1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
Years ago, Dr. Seuss wrote a book called How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Many of you know the story, which happens in the town of Whoville. The Grinch hated seeing and hearing all the people celebrating Christmas–so he tries to figure out a way to stop Christmas from coming to Whoville.
He decides if he steals all the presents, decorations, and special Christmas food then he can stop Christmas from coming. The Grinch spends the whole night before Christmas sneaking around and stealing everything Christmassy from all the houses in Whoville. When Christmas morning comes the Grinch is shocked his plan didn’t work–Christmas still comes to Whoville. The people are still happy and they gather hand-in-hand to sing Christmas songs. He learns Christmas is more than just presents and decorations.
In Matthew 2:1-12 we see a Grinch. This is the story of the Magi finding the Christ-child. [Read the Matthew text here.] Let’s zoom in on these characters a little more closely.
Do you know what would have happened if it had been three wise women instead of three wise men? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts, and there would be Peace On Earth.
Herod the Great reigned from 37-4 B.C. He was a non-Jew, an Idumean, who was appointed by the Roman Senate. He was ruthless: murdering his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. No wonder he had no problem killing so many babies in Bethlehem. His reign was noted for splendor. He constructed many theaters, amphitheaters, monuments, pagan altars, and fortresses. His greatest work was the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, begun in 20 B.C. and totally completed in 64 A.D. It was destroyed by the Romans 6 years later (in 70 A.D.). He was choleric in personality. He was power hungry, self-absorbed, and ruthless.
Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law
The chief priests and teachers of the Law were trained and educated in the details of scripture, but spiritually ignorant. They knew the right answers, but didn’t possess the right heart.
Jesus was the real King of the Jews.
In this story we see some conflicts taking place. There was conflict between the Chief Priests – the Jews, and Herod – the Gentile over-ruler. Israel was known as a troublesome province of the empire, never accepting Rome’s rule.
Between Herod and the Magi: Herod tried to mask the conflict, but in reality he was at odds with them. Herod’s true colors came out when the magi didn’t go back and tell him where the Messiah was.
Let’s go back to the story and join the journey of these characters. And, to help us identify the real Grinch we have to look at their motivations. All of these characters were on a journey. They were all seeking for meaning in life, for something outside of themselves to put life in context. They were searching for something more than they had. This desire was motivating them to do what they did. All of the characters were searching for meaning.
This is also a picture of people today. Within people there is a desire for meaning in life. There is a natural (God-given) quest to seek for something of substance outside of ourselves. There is a battle between this God-given drive and the self-centered nature in all of us.
Notice how the characters dealt with this search for meaning and substance in life.
Herod believed the self was to be the focal point of life. Put yourself first–no one else will put you first. Look out for “numero uno.” His attitude was “every man for himself.” All of his drive and seeking was motivated by self-preservation. Don’t you see the same drive in people today? Selfishness motivates people to do all kinds of things. The Grinch’s selfish motivation made him want to steal Christmas.
Chief priests and teachers of the Law believed the Law and Knowledge (Torah) was paramount. Knowledge of the Law was what you were to seek for. Everything centered on knowledge and learning. They debated the fine points of the Law. They formed groups around theological interpretations. They made and broke relationships based on their views of the Law. They didn’t stress the importance of the Law-giver, but emphasized the Law. Today people still make knowledge paramount. They have the errant belief they can figure it out and come up with all the answers. Just listen to all the talk radio and television shows. Read the papers. The hosts and the callers have the answers to all the world’s problems.
The Grinch was also trying to figure it all out. He thought he had, but was confused again. This is normally the way it works.
The magi were searching for meaning in life outside of themselves. They were seeking the One who made life meaningful. Money was not an issue to them. Power was not an issue to them. Position and titles were not issues to them. They were seeking for something that would help them make sense out of what was going on in life. Perhaps you’re one of the ones who fall into this drive. Maybe you’ve tried the self-centered approach and it has left you empty and lonely. Maybe you’ve tried to figure it all out and it has left you cold and full of questions. Now, perhaps, you are seeking for something that would help you make sense out of life.
Notice the actions of the magi. They saw what was going on around them, where they were, the star. Something in life got their attention: the star. Something caused them to question meaning: the star.
What is your star? What is it that has you questioning meaning? What has seized your attention and made you start wondering what’s going on? Has God used a situation in life, a tragedy, a sickness, a financial crisis, a friend, or a book?
The magi started on a journey for truth, meaning, and substance in life. God led them on their journey. God has led you to this place, this morning, on purpose. Not one of us is here by accident.
The magi searched in the wrong place–Jerusalem. It was logical to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capitol city, so naturally you’d go there to look for a king. However, it was not logical if you knew the whole story. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The logical thing would have been to go to Bethlehem. We often think we know more than we know. As a result we search where we think we ought to look, but it’s the wrong place.
If we knew the whole story, we’d know to go to Jesus to start with. God put them back on course. God looks at the sincerity of our hearts and guides us in our search for truth, meaning, and substance in life.
The Issue calls for a Response
Where are you going to choose to search for meaning and purpose in life? Self-absorption? Answers: trying to figure it all out in your own mind? Or faith in Christ?
Let’s get back to the Grinch?
Who is the real Grinch? Not Herod; he couldn’t steal Christmas. Not the chief priests and teachers of the Law; they couldn’t steal Christmas. Not sin; it couldn’t steal it (in fact, Christmas happened because of sin).
The real Grinch is our own selves. It is you, it is me. We stole Christmas from ourselves. We gave up: eternal life, our relationship with God, our character and integrity, peace.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15). We have forfeited Christmas – the incarnation of Emmanuel, God with us because we have blown it.
But, unlike Dr. Seuss’ Grinch–we can’t get it back to ourselves. We need a Savior. We need Jesus!
The magi point us to the right choice: break with the self-absorbed quest and go beyond mere knowledge. They teach us to search for the One who can give life meaning and substance.
You can live the self-absorbed life motivated by selfish ambition and self-preservation.
You can keep trying to figure it all out, gathering information, searching for answers as if you have the mental capability to know it all.
Or, you can worship Jesus. Open your treasures and give yourself to Him. What are you going to do, Mr. Grinch?