“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV)
Back in the day when I led youth, I always enjoyed celebrating Christmas in July. It was just the sort of silliness that kids loved. I would gather the young people for caroling and other traditional Christmas festivities in the sweltering Iowa summer.
This came to mind this July morning as I read Micah’s prophetic word concerning God’s Messiah coming from Bethlehem. While we celebrate God’s gift each December and give nods to the idea of celebrating the reason for the season all year long, I wonder how often we really stop to celebrate God’s gift once the New Year arrives, the tree is down and the decorations are put away.
“Wise men still seek Him” is a popular phrase around December. Today, I’m thinking of those astronomers, the Magi, who took a good long while to travel to Bethlehem chasing that star. We don’t know for sure when they saw the star and how long it took them to get to Bethlehem from their home. Perhaps they stood in sweltering summer heat contemplating the prophesied King who was born. I am more wise guy than wise man, but on this hot July morning I find myself thinking of the prophet Micah’s words and singing a Christmas carol:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sins and enter in, Be born to us today. We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell: Oh, come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
For God does speak—now one way, now another— though no one perceives it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword. Job 33:14-18 (NIV)
I woke at 2:30 this morning out of a deep sleep and disturbing dream. Like most dreams it was surreal and strange. A thread of storyline was wound loosely around snatches of scenes and emotions. Terrorists were after me. I could trust no one and spent much of my time hiding and trying to avoid those who I knew were enemies bent on my death. I found myself entering what appeared to be a pre-game meeting with the Judson University men’s basketball team when I realized that the room was set to explode. I ran for the door and was barely outside when the bomb went off. Suddenly I was in the custody of two or three of the terrorists and they were dragging me away. I struggled from their grasp and ran for my life. I turned a corner and found that a large contingent of people from my alma mater had arrived (basketball fans, presumably?) and were getting off a bus. If I could just reach them I would be safe, but everything was moving in agonizing slow motion.
I’m not sure what to make of all that. Perhaps it was simply the effect of some bad pepperoni from my pizza the other night.
My local community of Jesus followers has been exploring the subject of dreams and visions of late, beginning with a look at the dreams, visions, and visitations surrounding the Christmas story. There were a lot of them when you think about it:
Zechariah (John the Baptist’s dad), had a vision in which the angel told him his barren wife was pregnant.
Mary had a visitation telling her she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Messiah.
Joseph had a dream telling him not to put Mary away, but to marry her.
The shepherds were visited by the angelic host telling them of Jesus’ birth.
The Magi were warned in a dream to go home and avoid Herod.
Simeon had received a vision that he would not die before he had seen the Christ.
Joseph was warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous wrath.
I have no doubt that God speaks to people in dreams, in visions, and in visitations. It happens time and time again throughout God’s story. Elihu makes a point of it in his words to Job in today’s chapter. God can and does speak to people through dreams. I believe it a gross mistake to deny this, to close myself off to the truth of it, or harden my heart against the possibility that God might speak to me in such a way.
By the same token, I don’t believe that God speaks to all people through all dreams. A dream may be spiritually significant, inspired by Holy Spirit. A dream may be the surreal by-product of memories, thoughts, and emotions inspired by bad pepperoni. I tend to think that the latter is a common reality, while the former is more the exception than the rule. When signs and wonders become common, everyday occurrences they cease being wonders.
Today, I’m thinking about the wonder of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and the role that dreams, visions, and visitations played in this most momentous of events in human history. I’m thinking about my own life journey in which wondrous events of divine design seem to happen on prescribed occasions for specific purpose. They are interspersed by long periods of mundane, daily toil. I’m thinking about finding and maintaining healthy balance and perspective in all of this. I don’t ever want to be guilty of chasing after obscure, hidden meaning in my dreams while ignoring the plain truth presented clearly in God’s Message.
By the way, I’m also thinking about the Judson University men’s basketball team who blew up in my dream last night. Sorry guys. I’m not a prophet, and I really don’t think that was from God. Blame the pepperoni. Go Eagles!
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.” Matthew 2:1 (MSG)
It’s interesting to read this passage in light of our recent journey through Jeremiah’s story. Five hundred years before the events in today’s chapter, the people of Israel had been taken into exile. Where? To Babylon and Assyria, in the east. Those taken into exile were the best and the brightest of Israel‘s young men who, in some cases, rose to positions of leadership and influence.
Now, hundreds of years later, a celestial phenomena sends these foreign scholars and astronamers searching for its meaning. How did they know this event in the heavens signaled the birth of “the king of the Jews?” Since there is no record of the prophetic sign in the scripture, it’s most likely that a prophetic word was given through one of the Israelites in exile hundreds of years before. Perhaps it was Daniel or one of his friends. We may never know who it was, but we know that these many years later God weaves the tragic events of the exile into the timeless story of Jesus’ birth. The scholars from the east become a beautiful word picture. Among the very first to recognize the messiah and worship him were non-Jewish gentiles. Even at his birth, Jesus was gathering the nations.
Today, I’m encouraged reading the story of the Magi. It’s a great reminder that God is in control. He weaves the threads of past events into our present circumstances to accomplish his purpose. Like the Magi, my journey is simply a thread in a much larger tapestry.
If someone showed up with a good smile and glib tongue and told lies from morning to night— 'I'll preach sermons that will tell you how you can get anything you want from God:More money, the best wines…you name it'— you'd hire him on the spot as your preacher! Micah 2:11 (MSG)
I was on a business trip this week and spent a few late evenings flipping through the television channels. Channel surfing drives my wife crazy, so when I'm on the road I like to overindulge myself in an all out surf fest. I found it interesting the divergent slants the different news channels had on the same events. It didn't shock me. It was just another reminder that we all like to listen to people who agree with our point-of-view.
The more things change the more they stay the same. The prophet Micah was complaining about the same thing about 2700 years ago. We want to be told what we want to hear and will often go out of our way to make sure we hear it.
In this Advent season, I'm thinking about the Magi who sought out the Christ-child. Perhaps what made them "wise men" was not their position but their desire to ask, to seek, to knock. I pray that I may continually search for that which is True rather than that which is merely comfortable.