God Goes Where He’s Wanted

God Goes Where He’s Wanted

Luke 1.26-38

James C. Denison

The Golden Compass opened on Friday. Starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (the new James Bond), the movie is a spectacular fantasy on the lines of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia. But unlike the classics by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, The Golden Compass was written by a man who says, “my books are about killing God.”

Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass and son of an Anglican clergyman, long ago left the faith of his father. The Golden Compass is the first volume in a trilogy which ends with the death of God and the “liberation” of humanity. The film downplays the anti-Christian elements of the first book, intending to make enough money to produce the second and third novels with all their explicit anti-Christian content. When the trilogy ends, “God” dies, dissolving into thin air, and we are free to set up a “Republic” of human self-fulfillment on earth.

Unfortunately, Philip Pullman is not the only person who wonders if the Christ of Christmas is who we say he is. If God really came to earth in the flesh, why isn’t the world a better place? There was conflict in the Middle East when Christmas came; there is still today. The global economy was prone to highs followed by “corrections” and recessions; it still is. If God really relocated to our planet, why is life the way it is?

Do you need Christmas to be more than a holiday in your marriage and family? Your health and finances? Your career or school?

Bestselling author Philip Yancy: “As I travel, I have observed a pattern, a strange historical phenomenon of God ‘moving’ geographically from the Middle East, to Europe to North America to the developing world. My theory is this: God goes where he’s wanted.” Let’s see if he’s right, and why the answer matters so much to your life and soul this Advent season.

Who is Gabriel?

Last week you heard from Isaiah, the prophet who predicted the coming of Christmas. Today we’ll hear from the angel sent to announce that the time of Advent had come. His name was Gabriel, which means “God is my warrior.”

He was an “archangel,” or a chief angel. Michael and he are the only angels named in the holy Scriptures, though Jewish tradition named Sariel and Raphael as the other two archangels. Ancient Israelites wrote their four names on the shields of their soldiers in battle. They thought of them primarily as warriors, as God often granted them the power of life and death.

But Gabriel came in peace on that fateful day in Nazareth. On that day God sent him on the strangest of all missions–to go to a peasant teenager in a remote little village and enlist that girl in God’s plan to save the world.

Mary would be in the seventh grade in our society today. Understandably, she was “greatly troubled” by Gabriel’s coming (v. 29). She certainly didn’t understand how she could be the mother of the Messiah and yet a virgin (v. 34).

Now she must decide: would she surrender her life, her body, her family, her future to this strange and confusing word from God? Would you have done it?

You know what she told the archangel: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38). She called herself the Lord’s “servant”–a handmaid or slave girl, one who must do the bidding of her owner and master. “May it be,” she said, an expression of absolute and total submission. She yielded her life completely to God that day. And history would forever be different because she did.

Why Mary?

Now, think of all those God could have chosen to be the mother of his Son–a daughter of the High Priest or member of the Sanhedrin, or one of the families of wealth and influence down south in Judah. Why her? Was it because of how she looked? Her popularity? Her possessions? Her abilities? Why was this peasant girl so “highly favored” (v. 28)? And how did God know she would submit to his will in this way?

She had already surrendered her body to God. She was indeed a “virgin,” as she claimed to be (v. 34). This was a surprising fact in first-century Nazareth.

Their village was constructed on a hillside, with a popular trade route below. This road, which connected Tyre and Sidon with Jerusalem, was crowded with Roman soldiers, Greek merchants, and travelers from around the world. Many of the village girls dressed and acted so as to attract the men traveling along this route, seeing them as their way out of Nazareth to the larger world. But not Mary–she kept herself pure.

She had surrendered her mind to God as well. Remember the song she sang upon meeting her relative Elizabeth after the Messiah had been conceived in her womb (vs. 46-56). It is one of the finest psalms of praise in all God’s word, composed from passages in Exodus, 1 Samuel, Psalms, Isaiah, and Micah. This seventh-grade girl had memorized these parts of the word of God, and used them to worship her Lord and God. She knew the word and will of the Lord, through years of study and devotion. She had surrendered her mind to God.

She would surrender her future to God also. To become pregnant when she was only engaged could cost her everything. Who would believe her story about an angel and a Son of God?

She was willing to give up her parents and family, to be abandoned by them. To give up Joseph, the man who would be her husband for life. To give up her future and even her life, for she might be stoned to death as an adulteress (cf. Deuteronomy 22.23ff.). As long as she and the child lived people would question her morals. And yet she was willing to do the Lord’s bidding, to surrender her future and all her ambitions to God.

And she would surrender life itself to his will.

She would stand helpless and watch her boy die with nails in his hands and feet, a spear in his side, and those nails would pierce her own soul and that spear her own heart. Any of you who are mothers can understand the sacrifice she made.

She would gather with her son’s disciples at Pentecost and receive his Holy Spirit. She would serve this child as her Lord, all the rest of her days on earth, and now in heaven with him.

She said on this day, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Indeed she was, and indeed she would be.

Whose servant are you?

Now Gabriel has come to us in God’s word today. This text was preserved in Scripture, not for Mary’s sake but for ours. She already knew everything we have learned today. God’s Spirit inspired these words so that we could apply their truth to our lives this morning.

If Gabriel could speak to you and me today, what would he say? In a word, God goes where he’s wanted. He goes where he is welcomed and invited. His Kingdom comes where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). He is King where we are his servants. He goes where he is Lord. We cannot serve God and serve ourselves. We must always choose.

Mary could not have it both ways. She could not serve both God and her own ambitions. She could not be the virgin mother of the Messiah and still marry Joseph as though nothing unusual were happening. She could not raise the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and be just another family. She had to decide which she would serve: God or her own dreams. She could not have both.

But we always think that we can. Adam and Eve thought they could eat the fruit and still walk with God. David thought he could have both Bathsheba and God’s favor. Solomon thought he could worship both his wives’ gods and his father’s. The kings after them thought they could serve their own military ambitions and still have the protection of God. Each time they were wrong. You cannot serve God and yourself.

The one will always serve the other. You will either use God to serve yourself, or your life to serve God.

Some of us are here today for what we might get from God. We want God to bless us, to help us, to guide us. We want God’s favor for our lives, our ambitions and dreams, or our problems and pain. We may not realize it, but we’re using God for ourselves.

Others of us are here today for what we will give God. We want to bless God, to serve him, to please him. We want to use our time, our abilities and opportunities, our money to accomplish his purpose with our lives, whatever that may be.

Some of us are like Mary; others of us are not.

Here’s the surprise: God can actually bless the one surrendered to him far more than the one using him. God didn’t need Mary so much as Mary needed God. The Lord would have found someone else if Mary had refused to belong to him, but she would have missed the eternal fulfillment which was the result of her obedience. It is the same with us today.

The person who uses God and the person who is used by God will both have challenges, problems, setbacks. Mary endured her share of pain in life, to be sure. But through it all she had a sense of God’s purpose and direction which made her life meaningful and joyous. When her life was done there were no regrets. She would do it all over again.


Now God wants Gabriel to ask you what he asked Mary: will you surrender your life to him? Will you give to him your body, your mind, your future, your money, your relationships, your life? When last did you say what Mary said: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you will”?

I make you this promise: not one of us has any idea what God will do with our lives when they are totally his.

Who among us would have thought God could do so much with a seventh-grade girl? That she would be the mother of the Son of God, the human instrument of the divine incarnation? That she would become the most famous woman in all of human history, and the most venerated?

Was it because of her appearance? Her possessions? Her popularity or performance? No–it was because of this simple fact: God goes where he is wanted. And he always gives the best to those who leave the choice with him.

The ten largest churches in the world are in South Korea, Chili, Nigeria, El Salvador, Columbia, Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, and the last two in India. None are in America. Why have they become so significant? Because they want God. South Korea had not a single born-again Christian at the turn of the 20th Century. Then came the bloody, debilitating Korean conflict which ravaged the peninsula. Out of its devastation grew the Yoido Full Gospel Church, with more than a million worshippers each week. It is the same with the other churches on the list. None are in prosperous places–all are in cities and societies which know they need God. And God goes where he’s wanted.

I’ve just returned from my sixth trip to Cuba. Each time it is the same: people standing outside the packed church, listening through open windows. Pastors riding six to ten hours on the back of trucks to spend a week in intensive seminary training, many of them living on $30 a month. Their children get the worst military assignments; their families get the worst jobs; they are constantly watched and harassed by their government and society. But the joy of Jesus in their lives makes it clear that Christmas has come to their souls. All because God goes where he’s wanted.

Do you want God this morning?



Luke 2:8-20

James C. Denison

I learned a new term this week: “Lifehacking.” This is the word being used in the computer world to describe programs which are supposed to make our lives easier. Software to organize our to-do lists, programs to prioritize our priorities, reminders set for all hours of the day and night, files set to pop up on our PDAs or cell phones to tell us what to do next, and how. All this because we are living in the fastest-paced, highest-stress culture known to human history.

My father could expect to change his employer three times; my sons can expect to change their vocation, their careers, their life work, seven times. The global economy means that a downturn in China today affects your stocks and retirement tomorrow.

For every disease we seem able to eradicate like tuberculosis and polio, we are afflicted with new diseases like AIDS and the bird-flu scare. To say nothing of global warming and the future of our planet, with predictions that the seas will rise and the glaciers will melt and life will change drastically in coming generations.

How can a holiday like Christmas be “good news of great joy” in a day like ours? When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the light bulb was 1883 years away.

If today were Christmas, Edison’s invention would be announced in the year 3890. Columbus wouldn’t “discover” the New World until the year 3495. That’s how old Christmas is. How can a holiday which predates the Middle Ages by 500 years and the Declaration of Independence by 1780 years possibly be relevant for our problems and questions today?

The answer is that it can’t. At least, not without a decision only you can make today. Let me explain.

Hear “good news of great joy”

The angels brought “good news of great joy” to the shepherds, and such news indeed it was. On that day we learned that “a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (v. 11). This news is “for all the people,” for the Christ has been “born to you.” If to them, then to us all.

You know their story. First-century shepherds were thieves, stealing from their masters’ flocks. They were liars, so that they could not testify in court. They were ritually unclean, living out in the fields for up to six months at a time, so that they could never be allowed into a synagogue or the Temple. And yet Christmas came for them, because God loves all of us.

No other religion makes such a claim. Zeus and his pantheon loved those who obeyed them. Hindus and Buddhists have no concept of a personal, loving God. Muslims base God’s acceptance on our obedience, the degree to which we keep the five pillars of Islam.

Every other dimension of life is conditional and performance-based. You are what you do, how well you perform, how many people you impress. I am this sermon; you are your work, your school, your achievements.

Except with God. This promise is for shepherds everywhere, you and me included. What is the promise? Why is it relevant? It applies to your life only if you need help with your past, your present, or your future.

Christmas says that God forgives us, no matter what we’ve done. What have you done that you’re glad we don’t know about? Guilt leads to low self-esteem, anger at yourself and others, the inability to forgive yourself and others, depression, anxiety, panic, and even suicide. The shepherds knew what guilt was about. Modern-day shepherds still do.

To people like us, “a Savior has been born to you.” Literally “one to save us.” No other religion has a Savior. No one else has someone who will forgive your sins and failures and remove your guilt from your soul and life. No one. Because of Christmas, God can forgive you.

Will anyone else forgive you like this? Will anyone else forgive us, no matter what we do? There are crimes you and I could commit which would be unforgivable. Child abuse, torture, 9-11 terrorism–who could pardon such sins? Only God can. That’s “good news of great joy.” Who needs such forgiveness today? Well, this news is not enough. Before this forgiveness is relevant to our souls this morning, there’s something left for us to do.

Christmas says that God delivers us, no matter what we need today. This Baby is “Christ,” the Lord. Christos, the Greek word for Messhia, the Messiah, the Promised One who would deliver God’s people from slavery into freedom. This was “good news of great joy” for a people enslaved by the pagan Roman Empire.

Because of Christmas, God can deliver you. Can anyone else deliver us, no matter where we are? There are diseases which no doctor can cure, lawsuits which no lawyer can win, battles which no army can survive. Only God can deliver us, wherever we are today.

That’s “good news of great joy.” What problems need God’s solution in your life? What burdens need his strength? What despair needs his hope? Why do you need deliverance today? Well, this news is not enough. Before this deliverance is relevant to our souls, there’s something left for us to do.

Last, Christmas says that God directs us, no matter where we need to go tomorrow. He is Christ “the Lord.” Kurios in the Greek, the Master, the Boss. The Romans used this word for their Caesar; Christians used it for their Christ. This was “good news of great joy” for a people subjected to a man in Rome, to know that the true ruler of the universe was their God and that he would guide their lives.

Because of Christmas, your God rules the universe and is ready to guide your life. Can anyone else guide us, no matter where we need to go? There are problems no counselor can resolve, decisions no wisdom can help us make. Only God can guide us, no matter how dark or bleak the future, no matter how perplexing and confusing the day.

This is “good news of great joy.” What decisions need God’s wisdom? What steps need his direction? Why do you need guidance today? Well, this news is not enough. Before this guidance is relevant to our souls, there’s something left for us to do.

Believe “good news of great joy”

What is left for all of us shepherds to do? Only this: we must “go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (v. 15). The Baby in the manger is no good to us if we stay in the fields. His love, forgiveness, deliverance, and direction are no help to us if we will not receive them.

If we will not ask, he cannot give; if we will not seek, he cannot share; if we will not knock, he cannot open. If we will not go from Dallas to Bethlehem, Bethlehem can be no help to us in Dallas.

Even the God of the universe cannot give what we will not take.

So let’s go with the shepherds to Bethlehem. Through the nighttime fields, leaving our flocks in the care of a handful while we go to investigate. To the town inn, the square caravansary, crowded to overflowing with travelers from all over Israel and beyond. No newborn baby here.

But the angels said he would be in a “manger,” the feed trough in the animal stable. So we go behind the inn and into the cave where the animals and livestock are kept. The walls are clammy and covered with moss. The smell is pungent and a bit rancid.

The cave is perhaps 10 feet from side to side, maybe 20 to its back. At its center, it’s tall enough for us to stand. But it slopes quickly to the rounded walls, so watch your head. The dank, musty smell is even sharper here.

The only light comes from a flickering fire. Smell the burning wood; feel the sting of the smoke in your eyes. Cough if you must. Hear the snorts of the animals. Sense the field hands crowded next to you; see the dirt caking their hands, the sweat running from their streaked faces onto their stained, rough burlap shirts.

Turn to what they’re watching. It’s a baby–a newborn, helpless infant. Cradled by a very young adolescent girl, her eyes dark circles, her face still marked with the pain of her delivery. Half sheltering, half protecting her is a rough peasant, more than twice her age, his gnarled hands testimony to his life’s labor.

Who could have imagined that this could be the Savior who is Christ the Lord? The One who would accept and forgive us, who would deliver and direct our lives and souls? The One who would save us from hell for heaven–this helpless infant? And of course, you and I know what the shepherds do not. We know that the story only gets stranger.

He will grow up in a town so obscure it’s not mentioned a single time in the entire Old Testament. He will call peasants and tax collectors to be his disciples. He will spend his time with the crowds and commoners, feeding and teaching and healing them. touching lepers and sinners wherever he can.

The proper folk down in Jerusalem will have nothing to do with him. The authorities will soon reject his message and movement. He will be arrested and executed as a common felon, crucified like so many other would-be Messiahs come to threaten the mighty Roman Empire.

It makes no sense, does it? How could the birth of a baby in Bethlehem possibly be relevant to your world and life today?

It would be relevant only if the baby who came to die would die to live. Only if he would be raised on Easter Sunday, resurrected to heavenly glory. Only if he would be ascended to heaven and reign with the Father in glory.

Only if the Baby would come again as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and every knee would bow and every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11). Only if he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of the column of human progress. But this he is.

Though he never wrote a book, more books have been written about him than any person in all of human history. Though his longest recorded sermon takes less than 20 minutes to preach, more sermons have been preached about him than any subject in religious history.

He never ran for office or held a weapon, but his movement has toppled kings and overthrown the mightiest armies the world has ever seen. He never owned a home or claimed more than the clothes on his back, but more resources have been given and spent in his cause than any since time began.

He had less than a dozen disciples when he died, but his movement today numbers more than two billion.

As the poet said rightly, all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not influenced the life of humanity on this earth as has that one solitary life.

Now it is your turn to join him. It is your turn to go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. It is your turn to ask for his accepting love and forgiving grace. It is your turn to accept his deliverance and follow his direction. It is your turn.

Have you been to Bethlehem yet this year? Have you asked him to forgive your past and liberate your present and direct your future? Have you come to Christmas?


It takes faith to go to Bethlehem. Faith to believe that it’s all true. Faith is a relationship, and like all relationships, it requires a commitment transcending the evidence.

If Janet waited until I could prove I’d be a good husband, I’d not be married. If she waited for proof I’d be a good father, we’d not have children. Step into this relationship by faith, and it will be real for you. It takes faith to be a shepherd. Are you willing to make that step?

And it takes humility to go to Bethlehem. Humility to admit that you need his forgiveness and deliverance and direction. Humility to be a shepherd. Are you that humble?

Tom Brady is leading the unbeaten New England Patriots and will set every single-season passing record in NFL history this year. He’s won three Super Bowls already. But when he was interviewed by 60 Minutes about his success, his response wasn’t what viewers were expecting.

“Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there is something greater out there for me?” he asked the interviewer. “A lot of people would say, ‘This is what it is. I reached my goal, my dream…’ Me, I think, God, it’s got to be more than this. I mean, this isn’t… what it’s all cracked up to be.” “What’s the answer?” the interviewer asks. “I wish I knew,” Brady replies.

The shepherds knew the answer. Do you?

When You Wish Upon a Star

When You Wish Upon a Star

Matthew 2:1-12

James C. Denison

Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre died and went to heaven. God was showing him around, and they came to a modest little house with a faded Packers flag in the window. “This house is yours for eternity, Brett,” said God. “This is very special; not everyone gets a house up here.”

Brett felt special indeed, and walked up to his house. On his way up the porch, he noticed another house just around the corner. It was a three-story mansion with a blue and silver sidewalk, a 50 foot tall flagpole with an enormous Cowboys flag, and in every window, a blue star.

Brett looked at God and said, “God, I’m not trying to be ungrateful, but I have a question. I was the league’s all-time leader in pass completions and a Hall of Famer.” God said, “So what do you want to know, Brett?” “Well, why does Tony Romo get a better house than me?” God chuckled and said, “Brett, that’s not Tony Romo’s house. It’s mine.”

Whatever God’s house looks like in heaven, he changed locations dramatically when he came to earth. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, chose to be born in a cow stall and to be laid in a feed trough. He chose field hands to be his first worshipers. He chose to be raised by peasant parents in a tiny, obscure village. But along the way, he did arrange for one very special set of visitors.

As we will see today, the Magi are more like us than anyone else in the Christmas story. What they did to find the hope and joy of Jesus is exactly what you and I must do today to find him this Christmas week. The next time you wonder if life makes sense, if the Lord is really in charge, if God knows what he’s doing, remember the Magi–and choose to be one. Let’s learn how.

Preparing the Magi

Nearly everything in our traditions about the Wise Men is wrong. We think there were three, since they brought three gifts, but they usually traveled in groups of 12 or more for safety. We call them kings, but they were actually priests and religious scholars.

Medieval legend says that Thomas went to Persia and won the Magi to Christ, and that they became evangelists. In the fourth century, pilgrims claimed to have discovered their bones. In 1162 they were supposedly moved to Cologne, Germany, where they are enshrined today. But none of this is really true.

Here’s what we do know about them. They were “from the east” (v. 1), the ancient civilization of Persia. They would be Iranians today. As Gentiles, they would never have been allowed into a Jewish worship service. They practiced magic and sorcery, skills forbidden by the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:14). They believed in two gods, breaking the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3). But by God’s grace, they became the first Gentiles in all the world to worship the Christ. Because they could come to Jesus, we can come to him.

They were the most learned people of their society, scholars in philosophy, medicine, and science. They were wealthy, of such independent means that they could leave their homes and families for a journey lasting more than two years, and afford the finest gifts for the Child when they found him.

Above all, they were religious men, much like the Levites of ancient Israel. In fact, no sacrifice could be made unless one of them was present. Their supreme god was Ahura Mazda, meaning “All-Wise Lord.” They believed that he dwells in eternal light, explaining why they would identify a star with a divine king.

Worship for Persians is an essential duty in venerating their creator. No animal sacrifices were made, but gifts were brought as offerings. Thus they brought gifts rather than sacrifices to Jesus.

They were waiting for a last Prophet or Savior to come. He would bring the resurrection of the dead, the general judgment of the entire world, the burning of the existing universe, and the eternal destruction of the evil spirits. All this they learned from their pagan religion.

The rest of the story came from the Jews.

Remember that the Jewish people had been enslaved in Babylon six centuries before Christ; more stayed than returned when the Persians liberated them. Jewish synagogues persisted in Persia through the first century to the present, so that as many as 30,000 Jews live in Iran today.

When they were exiled to the region, the Hebrews elevated their expectations of a Messiah who would liberate them. And so their teachings regarding a coming Messiah were known to the Persians, and especially interested the Magi.

They knew that a Messiah was coming, a Liberator who would be the King of the Jews. He would be part of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:19), the line of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) and the house of David (Jeremiah 23:5). And so he would reign in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah and the city of David.

To sum up, the Magi were waiting for a Savior to consummate history. They believed that a great Light would show us the way to him. When a star announced that the King of the Jews had been born, they set out for Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, on a journey which would change their history and ours.

God arranged all of this, beginning centuries before his Son entered the human race. When you wonder if he is the God of the nations, the Lord of the universe, the God of history and humanity, remember what he did over seven centuries to prepare the Magi for Christmas.

Bringing the Magi

Now watch what he did to bring them to Bethlehem. First, under his sovereignty, the Emperor issued an edict that all the world must be taxed. This edict forced Joseph to bring Mary and her unborn child from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The Magi would never have looked for the King of the Jews in Nazareth, an obscure town in Galilee. At the same time, if Jesus had been born in Jerusalem, Herod could easily have found and murdered him. Bethlehem was close enough to Jerusalem, just the right place for the Magi to find the Messiah.

Then the star appeared, alerting the Magi that this King of the Jews had in fact been born. The first appearing of the star might have a natural explanation. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the star did not actually lead the Magi to Jerusalem. They simply “saw his star in the east” announcing the birth of the King of the Jews, then came to the capital city of the Jews to worship their new king.

But there is no natural explanation for the star’s second appearance: “the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” (vs. 9-10). No comet, planet, or star can do this. If one came close enough to Earth to point out a specific house, we would all be dead long before it arrived.

So God moved his people to Babylon/Persia so they could tell the Magi about the prophetic predictions that a King of the Jews would come. He used the Magi’s own religion to teach them that a Savior would come and a star would lead them to him. He then used Caesar Augustus, King Herod, and a miraculous star in the sky to bring them to Jerusalem and on to the child in Bethlehem.

Picture it: Magi from the east, at least 12 in number, traveling over 900 miles from Persia to Bethlehem. They’re riding on camel’s back, in flowing robes, with all the wealth and grandeur of their ancient culture. They wind their way through narrow stone and mud streets to a carpenter’s house in a tiny village, bowing before a two-year-old peasant boy.

When they come with their gifts, they show the world the Child they have found. Their gold is the gift of a king. Frankincense is a kind of incense used by priests in their rituals. Myrrh is an embalming fluid used for burial and sacrifice. They make him their king, their priest, and their sacrificial savior. All this because God has moved heaven and earth to bring the Magi to the Master.

Joining the Magi

The Magi are more like you and me than anyone else in the Christmas story. We are not shepherds, field hands at the lowest rung of Jewish society. We are not Jewish peasants from an obscure town in Galilee. We are Gentiles, people of means and education and religious commitment, come to Christmas from afar. We are the Magi.

Why do we need to join them this morning? Theirs is a story of divine sovereignty, a tale of God’s intervention in time and history, in the heavens and on earth. What does his sovereignty say to you today? Where do you need to know that he is in charge, on his throne, ruling the nations and guiding our lives?

What will happen next year to the economy? Will the subprime lending crisis get worse? What will happen in the Middle East and Iraq? Will Russia’s decision to sell uranium to Iran change the balance of nuclear proliferation? This time next year we’ll have elected a new president. What will happen to our nation?

Closer to home, what about the future concerns you in the present? What decisions and dilemmas are you facing? Where is 2008 worrying you this morning?

If God could move his people to Babylon six centuries before Christmas, so the Magi could read their prophetic promises about a coming King of the Jews; if he could use the Magi’s pagan religion to prepare them for the coming of his Son; if he could move Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Bethlehem where they would be found by the Magi; if he could create a supernatural star to guide them to his house–what can’t he do for you? Where can’t he guide you?

What must you do to find and follow his sovereign will for your life and soul? Join the Magi.

Ask him to guide your future, and know that he will. Everything we know comes to us rationally, practically, or intuitively.

God spoke to the Magi in all three ways, as he still speaks to us today. Rationally, through reading his word and trusting its promises. Practically, through the stars and the circumstances of his creation which will guide your steps. Intuitively, as his Spirit speaks to your spirit, whether through dreams or internal connection and communion. Ask him to guide you each step of each day, and trust that he will–to your Jerusalem, then to Bethlehem, then back home, each in turn.

Make Jesus your king. Give him the gold of your obedience and surrender. Make him your priest. Give him the frankincense of your prayers and worship and devotion. Make him your sacrifice. Give him the myrrh of your faith and gratitude and trust.

Be a Wise Man, and you will find a King, a Priest and a Savior today. And his perfect will for tomorrow.


As I was writing this sermon last Thursday morning, I happened to glance out the window in my study and saw something I’ve not seen in my ten years in Dallas. A man was standing at the corner of Pickwick and Northwest Highway, trying to hitchhike. As cars sped by, he held out his thumb and tried to wave them down. I watched him stand there for several minutes, looking furtive and frustrated before he finally gave up and walked out of my sight. And I knew the feeling. I’ll bet you do as well.

There are days when it seems that everyone knows where they’re going but me. They’re driving by with purpose and direction, while I’m just hoping not to get run over. Life is traffic and chaos and brakes slamming and tires squealing and horns honking and people speeding every which way.

But in the midst of it all, there’s a God on his sovereign throne, waiting to guide the steps of those who will seek his will. There’s a Child waiting to be your King, your Priest, your Savior. There’s a star shining in the heavens for all wise enough to follow its light. Are you wise enough to join the Magi this morning?

“When You Wish Upon a Star” was introduced in the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio, where it was sung by Jiminy Cricket. The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year. In Sweden, Norway and Denmark, the song has become a Christmas song, referring to the Star of Bethlehem. Let’s hear it that way today, the way the Magi would have heard it so long ago:

When you wish upon a star

Makes no difference who you are

Anything your heart desires

Will come to you.

If your heart is in your dream

No request is too extreme

When you wish upon a star

As dreamers do

Like a bolt out of the blue

[God] steps in and sees you through

When you wish upon a star

Your dreams come true.

Are you so wise today?