Scripture tells the story of magi who followed a star in the sky—a light in the midst of the darkness—to find the Messiah. In the gifts that they placed at the feet of the Christ—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—they recognized the intermingling of light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death. But more than what the magi gave the child, Three Gifts, One Christ is about what Jesus offers us.
Using passages from Matthew and Hebrews, Katie Z. Dawson explores three of Christ’s roles—Jesus comes as the high priest who sacrifices himself for us, the prophet who calls us into the Kingdom and shows us a better way to live, and the Messiah who triumphs over evil and sets us free.
Converge Bible Studies is a series of topical Bible studies. Each title in the series consists of four studies on a common topic or theme. Converge can be used by small groups, classes, or individuals. Primary Scripture passages from the Common English Bible are included for ease of study, as are questions designed to encourage both personal reflection and group conversation. The topics and Scriptures in Converge come together to transform readers’ relationships with others, themselves, and God.
About the Author
Katie Z. Dawson is currently the lead pastor at Immanuel United Methodist Church in Des Moines, Iowa. At Simpson College she studied communications, religion, and physics; she then received her Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. Katie and her husband, Brandon, enjoy playing disc golf, spending time with family, and their two cats, Tiki and Turbo. When she can find the time, Katie blogs at SalvagedFaith.com.
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Converge Bible Studies Three Gifts, One Christ
By Katie Z. Dawson
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
UNWORTHY THERE'S A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
SCRIPTURE LUKE 2:7-11; MATTHEW 2:1-2; HEBREWS 2:5-18
7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord's angel stood before them, the Lord's glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, "Don't be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David's city. He is Christ the Lord.
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We've seen his star in the east, and we've come to honor him."
5 God didn't put the world that is coming (the world we are talking about) under the angels' control. 6 Instead, someone declared somewhere,
What is humanity that you think about them? Or what are the human beings that you care about them?
7 For a while you made them lower than angels. You crowned the human beings with glory and honor.
8 You put everything under their control.
When he puts everything under their control, he doesn't leave anything out of control. But right now, we don't see everything under their control yet. 9 However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while—it's Jesus! He's the one who is now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of his death. He suffered death so that he could taste death for everyone through God's grace.
10 It was appropriate for God, for whom and through whom everything exists, to use experiences of suffering to make perfect the pioneer of salvation. This salvation belongs to many sons and daughters whom he's leading to glory. 11 This is because the one who makes people holy and the people who are being made holy all come from one source. That is why Jesus isn't ashamed to call them brothers and sisters when he says,
12 I will publicly announce your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you in the middle of the assembly.
13 He also says, I will rely on him. And also, Here I am with the children whom God has given to me.
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he also shared the same things in the same way. He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death—the devil—by dying. 15 He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death. 16 Of course, he isn't trying to help angels, but rather he's helping Abraham's descendants. 17 Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way. This was so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, in order to wipe away the sins of the people. 18 He's able to help those who are being tempted, since he himself experienced suffering when he was tempted.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
In seminary, I spent one summer as a hospital chaplain. I worked mainly on the floor where patients had compromised immune systems because of transplants, leukemia, cancer, or other diseases. Many patients stayed in this wing for weeks at a time; and I had lots of conversations while wearing a paper gown, an isolation mask, and rubber gloves.
One patient, in particular, Adam, was having a hard time. Adam had leukemia and was in a really deep hole of doubt and self-pity. His illness was getting the best of him. I will never forget how, as I entered his room, the first words out of his mouth were, "Why can't I just die already?"
We started talking, but I didn't know what kind of comfort I could bring him. I couldn't take his pain away. I asked whether he wanted to pray; and he barely lifted his head as he answered: "Even if I do admit that God's really there, I don't deserve it."
Adam felt forsaken by God. Forgotten. Hopeless. Unworthy.
Over and over in ministry, folks like Adam have come into my life. They think that grace and faith and salvation are wonderful but believe that they are too far gone, too broken, too messed up to experience it.
But God didn't see Adam, and doesn't see us, as disposable—made, then broken, and easily thrown away. God created each of us, as the psalmist writes, "only slightly less than divine, crowning [us] with glory and grandeur" (Psalm 8:5).
I told Adam that it doesn't matter whether we feel unworthy. It doesn't matter whether we think we are undeserving. The truth is, we are all unworthy and we are all undeserving. There is nothing we can do to earn God's love. God created you with glory and honor. And in spite of how you have lived out your life, God loves you anyway.
We are not disposable in God's eyes; we are redeemable. As John 3:16 reminds us, "God so loved the world that he gave" Jesus Christ to save it. God doesn't abandon this creation but, with love and grace, restores it to glory.
OUT OF CONTROL
Growing up, I was fascinated with the sky. Long before there were apps to help pick out the constellations, I created my own star finder, using transparency sheets and glow-in-the dark puff paint. I mapped out the stars and then held up my faintly shining map to find its match in the heavens.
One of the first constellations I mastered was the Big Dipper, which actually isn't a constellation at all. The stars are part of the constellation Ursa Major. Together these stars make an asterism, or an easily recognizable pattern in the sky.
Those stars, circling overhead, really put into perspective how tiny we are; yet God has put us in control. Our reading from Hebrews quotes Psalm 8, reminding us that God placed this glorious world in our hands for safekeeping.
We have control over how we treat one another. We have control over our children and the animals that surround us. We have even harnessed this world's natural resources for power. But Hebrews takes that gift a step farther. Not only this world, but also the world to come, the world of salvation, has been put under our control. It wasn't given to the angels but to us (Hebrews 2:5, 8).
"Carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling," Paul writes (Philippians 2:12b). It is in our hands. Kind of scary, isn't it?
Maybe that's because, while God may have put everything in our control, we know that sometimes power spins out of control and we hurt one another. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods ravage. Violence fills our news stories as neighbors fight and wars rage. We make mistakes. Health declines. Bills pile up. Control? Well, it slips between our fingertips.
My patient Adam was without hope of ever finding that control again. First, he was fighting a disease that could take his life; and he was losing. He was stuck, a prisoner in a body that was betraying him, in a hospital room he had been in for too long.
Second, he had a lot of time to think about the mistakes he had made—too much drinking, too little caring. Even though his disease wasn't caused by his past, he thought that he was being punished for how he had wasted his life. He didn't know how to make amends.
Finally, even if he had decided to take responsibility for his relationships, his health, his faith, everything was a mess. He didn't even know where to start picking up the pieces. He wasn't sure that it was possible.
Maybe you have felt out of control when a disease or disaster turned your life upside-down. Maybe you have struggled with forgiveness, either of yourself or of someone who has harmed you.
Maybe you have tried to follow Jesus but turned back because the path was too hard.
Maybe you have experienced doubt or despair. Maybe you have been hopeless.
But even in the darkness, we can get our bearings.
A GUIDING STAR
The Big Dipper has been used for centuries to find Polaris, the North Star, to navigate by night. A time-lapse image or video of the northern sky would show countless stars swirling and moving and changing, but Polaris stays a fixed point. The two outer stars in the Big Dipper form an imaginary line that always points to Polaris. And if you are anywhere north of 35 degrees latitude, you can see these stars any hour of the night every day of the year. While the sky may change throughout the seasons and even through the night, Polaris remains still above the horizon.
The author of Hebrews writes that even if we can't see the order, even if this world and the next might appear to be spinning out of control, we need only to find that one star to guide our way; we need only to glimpse Jesus to be reminded that all is not lost (Hebrews 2:9).
The season of Advent is a time when we remember how "the light of God's glory and the imprint of God's being" (Hebrews 1:3) came into this world. Generations of our ancestors longed for the day when they could "walk by the Lord's light" (Isaiah 2:5), when the guiding light, the path of salvation, the end of oppression would be among them.
Matthew tells of the light of God entering the world through the birth of Jesus Christ—a light that shone so bright that it appeared as a star in the sky. It beckoned the magi over mountains and deserts and seas to the countryside of Jerusalem. When they arrived, Jesus may have been a small child in his mother's arms; but that light was so powerful that no darkness could overcome it. That light remains constant, fixed, and always present in this world that is ever changing. He brought light to a world of sin and death.
Jesus is our reference point. He is our North Star. He guides our path to salvation.
DIRTY COVERALLS AND SMELLY SHEPHERDS
Christmas at my Babi and Deda's farm (my grandparents, in Czech) was full of chaos: five children, four spouses, and ten grandkids—all crowded together in their living room, with a gigantic tree in the corner. It was warm and full of joy and laughter, but let's just say that our Christmas scene was unlikely to appear in a Martha Stewart publication.
Instead of wearing Christmas sweaters and pretty dresses, we showed up in wet clothes from sledding and dirty coveralls from feeding the cows. We didn't spend money on silver bows and wrapping paper; our gifts were packaged in grocery bags, newspaper, or sometimes just had tube socks tied around the handle.
When dinner was served, everyone took his or her plate of food and found a chair or spot on the floor to sit. Every inch of the table was covered with the potluck offerings, and there weren't enough chairs anyway.
Rather than singing Christmas carols, we plotted to have the best Christmas prank of the year. The best—or worst—of them all was the dead opossum that was wrapped up and put under the tree. Mind you, it was frozen solid; so it didn't smell.
We were gathered together to celebrate the birth of Christ, but the wrappings of Christmas mattered too. The way our Christmas was packaged, I knew that I could always be myself. I came to believe that there was always room for another person somewhere in the house. Giving mattered more than receiving. We celebrated each person's offering—whether it was of food or story, service, gift, or prank. It was rowdy, disorganized, and a lot of fun.
The story we tell during Advent is as much about the packaging (the setting and the characters) as it is about salvation and Jesus Christ. Of course, the message is important; but how the message is told matters as well. In fact, the surprising way this story played out is one of the reasons it was hard for so many to understand.
God chooses an unwed girl to bear Jesus Christ into the world. His birth takes place in a dark and dirty place, surrounded by animals rather than in the warmth of a bed. The good news of salvation comes to those on the fringes—strangers from afar and lowly shepherds. These details matter. Each person, each place has import. They frame the story so that we won't mistake the fact that this message is for the meek and lowly, the broken and hopeless.
In Luke's gospel, the first to hear the good news about the birth of this savior aren't kings or merchants or religious leaders, but shepherds. Shepherds probably would have felt right at home at Christmas dinner at Babi and Deda's house; but in their day and time they were the unclean, the outcast, and the forgotten. Those whom the rest of the world might consider unworthy are the very ones God chooses.
God is reaching out to the least and the last and the lost, saying: This message is for you. It is good news, "wonderful, joyous news for all people" (Luke 2:10, emphasis added).
Every single last one of you. And the message is simple: You are not trapped by sin and death, you are not broken beyond repair, and you are called to participate in the riches of God's glory. Salvation, healing, wholeness, joy, freedom, hope are real, and they are for you.
We might believe that we are unworthy—and we are right.
But we are children of God, and our Creator does not abandon this glorious creation—no matter how tarnished we might have become.
Adam and I had many conversations over that summer. I watched as he let into his life people who showed him love, grace, and forgiveness. I watched as his community rallied in support and helped pay for his treatment. I watched his kids visit, wearing those funny paper gowns and giving kisses through isolation masks. I watched as he navigated this difficult journey with Jesus by his side.
When Adam went home from the hospital, he was learning to accept the gifts that Jesus was bringing into his life. He was set free from a fear of his disease, found forgiveness from the mistakes of his past, and was learning how to put one foot in front of the other on the path of discipleship.
Adam discovered that we are worthy not because of who we are but because of who God is.
God created us with glory and honor. And when God saw us tarnished and bruised, God didn't abandon us but sent Jesus Christ to destroy the power of death, to wipe away the sins of the people, and to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:12-18). Jesus fully entered our human experience so that he might redeem us, heal us, and restore us to the glory and honor God intends for our lives.
As Hebrews 2:11 reminds us: "This is because the one who makes people holy and the people who are being made holy all come from one source.... Jesus isn't ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters."
Isn't that amazing? No matter how messed up and out of control our lives might be, no matter how many mistakes we have made and bridges we have burned, Jesus isn't ashamed of us. He takes our sin and chaos and mess right through the cross. And now he is leading us—the unworthy, broken down, and outcast—straight toward salvation (Hebrews 2:10).
1. What is the significance of the Bible's details of the humble circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ?
2. What specifically terrified the shepherds in Luke 2:9? Why might the shepherds have been chosen for the angel to appear to?
3. Who were the magi? Why, do you think, did God decide to notify outsiders about the birth of Jesus?
4. Compare and contrast humans and angels, based on your understanding and the Hebrews 2 passage. In what ways do humans seem to be above the angels? In what ways do we seem to be below them?
5. How is Jesus the "pioneer of salvation" (Hebrews 2:10)?
6. What does it mean to be "made holy" (Hebrews 2:11)? What role, if any, do we play in our being made holy?
7. What do we have in common with Christ (Hebrews 2:14)? Why is this important? How does this factor into the ultimate destruction of the devil by Jesus?
8. How does Christ set us free (Hebrews 2:15)? From what are we being set free?
9. When have you felt out of control of your life? What do you find most difficult about living a life of faith?
10. The Christmas story is a story of hope. Why is hope important? How can we read this story with hopeful expectation and apply it to our own lives?CHAPTER 2
A GIFT FOR A KING
SCRIPTURE ISAIAH 11:1-10; MATTHEW 2:1-21
1 A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout from his roots.
2 The Lord's spirit will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD.
3 He will delight in fearing the LORD. He won't judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay.
4 He will judge the needy with righteousness, and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land. He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth; by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips, and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze. Their young will lie down together, and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child will play over the snake's hole; toddlers will reach right over the serpent's den.
9 They won't harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain. The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea.
10 On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.
Excerpted from Converge Bible Studies Three Gifts, One Christ by Katie Z. Dawson. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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