This is a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. You already know the guilty party. It was the end of November and my first year as a pastor. I was rummaging through the top of the bell tower, trying to find the nativity scene. Back in the corner, surrounded by old church artifacts that were almost worthless, but good Germans would never throw out, I found a wonderful, hand painted nativity. By the dust and other things stored around it, it was easy to see this nativity had not seen the light of day in quite a while. I convinced the leadership that we should put this up. Before long we had a new stable made to house the holy family and shepherds. We hauled the whole gang outside, dusted them off and set the scene for Christmas.
Early the next morning I got a frantic call from one of the church members that had set up the nativity with us the night before. “Pastor someone stole the wise men!” She was frantic. She was going to call the sheriff’s office right after she got off the phone with me. It was there on the phone I had to admit I was the thief. I stole the wise men.
In my zeal as a new pastor I wanted to make sure this beautiful nativity was telling the correct story. The wise men don’t arrive until Jan 6th when we celebrate Epiphany. But as you know almost every nativity scene has all the players all at once. Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in the manger, the shepherds and flock as well as other animals, wisemen and camels all around the Baby Jesus. That was my bad. I apologized and restored the wise man to their appropriate place so the story was complete.
I learned a valuable lesson from that. First don’t steal the wisemen without telling the congregation what you are doing. That was the first of many lessons on communication. The second was even more important. There is a difference between the cultural Christmas and the real story of Christmas.
Cultural Christmas is not concerned with the story being right. Cultural Christmas starts somewhere around Halloween and ends Dec. 26th or if you are lucky Jan 1st, then it is packed away, and the next cultural holiday extravaganza is on deck.
The real story of Christmas starts about 6000 years ago when Adam and Eve were in the perfect place with a perfect God. When they disobeyed God and sin and death became a reality Christmas began. God made a promise to send a Savior. The Prophets of the Old Testament kept telling and retelling the promise. And when the time was right the virgin gave birth to a Son that was promised, without the help of a man. The promise of salvation took on our flesh and blood and became man and dwelt among us.
The second part of the story, the part that gives you and me the promise of this Savior starts in January. St. Matthew tells us about it. “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
The story of the wise men includes us in the Christmas story. These Magi or magicians were not Jewish. The story of Christmas, the promise of a Savior was given to the Hebrews, the Jews, God’s chosen people. The story of the Wisemen is our Christmas. The star that led them to Jesus was the light that promised all people, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, Israeli, or German the sure and certain hope of Salvation. God’s promise of a Savior was not just for the Jews it was for us.