Unwrapping Christmas: Following a Star

Ask Yourself This:

  • Have you ever been happy with something you had only to see the new version and suddenly become discontent? Why is it so easy to be discontent? 
  • Have you ever had high hopes for something only to be down? How did you deal with that?

We live in a culture and a time that makes it easy to become discontent.  Which is strange because we also live in the wealthiest, smartest, most informed and most comfortable era of time in all of history!  Yet despite all that we have available, it’s easy to live with disappointment or discontentment, feeling like we never quite have what we want.

How are followers of Jesus supposed to deal with this?  If we’re honest, it’s a very selfish attitude.  Strangely, in the Christmas story, there are a group of people that experience something that was unexpected.  It could have been quite disappointing, but instead how they reacted shows us something simple yet profound in combating discontentment.

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and 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." — Matthew 2.1-8

Now let’s just talk about these Magi for a second.  We know the story; we’ve seen the nativity scene.  But have we ever stopped to think of who the Magi are? Magi comes from the Greek word magoi, the plural of magos and the root of our word "magician."  There are three main scholarly thought about who the Magi are.  

  1. Zoroastrian Priest from Persia – the Magos comes from Persia
  2. Chaldean Astrologers – Astrology began in Chaldea
  3. Chinese or Asian Scholars – traveled the Silk Road

The truth is that we don’t know who the Magi are. What we do know is that they are most likely revered men, well educated, and extremely wealthy.  Ancient writings explain how Magi are some of the most respected men in their cultures.  Most likely, they traveled with a large cavalry, and the journey took almost two years.  So chances are they aren’t in the original nativity scene.

Ask Yourself This:

  • Why do you think the Magi traveled to Jerusalem first?
  • Why do you think wealthy and revered men, who worship other Gods, traveled 2 years with extremely generous gifts to find this king? Do you find that strange? 

The Magi first stop at Jerusalem.  They travel here because if a King would be born who is Jewish, the most logical thought is that he would be born in a palace.  He would be surrounded by the most lavish comforts the empire could provide, and the most lavish schools, training, home, safety and protection.  When they arrive, however, they find out that according to the prophets, the king is supposed to be in Bethlehem.

"After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route." — Matthew 2.9-12

I'd like to make a very simple observation.

Imagine that you are one of the most wealthy, revered, respected and powerful men of your culture.  You know the stars, you know wisdom, people contact you for advice, you can see and interpret events that no one else can.  You then take off on a long journey and travel for years.  You then go to the courts to find the king’s palace and the king isn’t there.  Then you travel to another local place, wondering what’s it going to be like, how lavish and wonderful this king will be.  After all of this, you see a common house, you see poverty, you see a normal baby.  No pomp, no circumstance.  They are expecting a mansion and royal court and get poor dirt floors.  Can you imagine that it’s possible to have some kind of disappointment or discontentment? Which brings up a really good question:

How do you react when you chase a star but find a stable?

We’ve all had this experience, where everything looks so promising. We’ve followed that star and brought with us expectations, only to find at the other end of it all a simple stable.  The student who gets into his dream school for college, only to find that it’s not really his dream any longer once he’s there.  Or the college kid with the diploma going to change the world with their new job, only to find out that the job really isn’t what they wanted.  The person in the marriage that started out thinking their spouse was the most wonderful person in the world, only now seven years later doesn’t seem that great.

You look at life and it’s meh… it’s not at all what you thought it would be. It’s difficult and hard and a little messy, and you had these illusions of where you should be and what you should be doing and there’s this star you followed but you seem to have found a stable instead of riches.  We know what’s it’s like to live with discontentment in big things, and even in the smallest areas of life.

Ask Yourself This:

  • Why do you think it’s so easy for us to be discontent?
  • Why is it so easy sometimes to chase a star and find a stable?

But here's where things get exciting. You see, the beautiful part of the story of the wise men is what they do when they come to the stable. It wasn’t what they expected, it wasn't lavish or grand or anything like what they've built up in their minds.

But even in the face of that, they worshipped and they gave their best.

That’s it.

Worship overcomes discontentment? How’s that work?

Well you really can’t worship and be ungrateful at the same time.  You may be able to sing a song, but you cand’t have your life characterized by worship and be discontent because the two are at odds.

Worship is a response to God—to who God is and what God has done; to the grace in your life. It’s a response of gratitude.  Because ultimately worship makes you recognize now who you are. You're God’s child: beloved, forgiven, and in relationship with the Creator of everything. Worship then changes the focus of your life off of you—what you have or don’t have—and puts it on to God, and what He has done for you.

The other thing the wise men did was they gave their very best to God. Often when we are disappointed, when we feel discontent, there is a push to refuse to give anything.  To hold back.  The marriage isn’t what you want, so it’s easy to withdrawal instead of pushing forward to work harder and have more communication to make it better.  The job isn’t what you wanted, so it’s easy just to do the minimum then if that’s how you’re going to be treated.  Generosity—giving to others your time, your talent, your heart, your money—it's a counter-cultural thing. When you give something away, you’re not discontent because you don’t have enough; you are saying I have more than enough.

Ask Yourself This:

  • Worship is a response in gratitude to what God has done? What ways then can you worship?
  • Why is it tough to worship sometimes?
  • Generosity runs counter-culture to discontent because it says I have more than enough.  What does it say then when we aren’t generous in our lives?

Faced with finding a stable when they were looking for a star, the Magi gave and worshipped.  And in doing so they found Christ, and found peace and joy.  The text says they were "overjoyed."

The end result of giving and worship, even in the face of discontent, is joy.

Ask Yourself This:

  • Is overjoyed how you describe our culture?
  • Joyful, happy, content—is that how you describe yourself?

Overcoming discontentment is a process, and it’s one that I struggle with at times. There is always something I don’t have, always something I want changed, always something that can come up short.  Every writer I've read said that it’s a process. 

It’s a process where you begin to let certain things die so that other things can grow new in their place.  It’s a process that involves worship and giving.  It’s a process that is continually learned.  Paul spoke of it like this:   


"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." — Philippians 4.12


He said I’ve learned it, I understand now, but I had to learn how to do this. The wise men show us part of this process.  It starts with Christ, reflecting on His Grace and learning to worship him.  And it includes giving.

The good thing is that a life that overcomes discontentment finds joy.