This Christmas, Followers of Jesus Must “Go Back a Different Way”
Will the manger scene challenge you to travel in a different direction?
One intriguing part of the Christmas story from Matthew is the discernment of the wise men. After having dined with King Herod on their way to the manger, they declined a return visit after having encountered Jesus. Matthew tells us,
“having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Matthew 2:12
On their way to meet Jesus the Magi did the common and expected thing – they kept company with the powers and authorities of the day. They dined with Herod and shared openly their plans and expectations. Mingling a spiritual quest with political prerogatives was the appropriate thing to do.
Then they encountered Jesus. They understood for themselves the power and meaning of the birth and they became sensitized to the leading of the Holy Spirit. As a result, they heard and obeyed God’s command to avoid the same connections with power and prestige that they had so willingly embraced on their outward journey. God knew the heart and intentions of Herod, and he led the Magi away from the entanglements that awaited them on a return visit.
I believe Matthew tells us that there is a link between encountering Jesus in a deeply personal way and a change in our attitudes towards the powers and authorities of our day. Our experience of adoring the newborn King should change our hearts towards the current divisions and animosity in our present culture.
The question is, when we stand before the manger this Christmas, will it change us so profoundly that when we leave we will travel in a different direction? Might God be leading us on new paths that avoid the entanglements of our acrimonious political culture and eschew the desire for either reactionary anger or smug triumphalism?
In this political season, I fear too many conservative evangelicals have become too closely tied to a person and a party. And too many progressive evangelicals have been too quick to contribute to a culture of bitterness and despair.
After we visit the manger, what would it mean for all followers of Jesus to “return home a different way?” Might the Holy Spirit be calling us to look differently on our current national rancor and choose not to align ourselves with any king nor add to a spirit of divisiveness? Will His birth engage us in a new way in a selfless pursuit of this newborn King who came to all of us, “full of grace and truth?”
It will be easy to come away from Christmas and immediately return to Herod, to the expected ways that continue to feed into our pride, our anger or our cynicism.
But what if we didn’t? What if every follower of Jesus used Christmas Day as an opportunity for repentance before the Savior of the world? What if we saw this Christmas as a moment for reflection on the fullest meaning of the Incarnation – God with us? And what if we listened for God to lead all of us to find a different way as we return to our calling in this world?
My Christmas prayer is that the body of Christ will hear God’s call on our hearts and refuse to return the same way we came. May we all come away from the manger with a new passion for God’s truth, a deepened and unconditional love for our neighbor, and the courage to take to our world the unapologetic proclamation of the coming of the kingdom God.