Wineskins Archive

December 4, 2013

My Advent Story (Dec 2012)

Filed under: — @ 2:50 pm and

By Rex Butts

Now that was a road trip for the ages. You might say it was quite adventurous. But the best part was that we got to see this newborn baby. He’s the Messiah, born the King of the Jews. I’m telling you this upfront to say that this wasn’t any ordinary road trip. It was a journey to see this baby named Jesus, this Immanuel — that means “God with us.”[1] It’s one of those trips I could take again and again, so let me tell you about it.

Not As I Expected
My story begins with these Magi. I think you know them as “wise men” thanks to that English King, named James but that’s not entirely accurate. You might think that we are talking about magicians, in a sense, or astrologers and sorcerers, that sort of people.[2]

I know some of you might find that a bit puzzling, perhaps even repulsive, to think that we are talking about what some of you might think of as crackpot witchdoctors. You have read your Bibles, right? You do remember how the Torah forbids us from such detestable practices?[3] Well, maybe that slipped your mind a bit. No sweat!

Of course, this is what made this trip so interesting. Here were these Magi, these sorcerers, psychics, astrologers, whatever you want to call them. They came from a place out east, possibly Persia but that doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is that it was a long journey. I’m talking like roughly a thousand miles long journey, like a thousand miles logged on the backs of mules.

They said they were following this star. That wasn’t all that surprising since they are astrologers and what not. Of course, they said that God had revealed to them the information about the birth of a baby. I know our God reveals himself through nature but to these psychic people? Yeah, that’s what I though too.

Nevertheless, they had my interest. After all, this seemed to coincide with what our fathers and prophets spoke about. So I decided to I would follow along with them, even though I was just a boy myself. So off we went ….

Off to Jerusalem
We headed out for Jerusalem. That seemed like a pretty natural choice to make. Jerusalem was the capitol city. You know… That’s where all our politicians and government officials meet, as well as the priests, scribes, and teachers of the law. So it seemed like a great place to start looking for this baby who’s been born king.

Of course, as it turned out, Jerusalem was not our final destination. These Magi started asking around, “Where is the one born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”[4]

A funny thing happened though. Well, I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time. We seemed to upset people more than excite them. It would seem like our people would be excited about to hear that a king was born. But this only upset people, putting them on the edge. I mean, when they heard that we were looking to come and worship this baby born King of the Jews… Well, panic seemed to come over these folks.

That’s when I began to realize there might be something else going on here. It began when we were summoned to meet with this other fellow named Herod. Herod was also our King, not that everyone liked that. At the time I was still naïve about the way politics often worked, so this was all sort of confusing. However, looking back on it all now, it makes perfect sense. I mean, have you ever heard of two kings ruling the same people? I didn’t think so! This is the stuff that wars are made of.[5]

But what did we know? After all, Herod told us that he wanted to come and worship this baby. I mean, he said that he gathered together all of the local priests and teachers of the law to find out exactly where in this region the baby was born. He even mentioned the prophet Micah. According to Micah, the baby was born in Bethlehem.

So we headed off to Bethlehem. But I have to tell you that there was still something about this Herod that me nervous, real nervous.

Herod asked us to let him know when we found baby. In fact, he said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”[6] Initially we planned to oblige him with this request. After all, I’m sure the baby’s parents would have enjoyed a visit from the king. Of course, it hadn’t dawned on us yet that if this baby has been born a king … Well, then it would have seemed more appropriate for Herod to hand his kingdom over to this baby who has been born the King.

And Then to Bethlehem
And that was where we were when we set out towards Bethlehem. Excitement was in the air. That star which led us to Jerusalem was shining bright in the sky again. In fact, it was shining brighter than ever. Everything seemed so peaceful. There was a sense of wonder and beauty that filled the air in ways that’s just hard to explain in words.

We came over that last hill and noticed that the star had stopped. It was flickering in a way like we’d never seen before and have never seen since. I looked all around and couldn’t see a thing but there were these voices. They were angelic sounding voices singing something like “Glory to God in the highest …”[7]

We just stopped. We couldn’t speak. The beauty, the wonder… That’s when we saw the house. We knew this was what we had come for, so we rushed in. I always feels a little strange telling this last part because getting all emotional in front others has never been my cup of tea. But …

Well, let me just say that here was this child, this baby child born King. I must admit, I was a bit skeptical because of these astrologers. But all along they kept telling us that we were going to see the true King, the Messiah which our people have waited so long for. He’s the one who would come and vindicate us, rule over all the nations, and save us from all our sins. So when we walked in that house, I spoke not a word… but I believed. I believed every word those Magi said. When I saw that baby being held beside his mother and father, I just bowed down and worshiped him. What else could I do to honor him but to bow down and worship him?

That’s the story of how we came to meet the baby named Jesus. I know that I have told the story before and I hope to tell it again. I hope you will tell it too.

There’s More to My Story
You know it wasn’t long after these Magi gave this baby Jesus all the gold, frankincense, and myrrh they had that they spoke up with a more somber word. They said that they would need to head home by another route because God had warned them in a dream that Herod was planing to do something terrible to this baby Jesus.

That’s when it all made sense about Herod. People like him, they’re always so full of themselves. They’re always trying to manipulate everything to their own favor and will do whatever suits them even if it means hurting others. These kind of people will never know the joy I know. How can they? They’re so focused on their own glory that they’re unable to see the glory of God even when it’s practically before their very own eyes as it was for me that night in Bethlehem.

And I should know. I once was a tax-collector. Let me just tell you, tax-collectors aren’t choir boys. So I know a little something about selfish mentalities.

But those Magi — I used to think of them with disgust. But they taught me a lot. Or I should say, through them, God taught me a lot. They did’t have the scriptures like we do. They didn’t belong to our heritage. Us Jews considered them outsiders… you know, Gentiles, pagans, and the such. Yet that didn’t stop God from working and revealing himself to them. And look at what happened. They traveled all that distance to come and worship the King…our King, the world’s King. And I’m telling you, they were “overwhelmed with joy”![8]

It’s amazing what happens when people come, emptied of themselves, in search of God and his work in the world. I suppose that’s the point of my story and why it needs to be told again and again.

And One Final Word
You know, there is one more thing about this baby, this King named Jesus. I met him later on in life when he was an adult. Once I realized that this was the same boy I worshiped in Bethlehem, I started following him along with some others too. He had us really excited about the kingdom that our God was bringing about … and still is. Of course, at that time, all the excitement started to disappear. This Jesus was a king alright. And they gave him his crown. That is, they gave him his crown when they crucified him.

And that normally would be the end of the story but in this case, it’s not. A few days after that, he was alive, standing in front of us. That peace that filled the earth back there in Bethlehem, that was the same peace that was filling the room as he said “Peace be with you.”[9] We believed him and worshiped him. He told us that he was leaving but that he would come back. That’s also when we made a vow to tell others about him, baptizing them in his name, and teaching them to be his disciples too.

So, that’s my advent story … and that’s why I’m waiting for his second advent.


1. For the basis of this story, see Matthew 2:1-12; unless otherwise noted, all scripture is taken from the New International Version, 2012.
2. For a larger discussion on the identity of the Magi as to whether they were Babylonian Jews or Gentile Pagans, see Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, 2nd ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 167-168. The very term “Magi” represent a practice of engaging in magic, astronomy. In Daniel 2.2, 10, it is some magi who are the enemies of Daniel.
3. Cf. Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
4. Matthew 2:2.
5. Herod actually has every reason to be fearful of the news of Jesus who is announced as the King of the Jews by birth, whereas Herod was an Edomite appointed king by the Romans; see Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 36-37; who stresses that the Magi are speaking about who Jesus is rather than what Jesus will become.
6. Matthew 2:8.
7. Luke 2:14.
8. Matthew 2:10, NRSV.
9. John 20:19, 21, 26.

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