Holding on to Christmas

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR

January 12, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

It is always hard for me to give up on Christmas.   I prefer to hold out, with some of the Church traditions, until the celebration of Jesus’ dedication at the Temple on about February 2, forty days following December 25.  Of course this presumes that Jesus was born on December 25, which he wasn’t, but we celebrate the realities and not the dates.

Have you ever wondered what understanding the Magi took back to Persia with them following their interview with Mary and Joseph at their home in Bethlehem, and their rapid departure after being warned of Herod’s plans in a dream?   The Magi may have arrived in Bethlehem somewhere around December 25.  Ernest Martin seems to think they did.  This would have been in the year 2 BC.  Jesus would have been at least fifteen months old at their arrival, and Martin thinks it would have been during the season of Hanukkah.

The Magi must have come to Jerusalem with some understanding of the Jewish prophecies concerning the coming of a King Messiah.  They would have most certainly have had access to the Book of Daniel.  They would have read of the Son of Man to whom would be given a kingdom over the entire world which would never pass away (Dan. 7:13f).  They were astrologers.  They had seen signs in the heavens.  They would certainly be aware of what I have called “The Clash of the Kingdoms.”  What did they think as they traveled back along the Fertile Crescent to their homeland?  What did they envision for the child they had seen in Bethlehem?  How would they have understood his future?

I think it was Lew Wallace in his “Ben Hur” that has one of the Magi returning to Israel during the ministry of Jesus looking for answers to questions that arose some thirty-three years ago.  Wallace (1827 – 1905) was an American Lawyer and a general for the Union during the Civil War.  He published “Ben Hur” in 1880.  It was the most read book of the nineteenth century.

Finlay Currie plays the part of a seeking Balthazar who is certain God is up to something, but he has no idea what it is.   He finally finds Jesus, the child he met at Bethlehem, and recognizes him as the promised Messiah.  We see Balthazar, now an old man, standing at the cross, and quoting from Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought up peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

Of course this is religious fiction, written by a devout Christian, and written very well.  Like many events related in the Bible, we are not given the conclusions.  We know from the Church Fathers that the Apostle Peter evangelized Persia.  Did the Magi live to see that day?  Another question without an answer?

My Pastor suggested in his Epiphany sermon last Sunday that both the Shepherds and the Magi were men trained in keen observation.  The Magi observed the heavens and the motion of the planets.  The Shepherds observed sheep and kept them from harm, from wandering off or from the prowling predator looking for an easy meal.   The training of the Magi was understandably quite formal.  They were members of an elite order of scholar priests.  The schooling of the shepherds was on the job training.   Both curriculums were rigorous.  Both lifestyles required heightened awareness of their surroundings.  The Magi asked Herod, “Where is he…?”  The shepherds said to each other, “Let us go …and see!”

We have many of the answers that the Magi and the shepherds did not have.  God has told us what he was up to through the Apostles.  However, there is much to learn yet.   I, for one, am not quite ready to let Christmas go.  The awesome truth of John 1 is a magnificent reality.  It is described in the Gospels with such down to earth stories about such interesting people.  The more I observe, the more I see, and the more thankful I am for “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).

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