MONDAY, 12/19
Read Matthew 2:1-2.
Of all the characters in the story of Jesus’ birth story, the Magi are the most mysterious.  We’re told they were from the Persian Empire.  They used philosophy, natural science, religion, and astrology as means to interpret truth.  Using what little information they had at their disposal, these men from a far-away land know God is doing something significant.  How did these men from the East see that God was doing something wonderful while so many others missed it?  
The short answer is that they were paying attention.  They would’ve been familiar with Israel’s
anticipated Savior since the time when God’s people were exiled in Babylon, a land the Persians conquered and one in which the Israelites subsequently settled.  Hope for someone to rescue the Israelites was prominent while they were in exile.  The Magi knew this, so they paid attention.  They watched for the signs.  When an astrological phenomenon appeared in the heavens, they knew that God was breaking into the natural order of the world, so they set off on a journey to see for themselves what God was up to. 
God’s people, on the other hand, were largely oblivious to what He was doing.  Many in Israel, once they were free to come back home after being in exile, stopped looking for a savior.  As a result, when His star appeared in the sky directly over their heads, they didn’t even see it.  
I wonder if there are times when we’re oblivious to something God is doing in our lives.  Maybe God is moving in a specific way, yet we’re too distracted to notice.  Perhaps today we need to stop and look for signs of God’s activity in our lives.  I promise God is moving in your life right now.  Do you see Him?    
Praying Together:
“God, we confess that there have been times we have stopped looking for You.  We stopped expecting that You were doing great things in our lives.  Open our eyes to see where and how You are working.  Amen.”
TUESDAY, 12/20
Read Matthew 2:3.
Herod was king of Judea.  He is an example of the best and the worst in us.  On one hand, he was a great builder capable of generosity toward his people.  One time during a famine, he melted his own gold plates to provide food for his people.  Just a few years later, however, he would have his wife and mother-in-law executed because of their popularity among the people, fearing they might turn the people against him.  
Herod was a dangerous combination of power and paranoia.  While he enjoyed his power as king, he soon began to suspect everyone around him of trying to take his throne.  In addition to his mother and mother-in-law, Herod also had three of his sons killed.  His position and power as king became something for him to protect at all costs, even the lives of his own children.
While this might be an extreme example, Herod stands as a symbol of our desire to protect what is ours.  We fight to preserve our money, our right to make our own decisions, and our idea of how church has to be done.   While this is something we do, it will, at some point, come into conflict with what God is calling us to do.  There will come a time when our will and God’s will collide.    
The other King of the Jews presents us with a different way.  While Herod’s instinct was to kill to
preserve his right to himself, Jesus calls us to die to ourselves.  Jesus says that life isn’t given to us by fighting stubbornly for it.  He says we will experience the fullness of life only when we place ourselves in His hands.  That means giving up our right to ourselves and what we think is best.  This is the very essence of faith.  It’s actively trusting that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  
Praying Together:
“Jesus, I understand Herod’s desire to fight for life his way.  I confess that, at times, I am reluctant to trust Your ways.  I want to cling to my own dreams for my life rather than entrusting my life to You.  However, Your call is for me to die to myself so that You can live in me.  I know this is the way to true life, the only life worth living.  Give me the grace to put all of myself into Your hands.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 2:4-5.
While the exact route the Magi would’ve taken from Babylon to Bethlehem is unknown to us, it’s likely that the journey was around 800 miles.  Depending on the size of the group, it would’ve taken them anywhere from one to three months to complete the journey.  
It’s hard for us to imagine what it would take to travel such a distance.  Of course, today such a
journey would be taken on a plane or extended road trip, but even a three-hour flight or three-day drive tends to leave us fatigued.  They had to pack up everything they needed for their journey and push through bad weather that shifted with the changing seasons.  They had to travel over challenging new terrain.  Such a journey would be considered arduous at best, yet the Magi were willing to make the trip just to welcome this new King into the world.  
I wonder how far you would go for Jesus.  Would you have been willing to pack up your things and brave the unknown in hopes that you might find Him, or would the unknown elements of the journey cause you to stay home instead?  I wonder which would win you over–the comforts of home or the payout of discovering an incredible treasure.  
So often, we settle by choosing to stay inside our comfort zone.  We like to stay with what we know, with what is familiar to us.  There are certainly benefits to our comfort zone, but refusing to move beyond it can cost us as well, especially in our spiritual life.  Choosing to stay within the confines of your comfort zone is a sure-fire recipe for complacency with your faith.  
The comfort zone doesn’t allow room for God to do something new, as anything new is unfamiliar.  As a result, we are unlikely to see any spiritual breakthrough.  Spiritual revival will come only when we venture beyond our comfort zone to where God is moving.  This is what the Magi did.  They went out in pursuit of Jesus.  This journey took them well past anything that was known to them.  Their breakthrough was that they got to worship at the feet of the Christ Child.  
Praying Together:
“Holy Spirit, I am guilty of playing life safe.  My comfort zone becomes the boundary for my life–one that I dare not venture beyond.  You have so much more in mind for me.  You often call me beyond my places of comfort so that I can venture on higher seas and discover unimaginable truths about You.  Be my good shepherd and guide me into a greater understanding of You.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 2:6.
After Herod summoned the chief priests and teachers of the law to inquire about the whereabouts of the Messiah’s birth, they pointed him toward Bethlehem.  They shared the prophecy from the book of Micah.  The verses are pleasant and inspiring.  God is doing a great thing here in Bethlehem, but the chapters that precede this prophecy are hard.  God is doing something indeed; He is judging the nations that have turned against Him and against the vulnerable.  The purpose of this judgment is to bring about renewal so that these nations can reclaim their identity as God’s people.     
As Micah’s words bring uncertainty to their future, God’s people begin to wonder what will become of them when their enemy invades their land.  What will they hold on to when everything goes wrong?  The answer to that lies in God’s provision for His people.  Although judgment is on the horizon, God is still with His people.  His provision comes in the form of a Shepherd, one who will care for God’s people as the war rages on all around them.  
In a season of fear and pain, it is God’s Shepherd who will be the source of peace for the people.  Verse 5, which directly follows the passage referred to in Matthew, reads, “And He will be our peace.”  Their peace will come from One who rules with grace, justice, and righteousness.  He will see His people through the storm.  It’s easy to see how these words point to Jesus for He is the One who steadies us in our own storms.  He is the Prince of Peace, the very One who gives the gift of peace to us.      
Praying Together:
“Prince of peace, bring Your peace to cover my weary soul.  Amen.”  
FRIDAY, 12/23
Read Matthew 2:7-8.
All he could do was stare at the unusual star shining above.  King Herod knew he had not seen it before. As his people began to talk about its significance, he became worried that their curiosity would lead them to pursue a new king–one they had heard about in the prophecies, the one they had dreamed about, the one they thought would come and make all things better.  For there to be a new star, something big must be about to happen.  Why else would the heavens change?   
Herod had to get ahead of what could be a threat to his reign, especially after three magi from the East came asking about where the new King of the Jews had been born. Herod had to know about the connection to this star and the birth of a new king. He called upon his chief priests and scribes to explain when and why the star had appeared. Based on the prophecies, if the worst were confirmed, it would mean the birth of a new king in Bethlehem. He sent the astrologers to follow the star to its final destination. An anxious king put all of his hope into these “wise men,” knowing that keeping his throne might depend on what—or whom—they discovered.
It is possible that these men knew, even before the king asked them, exactly what the star meant.  They may have known what they would find when they followed it. Even without the king’s request, they had scientific reasons to pursue the nature of the star. They would leave the king’s court believing the same thing they did when they had arrived. Something unexplained has happened.  To see a change like this in the heavens is extraordinarily rare. What is the nature of the star shining brighter than all others?
Praying Together:
“Relentlessly generous God, You are amazing. You used an incredible star to draw the world’s attention to the birth of the new Messiah.  You sent Wise Men to discover Him, men who were guided by a love of astronomy. You sent angels to inspire shepherds to seek Him. The rich and the powerless will be drawn to the Christ Child. Both were inspired by the idea that a Savior will begin His reign as an infant. Lord, by what star will you lead us this time? Amen.”
Read Matthew 2:9-10.
As they packed for the journey, the wise men know that something extraordinary was about to be discovered.  Upon finally arriving in Israel and believing that the incredible star signaled the birth of a new king, these wise men sought out Herod, who then questioned his chief priests and scribes about such a new ruler.  These learned men informed Herod that a new ruler had indeed been born in Bethlehem.  The wise men continue their search with the magical star going on before them until it stopped right over the barn where the Christ child had been born. 
I’ve lived in Texas all my life and even tried to follow a star or two on my bicycle.  They did not budge. They stayed ever still exactly as I had mapped them in my mind before I left the house.  I’ve driven for hours to get to Mexico from my home, and I never saw the change in position of the stars. Now maybe my calculations were off; after all, I was a teenager without instruments of
measurement at the time.  And maybe the stars are so far away that I couldn’t possibly get under them. Or maybe the wise men had to walk so far to see the Christ child that the map of stars changed positions. Perhaps it’s a bit of all three.  
It is possible that they were not following an ordinary star at all, but following God who used a star to guide them to the infant. Think about it.  God reveals Himself in infinite ways.  God knew the astronomers/wise men would follow a star. God knew that they would investigate enough that if they found the prophesied King, they would never do anything that would harm Him. God also knew that their hearts were pure and that they would be transformed for having encountered what would indeed be a new king–the Christ child.
Sometimes in searching for God, we can find Him in the smallest, most insignificant of places,
including a feeding trough in a barn. Let us be challenged to find sacred meaning in the smallest of things in our lives.  You never know when or how God will reveal Himself.
Praying Together:
“Precious God, I am making my way to You, one step at a time. What might I see reflecting Your Love and Your Grace in this world?  Is it a bright new star or the face of a new baby? I pray I can lean into my faith, find my strength, and seek You, just as the wise men did so long ago. I pray that I can trust You and know that You are always near, no matter how far away from You seem. May I always find my way to You. Amen.
SUNDAY, 12/25
Read Matthew 2:11-12.
And there they were, positioned under the brightest star. They were in a barn filled with animals.  The Baby sleeps in His mother’s arms, her husband nearby. This was far beyond what the wise men had expected.  His surroundings did not reflect the Child’s proper title as king.  His parents were young and inexperienced in the world.  Neither of them seems to be surprised by the nature of their Child, both fully human and fully divine.  It was unlike anything that the astronomers had ever seen before. 
They knew they were in the right place.  After all, the star had led them here. They instantly knew who the Child was. Their immediate response was to worship Him. The irony of this circumstance is overwhelming and not lost on the wise men.  They saw a baby born to young, unassuming, poor parents.  The birthplace was in a barn surrounded by the sights and smells of the animals.  His poverty does not match the royal riches He so deserves.  The wise men, wealthy and educated, bowed before a Child who could not speak truth yet. They knew deep down inside that this extraordinary Child would one day change the world.  The irony of His birth, God’s presence with the Baby, as well as the prophecies foretold convinced them that this Infant was the real thing, the king that they had sought.
The gifts given were expensive.  Praise given was true to the hearts of these wise men. They knew that the King had come.  To protect what they now know, the wise men made sure to take a
different route home in order to avoid capture by Herod. 
Praying Together:
“Lord, You provide me with opportunity after opportunity to connect with You.  Though we may be a different race, a different social status, a different level of education and power, coming from different worlds, we are still Your people seeking the Presence of our Savior. Each of us has come together under the same star to worship You and Your Son Jesus. Our lives have all changed by who this child is and who He will become. Oh, the things He will do and the places He will go, just so that we can reconnect with You, God.  We are so thankful for Your Son and how He continues to inspire us. Amen.”