Gold, Circumstance, and Mud

We need to come, as those wise ones came, to the gold of the manger with our circumstance and mud.

I first saw the title above in a church bulletin. It was the title of a story about a Christmas pageant.

The center of attention was a flashlight wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Everyone knew who that was supposed to be. Six-year-old John had on his dad’s bathrobe. Ten-year-old Jane had a dish towel wrapped around her head and said, “I’m Mary; he’s Joseph.” Four-year-old Margaret, with a pillowcase on her arms, which she flapped, said, “I’m the angel.”

Then 8-year-old Sarah appeared. You could tell she was playing a wise man because she walked as though she were riding a camel. She was wearing all the jewelry she could find, and on a dog’s pillow she carried three items. She bowed to the flashlight, to Mary and to Joseph, and then to the angel. She said, “I am all three wise men, and I bring precious gifts of gold, circumstance, and mud.” She spoke more truth than she knew.

Circumstances in this world, and maybe in our lives right now, find us standing in the mud of broken promises, financial calamities, natural disasters, fire, and flood. We need to come, as those wise ones came, to the gold of the manger with our circumstance and mud.

Sometimes we miss the arresting nature of the opening chapters of Matthew’s gospel. We miss the dramatic, even revolutionary, nuances of the genealogy we usually omit reading. We gloss over the pain the annunciation brought to a starry-eyed young couple contemplating marriage. And as the magi ride in gallantly on their camels, we completely miss the point that they do not belong in the story at all. But their very appearance is God shouting that the doors to the kingdom are swinging open. We are no longer—as if we ever were!—the gatekeepers. The birth announcement from God is addressed to the whole world.

We do not know the number of these wise ones, or their names, their origin, or even their exact occupation. We can neither identify the star they followed nor how they followed it. We do not know when they arrived or how long their travel took.

We should also observe, in Matthew’s gospel at least, that shepherds and angels and the stable are missing. Even Joseph is not mentioned. The world “saw the child . . . and worshiped him” (Matt. 2:11). That’s the point! The gospel that ends with the Great Commission sending followers into the world begins with the Great Invitation summoning the world.

Do you hear the message of Christmas? This vignette from the story fairly shouts at us that God wants people to know Jesus; God wants the world to know Jesus; God wants each of us to know Jesus.

Which star led, how many and who these wise ones were, even the whereabouts of Joseph—who, by the way, never says a murmuring word in the entire New Testament—all the things that arouse our curiosity and occupy our attention simply vanish in the glory of the fact that the One who was and is and is to come lay (or, by the time the magi arrived, stood) helpless before them—more wonderfully still, stood for them. That star, still glittering in the sky overhead, calls us to a similar mission: to worship Christ and to point him out to all.

At the outset of his gospel, Matthew introduces us to the world that is invited to come and worship the King. At the conclusion, Matthew shows us the disciples going out into the world to repeat the invitation. May God find us bringing that gold into all human circumstance and mud.
A blessed Christmas to you and yours—and all of his!

About the Author

Rev. Joel R. Boot is the executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

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