FRIDAY MORNING MANNA
Rethinking Christmas 2015
“Christ is the Reason for the Season.” If so you would think that more people would be drawn much closer to Christ during Christmas time. Is that the case? Or is the reverse true? Many who say so with great emphasis continue to celebrate Christmas much in the same manner and spirit everybody else to whom Santa Claus, not Christ, is the giver of their gifts. Or as those who couldn’t care less about Christ’s birth only that “Christmas is the happiest holiday of the year,” a time for feasting, partying, and family reunions.
There are those of course, in whose hearts and minds Christ is enshrined throughout the year and come Christmas time they do everything they can, by word and deed to help refocus those around them—family members, friends, classmates, office-mates, business partners, and even fellow church-members—to the true meaning of “Christmas”—the “mystery of godliness that God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3: 16); that “Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors [see Matt.1: 1-14; Luke 3: 23-38]. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life.” (E. G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 49).
If this thought and focus are not the core objective of our Christmas celebrations, including the joyous, colorful, and dramatic high worship services held during this season, we are missing its blessings. In fact, we may be perpetrating a tradition that the apostles of Christ never started, for December 25 was celebrated over half a century before Christ was born, as the birthday of Mithra, the pagan sun-god!.
The Encyclopedia Britttanica, Vol. 18, art. “Mithras,” p. 624, 1911 ed., says that “Mithraism, an outwardly refined sun worship, invaded the Roman Empire in B.C. 67, and made its way for itself by gathering under its wing all the gods of Rome , so that in the middle of the third century, Mithraism was on the verge of becoming a universal religion.” In other words, sun worship, not the worship of the Son of God, had well nigh become the universal religion at that time. Furthermore, “It (Mithraism) had so much acceptance that it was able to impose on the Christian world its own Sun-day in place of the Sabbath, its sun’s birth day, twenty-fifth December.”- History of Christianity in the Light of Modern Knowledge, Chap. III: cited in “Religion and Philosophy,” pp. 73, 74, NY, 1929; quoted in Facts of Faith, Christian Edwardson, p. 100.
The Three Kings of the Orient: Who were they? — These men are either referred to as “the three wise men from the east,” or “the Magi from the east.” I still actually enjoy singing the Christmas carol “We Three Kings” in a harmony of three male voices. These “wise men” were actually a priestly order or caste of ancient Media and Persia . Their religion was very similar to that of Zoroastrianism which was the religion of Persia previous to its conversion to Mohammedanism, or Islam, as is more commonly referred to today.
The national religion was traditionally derived from its own great prophet, Zoroaster, or Zarachustra, during the first millennium B.C. Its religion teaches that Ormzed, lord of light and goodness, wages ceaseless wars against Ahriman and the hosts of darkness and evil. Ormzd is said to have created man to aid him in this war, and that finally the good kingdom will be attained. Their religion paid special attention to the STARS, and how they could alter its predictions, thus gaining for themselves an international reputation for astrology which, at that time, was considered a science. Today we hold that astronomy, not astrology is the real science and the former is of Spiritualism and the New Age.
The Biblical account does not say there were “three kings” but only “wise men from the East.” So where did we get the idea of “three kings”? On this point Wikipidea says that “the idea of the Magi as being ‘kings of the East’ arose considerably later in the time of Constantine and the changes were made to endorse the role of the Christian monarchs, and interpretation common until the Protestant Reformation.” The English word magicians and magic come from the Greek name magos, given to a member of a Median tribe called Magi or Magians who exercised priestly functions among the Iranian people.
The Bible never mentions any names for these wise men. Various extra Biblical sources place the number anywhere from two to twelve. It is merely tradition from the time of Origen that these wise men were numbered three and subsequently named Casper (Jasper), Balthasar, and Melchor. Yes, they brought withthem three kinds of gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” for these were gifts given to dignitaries of their time and were of great value. The fact is: there were three kinds of gifts, not “three kings.”
God’s servant gives us a beautiful Bible-based account of these wise men from the East and the divine purpose that was fulfilled by these pagan intellectuals in heralding the real truths and circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth and its lessons and warnings for all of us today—even as we celebrate Christmas Season 2015:
“The wise men from the East were philosophers. They belonged to a large, influential class that included men of noble birth, and comprised much of the wealth and learning of their nation. Among these were many who imposed on the credulity of the people. Others were upright men who studied the indications of Providence in nature [such as the study of the stars and planets], and were honored their integrity and wisdom. Of this character were the wise men who came to Jesus.
“The light of God is ever shining amid the darkness of heathenism. As these Magi studied the starry heavens, and sought to fathom the mystery in their hidden bright paths, they beheld the glory of the Creator. Seeking clearer knowledge, they turned to the Hebrew Scriptures. In their own land were treasured prophetic writings that predicted the coming of a divine teacher.
Balaam belonged to the magicians, though at one time a prophet of God; by the Holy Spirit he had foretold the prosperity of Israel and the appearing of the Messiah; and his prophecies had been handed down by tradition from century to century. But in the Old Testament the Savior’s advent was more clearly revealed. The Magi learned with joy that His coming was near, and that the whole world would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
The wise men had seen a mysterious light in the heavens upon that night when the glory of God flooded the hills of Bethlehem. As the light faded, a luminous light appeared, and lingered in the sky. It was not a fixed star nor a planet, and the phenomenon excited great interest. That star was a distant company of shining angels, but of this the wise men were ignorant. Yet they were impressed that the star was of special import to them. They consulted priests and philosophers, and searched the scrolls of the ancient records. The prophecy of Balaam had declared, ‘There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall arise out of Israel .’ Num. 24:17.
Could this strange star have been sent as a harbinger of the Promised One? The Magi had welcome the light of heaven-sent truth; now it was shed upon them in brighter rays. Through dreams they were instructed to go in search of the new-born Prince. As by faith Abraham went forth at the call of God, ‘not knowing where he was going’ (Heb. 11: 8); as by faith Israel followed the pillar of cloud to the Promised Land,so did these Gentiles go forth to find the promised Savior.”
Why the three kinds of specific gifts? –
“The Eastern country abounded in precious things, and the Magi did not set out empty-handed. It was the custom to offer presents as an act of homage to princes or other personages of rank, and the richest gifts the land afforded were borne as an offering to Him in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed.
It was necessary to journey by night in order to keep the star in view; but the travelers beguiled [whiled away] the night by repeating traditional saying and prophetic utterances concerning the One they sought. At every pause of rest they searched the prophecies; and the conviction deepened that they were divinely guided. While they had a star before them as an outward sign, they also had the inward evidence of the Holy Spirit, which was impressing their hearts, and inspiring them with hope. The journey, though long, was a happy one to them.
Did they find the chosen people eagerly anticipating and preparing for the First coming of the Savior?
“They [the wise men] reached the land of Israel, and are descending the Mount of Olives, with Jerusalem in sight, when, lo, the star that has guided them all the weary way rests above the temple, and after a season fades from view. With eager steps they press onward, confidently expecting the Messiah’s birth to the joyful burden of every tongue. But their inquiries are in vain. Entering the holy city, they repair to the temple. In amazement they find none who seem to have a knowledge of the new-born King. Their questions call forth no expressions of joy but rather of surprise and fear, not unmingled with contempt.”- Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, pp. 59-61.
Christ is coming soon, no longer a helpless Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes but as the King of kings and Lord of Lords, bringing His eternal rewards. Rev. 22: 12. Are we eagerly preparing for Him? Will we be like the Jewish nation at Christ’s birth, or like the humble shepherds in the field and the Magi from the East—searching, particularly the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation that clearly reveal the end-time events leading up to Christ’s glorious return—and be found truly prepared to meet Him in joy and peace?
The way we celebrate the Christmas Season in mind and spirit will help us individually answer the foregoing question that all, regardless of religious persuasion, will have to deal with. May we persist in “asking, seeking, and knocking” for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11: 13, 1-12), and then allow Him to guide us into all truth! The hour is late.
“Our time is precious. We have but a few, a very few, days of probation in which to make ready for the future, immortal life.” Youth’s Instructor, Apr.28, 1908).