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EL CAJON, Calif. (BP) -- As the long-ago inhabitants of northern Europe grappled with their cold, dark winters in small huts with large families, they learned to lighten the mood by bringing little evergreens inside their houses. Later in Germany these indoor trees became associated with Christmas, perhaps at the prompting of reformer Martin Luther.
Christmas trees now come in all shapes and sizes, both real and artificial. Perched at the top is an angel or a star as the focal point of the tree. There may be hundreds of lights, beads, ornaments and ribbons of garland, but the shape of the tree causes the eyes to travel upward, toward the top, to the star, a symbol of the majestic light that guided the Magi of old.
It's remarkable that the New Testament opens by telling us about this group of Persian astrologers who followed a mysterious star to the crib of the Christ child (Matthew 2). But it's more than a historical account or an evocative scene from a pageant; it's a series of spiritual lessons for us. Let me give you four attributes of these pilgrims that made them wise.Students of the Bible
First, I believe these Magi were students of the Bible. We think of them as observers of the stars, but we can safely assume they also gazed into the writings of the prophet Daniel, their famous forerunner. They also probably poured over the other Hebrew Scriptures that Daniel had deposited in the libraries of Babylon and Persia.
Remember the story in Daniel 2 when King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the execution of the wise men of Babylon because they couldn't interpret his dream? Daniel averted the disaster by telling the king, "There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets," and he proceeded to reveal to the king all kinds of information that only God could have given him. In appreciation, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel "the chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon" (Daniel 2:48).
Daniel lived an exceedingly long life and was still active in the days of the Persian empire. He was a student of the Scriptures, as we know from his prayerful reading of the Law of Moses (Daniel 9:13) and the writings of Jeremiah the prophet (9:2). He himself was a biblical author whose writings were full of Messianic prophecy. We can assume the Magi were familiar with these writings and were looking for the Savior whom Daniel described as "Messiah the Prince" who would come at a specific time and be "cut off, but not for Himself" (9:25-26).
Wise people still take time to pore over God's Word. Amid the frantic festivities of Yuletide, make room for the quiet reading and study of the Scriptures, which are so full of Christ.Spiritual longing
This gives rise to spiritual longing. Daniel's book ended on a note of mystery as the angel told him: "Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end ..." (12:9). As the years passed, the Jewish people waited and wondered why the Messiah tarried.
Many eventually forgot the promise of His coming and were unprepared when it happened. But among the Magi was a group whose hearts burned for a fulfillment of the longing they felt as they looked for the Fourth Man like the Son of God (3:25), for the Prince of the host (8:11), the Prince of princes (8:25) and the promised Messiah (9:25).
Like the Magi, we should study God's Word with a sense of longing and anticipation for His coming. They were awaiting His first coming; we're awaiting His return. Patient following
That leads to a third lesson, one of persistent following. Since the exact location and identity of the Magi are hard to establish, we aren't sure of their specific point of origin; but they created a sensation when they arrived in Jerusalem and asked about a newborn "King of the Jews." From there they proceeded to Bethlehem, following the star step by step and day by day.
When we study God's Word and long for His coming, it leads to daily perseverance and determined obedience. Joy, worship and giving
The result is a heart-filled response of joy, worship and giving. Matthew 2:10-11 says, "They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him."
It's exactly the same with us.
During the holidays when so much competes for your attention, lift your eyes to the top of your tree. Remember the star. Take time for Him who is the Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). Study His Word, long for His presence and His appearing, follow Him daily with joy, worship and generosity. That's what happens when our eyes travel upward toward the star that leads us to Jesus.
David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers and in Townhall.com; for other reprint requests, contact Myrna Davis at email@example.com.