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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 2:1–12  

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (NRSV)

I became acquainted with the three wise men as a kid playing with nativity sets—which, back then, was almost an obsession for me. I rearranged the scene hundreds of times, usually adding the wise men only at the very end. I remember feeling that the magi in their fancy clothes, bearing fancy gifts, didn’t exactly fit in with the donkey in the stable.

Fast forward to the present. Our nativity set somehow includes a miniature of Gus from Cinderella. He is pointing at something with sort of an amazed or panicked look on his face, so he fits in perfectly. And, of course, he is a mouse, which makes sense. I like Gus, but each year when I include him in the nativity I feel guilty, like I’m spoiling the sacredness of it.

Happily, reading Matthew for this devotion has helped me reconcile my feelings about Gus and the magi and remember why I have always loved the nativity. For starters, Matthew doesn’t put the magi at the birth. They encounter Mary and Jesus (not Joseph) in a “house,” and Matthew doesn’t say when it happened; it could have been weeks or months later. So maybe the mouse has just as much of a place as the magi in our nativity scene, which is not so much meant to be an accurate recreation of a single event, as it is a representation of elements of the amazing Christmas story. The nativity touched me as a kid—and still does—because, on the one hand, you have this quiet, unremarkable setting attended by livestock and a few wandering strangers and, on the other hand, something is happening there that is amazing and important beyond comprehension.

Dear God, through our prayer and worship this Christmas, help us find our way back to that dark, still night in a stable when you came in the flesh as a helpless infant to save us. Amen.

Written by John Shonkwiler, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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