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Imagination, vocation and the Three Wise Men (December 31, 2023)

Chris Burton reflects on the Three Wise Men: "We delude ourselves thinking that there will never be trouble. On the contrary, our testimony matures because in the face of significant trouble, God delivers us."

Outlook Standard Lesson for December 31, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Matthew 2:1-12

There is a particular irony discovered on our journey with Christ. The further you go with Christ, the longer you are on assignment in Christ’s purpose, the greater the need for courage. It’s peculiar because you are, even in death, in the best of hands. But my goodness, how scary it can be in the deep vocational ocean!

I wonder what fear tried to creep in as the wise men journey to see the Christ child. Undoubtedly, their journey is courageous, and courage exists despite fear, not because of a lack of it. Yet, what worries and hesitations crossed their minds as they made their way? What reasonable alternatives did they conjure up as they realized the magnitude of their task?

In Matthew 2, the wise men are called to visit the Christ child. When they arrive in Jerusalem they inquire, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews” (v. 2). The text says that their question frightens King Herod enough that he attempts to use the wise men for further intel on this potential usurper’s whereabouts (v. 4).

A limited imagination, particularly concerning the workings of the divine, can have catastrophic consequences. Herod could not envision a King of the Jews beyond his own imagination, and his myopic vision could only see a threat to his power. His limited imagination and insecure vestige of power results in the massacre of innocent children in an attempt to interrupt what God is doing (v. 16).

A limited imagination, particularly concerning the workings of the divine, can have catastrophic consequences

Herod attempts to mislead the wise men as if he also wants to pay homage to Christ (v. 8), but his deception is derailed by the wise men’s dream that informed their choice of avoiding Herod on the way home (v. 12). What must it be like to try to make it home knowing that worldly power is trying to misuse you? What sort of overthinking must try to bleed into your thoughts as you wonder what unknown dangers may already be in pursuit?

This makes me think of my time as a schoolteacher when a student threatened to physically harm me. I did not take his threat seriously until he tried to take a picture of me, and I overheard him describing my appearance over the phone. I made my way to school and home incredibly aware of my surroundings as I did not know who or if would make good on my student’s threat.

There are enough threats to our safety – physical, mental, and spiritual – that it feels tempting to do nothing of import. There is a temptation to stay still and make as little impact as possible just to make sure that you are not making yourself a target. I fear that being this way, disabusing yourself from impact, is merely existing and is not living. If we are unwilling to exercise our courage, we severely limit ourselves and the scope of our vocation.

A life that pursues Christ cannot be lived successfully and be risk averse.

A life that pursues Christ cannot be lived successfully and be risk averse. It is a way of peace amid conflict. It is a safety during storms, not a life of cloudless skies. We delude ourselves thinking that there will never be trouble. On the contrary, our testimony matures because, in the face of significant trouble, God delivers us.

Herod’s reaction to Christ is not dissimilar to the adversary’s view on you and I seeking Christ. The obstacles are cloaked in deception, but thankfully the deception is not the only voice. While deception wants to seduce you away from your vocation, God continues to speak. Dreams are used throughout Scripture as a means through which God delivers a precise message.

The wise men receive the word to avoid Herod and spare the Christ child from the malicious intent Herod realizes against other boys in his town (v. 12). It is an important reminder of the relationship between wisdom and restraint. There are times when the information does not need to be widely distributed. Times where wisdom helps us discern that the question is not being asked in good faith. This lesson feels particularly salient in our age of disinformation.

In this time of distrust, our need to listen to God’s direction is critical.

We find ourselves in a time where vigilance and critical thinking are desperately needed. We cannot take all information at face value and predatory entities are hoping that the information you divulge will benefit their malicious intent. In this time of distrust, our need to listen to God’s direction is critical. The wise men did not lean on their own understanding or prior knowledge. They exercised wisdom that gave them the sense that they were not in ordinary times. You and I find ourselves in extraordinary times. We need to consider the tasks in our lives and note how we search for Christ in our tasks and the ways God continues to speak to us on our vocational journeys.

Questions for discussion

  1. How do you deal with obstacles on your vocational journey?
  2. How has discernment helped you avoid malicious attempts to sabotage?
  3. How have you experienced courage when facing difficult tasks?

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