LOOK UP AND SEE
Today I invited the children to become star gazers. Looking in the sky for signs and omens was a commonplace thing only a little more than 100 years ago. Hard to believe that the passing of a century could have taken us from being people who lived with an intimate connection to nature in all its forms to a people who are so disconnected from nature as to be astonished by a visit to a planetarium or a farm or a zoo. We are a people who have ceased to take notice of the world around us and have become insulated. We are so focused on creating a life for ourselves that we are losing sight of the life that has been created and that exists around us and with us.
A few years ago it was reported that a majority of people feel naked without their cell phone. When we consider that less than 25 years ago, owning a cell phone was not a reality for most people and that they were huge and cumbersome, it is amazing that this has become one of our prized possessions. A newspaper ran an editorial cartoon of a man walking naked down the street. People didn’t even seem to notice that he was naked. Perhaps that is going a little far but how many times have you been walking down the street and noticed someone walking toward you with their attention focused on their cell phone. A few times people would have crashed into me if I had not stepped aside to let them go by.
Years ago, my mother had a habit of stopping on the sidewalk in downtown Montreal and start looking up. She was amazed at how long it took for people to stop and ask her what she was looking at. “Oh, nothing,” she would say and then start walking. Even at that time, she noticed how oblivious people were to their surroundings.
Of course, such oblivion is not something new to this generation. It is simply our way of insulating ourselves from the world around us. Now that may seem like a strange thing to say because we are bombarded daily by news of events from around the world. But so much of what we see and hear is capable of being filtered out. We can choose to blissfully ignore them.
In the days when Jesus was born, most people probably lived no different from us. They were employed, went to school or learned a trade. They married and had families. They lived and died in the same town or village as their ancestors and expected nothing to change. But for the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding communities in what was known as Judea, there was another daily reality and that was occupation. They had a king of sorts, but he was a local figure given only what power and authority Rome decided for him. He may have considered himself the king of the Jews, but he knew that he was not a descendant of David and so could never be a serious contender.
But there was one who was a descendant of David who could seriously lay claim to the title King of the Jews. Wise men from the east who had been studying the heavens had seen an event in the night sky that they recognized as a sign that a king had been born. They knew that this child was destined for greatness and they felt that it was imperative that they come to worship Him. But they did not know the exact location of the child and so they came to Herod’s court believing that the chief priests and scribes of the Jewish people would have the information they needed to complete their mission.
Indeed, the chief priests and scribes did know, and they freely supplied the information. But they were also scared. They feared what this child’s birth would mean to them. What turmoil, what change, and what future would this bring? They had come to an understanding with the Romans about how the people could live their lives in obedience to God and yet still be good Roman citizens. The birth of a king could only spell trouble. Such an event might breed rebellion among the people and cause the nation to lose its privileges with the Romans. Herod himself saw no salvation or hope in the birth of this child whom the wise men were calling king of the Jews. He saw only a threat to his life and status and that of the people.
So when the wise men finally get to Bethlehem and present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they are warned not to return to Herod to tell him of their success but rather to go home another way so as to protect the child and His family.
Listening and watching were two activities of the ancient world. Listening for the voice of God and watching for signs in the heavens. The heavens are the dwelling place of God and the people expected significant signs from such a place. They opened their hearts and minds to listen for the voice of God in dreams, visions and visitations of angels, the messengers of God. And while not everyone lived with an expectation that God would fulfill His promises in the here and now, many people did and would see the signs given and know that something special had taken place in the world.
While we may be far removed from those events so long ago, we are intimately connected to them by history and by faith. We stand in a long line of those who have consistently and faithfully retold the story to each succeeding generation. We also stand in a long line of those who believe in God and His incarnation in Jesus Christ and believe the One born in a stable in Bethlehem to be truly God and truly man. We see Him as a bridge between ourselves and God and as a sign of hope not only for this life but for all eternity. Whether we will be the generation to experience the return of Christ and the end of all things is something we will probably never know until the moment it happens. But as the people of God, we need to look up, we need to look around, we need to look within and seek for the signs of God’s movement in our lives today. Do not lose touch with the divine reality of nature. See yourself as part of a greater creation and celebrate what God has done and is doing in your life and the lives of those around you. That is the ultimate Face book and more to tweet about than even 280 characters will ever give you.