Friday, December 15, 2017

The Good or the Best - Advent Meditation

(This is part of a set of daily Advent meditations I'll be posting. They're going up a day early so that you can use them, if you wish, for private reflection in this season of anticipation and preparation.)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: "'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him."
-Matthew 2:1-8

What were the religious leaders of Jerusalem thinking?

This is what has always puzzled me about this story. Not the wise men, and not Herod – although more on them another day – but the reaction of those in Jerusalem. Here are these strange foreigners with news of the Messianic birth. “All of Jerusalem,” we read, “was troubled” at these news. Agitated by it. Muttering in the streets.

But what happens? The scribes and chief priests tell the wise men that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. They know the time and the place. Their response, though, is to... do nothing?

How could these people not be packing their bags for a trip to David's city? How could they miss the chance, even if it was a tiny chance, to see if these strange foreigners could be right? If the Messiah had been born?

Matthew doesn't tell us. But I can guess. I imagine, at least for some of them, that it was just a matter of routine. They had things to do! Responsibilities! The temple isn't going to run itself. The Scriptures aren't going to be copied without someone copying them. People need to be taught. Decisions need to be made. “There's so many good things we're doing, we don't have time!” they'd say.

They didn't have time to come a meet their Savior.

It is easy for us to feel judgmental, but we do the same thing. We get so busy with the good things in life that need to be done that we sacrifice the time it takes to meet with the Savior. We can't fit space in our busy schedules to experience God's salvation.

I suspect the problem for the religious leaders, as it is for many of us, was simple. They had let the good things in their lives crowd out the best things.

We are busy people. We've got 24 hours in a day and 1,000 things we could do with them. And that's not itself wrong. But it can turn into a trap. Here's what I find myself doing. I am busy, and I look at the things that I'm busy with, and I ask the question “Are they good?” Because, obviously, there are ways to spend your time that are bad. Shouldn't do that. I ask whether they are good things, and if they are, I assume I'm living life the way I should. But if all we ask is “are these things good,” even if our answer is yes, the outcome can still be bad and destructive. Because good things can often be the enemy of the best things.

Think about a parent who never makes time for their kids because of work. Some of us had those parents. Some of us can struggle with being them. That parent isn't doing bad stuff. Their hours are being spent on productive things. God made us to work, and to do it excellently. The problem is, that good stuff that robs their children of the time they need. The good, when it isn't looked at carefully, easily becomes the enemy of the best.

One of our callings in this time between Christ's comings is to spend our days pursuing what is best. Which isn't always easy - it often means giving up good things for other things that are better. There is often a sense of loss in that. Yet that loss is more than repaid by what is found.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

-William C. Dix, What Child Is This, Who, Laid to Rest

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