such peace he publicly said, “Now I can die in peace because I have seen the Lord” (Luke 2:29).
Do you have that kind of peace? Do you want that kind of peace? THIS is the peace Scripture speaks about — the peace of Christmas.
The Woman at the Well
When you received the word of God, you accepted it not as the word of men but as the word of God. Luke 2:16 tells us that when the shepherds heard about the birth of Jesus, “they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.” The wise men traveled for months to come and bow down and worship Jesus. Simeon had a promise from the Lord that he would witness Jesus. When that promise was fulfilled, he had peace, peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).
There was another woman who met the Lord Jesus. It’s not a Christmas story, but her response was much like the shepherds, the wise men, and Simeon. John chapter 4 speaks of a Samaritan woman who went to a local well to get water. She was going about her day completing a common everyday task. Jesus was there waiting for her. He offered her more than the water she sought; He offered her living water. Once she understood his offer, she gladly accepted it and then went back into town and told others. She had known about Jesus, but that day at the well, she met Jesus.
Not long ago, families celebrated Christmas in gathering together and exchanging gifts. As we end one year and begin another, let’s remember that Jesus still offers a gift. Jesus’ gift is not wrapped in colorful paper or tied up with shiny ribbon, nor is His gift one that will break or wear out. His gift will last for eternity!
Let’s begin 2024 with the same urgency the shepherds had. Let’s be willing to go to the same lengths to worship Jesus as the Magi did, and let’s live with the same anticipation of experiencing Jesus as Simeon enjoyed. Like the woman at the well, Jesus will meet us in our everyday common tasks. We just need to be ready to receive His gift of everlasting life.