The Scavenger Hunt
Every year at Christmas since I can remember, my Dad has made me a witty scavenger hunt leading up to my biggest present hidden somewhere in the house. As I grew older, I began to realize that I didn’t want presents so much as people and experiences rather than things, yet, never the less, year after year, I would beg my Dad to make me one of these hunts regardless of the present at the end of the puzzling codes and clues. Accordingly, year after year, he would make me one, and to this day, it is still my favorite Christmas present that I physically receive because of the mystery, solving, and hide and seek that takes place.
Over 2000 year ago, some people I’ve heard much about also fell in love with this expectation of mystery and solving the latest collection of scavenger hunt clues that they held at their fingertips- they just didn’t know it yet. In the Old Testament, it is cited various times by numerous Prophets and words of Scripture that someday, a Messiah would come to save the Israelites, Jews, and Gentiles from their sins, wiping away the wrath of their humanity and replacing it with the grace and love of an unexpected mystery.
Regardless of whether they believed it or not, however, Jesus was coming, but it wouldn’t be until the New Testament that these words would become living fruition of The Word in living, breathing testifying form to the flesh. Yet in all its beauty and essence, this answer was not what the people wanted nor expected. It wasn’t the solution to their scavenger hunt list of problems they were asking for, so when the prophecy was about to come true, those who rejected the gift at the end of the hunt wound up losing more than what they bargained for.
Sure, missing a package at Christmas or not being able to figure out the clues to find it is depressing, but what about missing the entrance of the one who could tell you more about yourself than you ever wanted to know, loving you with an unconditional radical love that no one human would ever be able to express?
Talk about missing that so much so in a physical realm that you then became blind not only to the reality of His saving grace, but the beauty of His free gift for eternality- that’s a hunt so much deeper and at stake than the goodies at the end of any magical rainbow or CSI investigator set of clues. Worth so much more than money could ever buy you in packages lit dimly under the trees or even my Father’s hand-crafted notes of charm in all their time, compassion, and dedication to warm my heart.
In the book of Isaiah, the Scriptures state in 11:1-3 that, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from His roots, a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord- and He will delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-3, NIV). Similarly, Micah 5:2 gives a comparative account remarking that, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, being small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come out to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings out are from of Old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2, NIV).
Through passages like these Old Testament prophecies, we learn that the people were waiting for something and more importantly someone to save them. To step down into their messy, sinful lives and flip the world they were living in upside down. However, they also got tired and impatient, complacent, questioning and confused. Waiting, waiting, and then waiting some more, it would not be until the New Testament that these visions and miracles of a true saving grace would be revealed. Even at that, it would not be until that gifts’ death that they would realize and appreciate the true magnificence of His being-yet then, they would be too late to ponder His sacrifice and what it truly meant for their lives while He was here on Earth.
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we are given just a glimpse of these truths as they unfold. While Matthew recounts the genealogy of Jesus as a descendant of the line of David and Jesse (Matthew 1-2), Luke gives specifics of the exact details leading up to Jesus’ birth and the context surrounding Him (Luke 1-2) as He was prophesied, born and living-Emmanuel, God with us. Not everyone you see though approached this fulfillment of the scavenger hunt with anticipation, joy, and wonder. Remember, the Israelites were tired of waiting and had been waiting a long time, so by the time Jesus actually came they had already given up. While Elizabeth and Mary looked forward to His arrival, for instance, though, the Wise Men and Shepherds had to travel to find Him and Herod just wanted a revenge of jealousy because Jesus wasn’t what he expected- He wasn’t some crude and ruling King, stepping in to make everyone rich and yelling at them to solve their problems. Instead, He was a humble and gentle baby-sweet, soft, and mild as a winter snow, and many, sadly, didn’t like this.
Out of their own jealous hearts of sinful desolation, those like Herod missed the grandest entrance of birth ever to exist. They skipped out on the thrill and magic of the best present to a time-old scavenger hunt of clues that they could ever find, replacing it with their own ways of selfish desires, deception, and mockery. Even later in the story, men like them would crucify this gift, swearing they knew best, only to realize the blessing of His gift once He was gone. Yet, others like Elizabeth, Mary, The Wise Men, and Shepherds teach us the proper and Holy way to respond.
In her barrenness, Elizabeth chose to trust the Angel that she would have a son (John the Baptist) and when Mary visits her, the two women bond over the miracles God is doing in each of them (as Mary too was told she would give birth to a son, Jesus, The Messiah who would save the world). Believing and praising God for what they have even before that have it, reveals the true response to any hunt or mission we are on for a prize (especially if that prize is Jesus Christ). Correspondingly, perhaps the Shepherds and Wise Men also demonstrate this driven and apt response.
Luke 2:16 states that after receiving word from the angles where Jesus’ birth would take place ad where they could go to find Him, the Shepherds “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16, NIV). They didn’t waste any time and were eager to unwrap the coming mystery. In Matthew, so too were the Wise Men (Magi) on a mission to worship Jesus (Matthew 2), but their hearts were pure as opposed to Herod whom a dream warned them about, (Matthew 2:10-12) only wanted news for destruction and not worship. Perhaps my favorite demonstrations to this response of entry, however, comes from Mary, the mother of Jesus, directly after His birth in one of the first Scriptures I shared.
After giving birth to the Savior of the World, The Messiah, and realizing that His name would soon be spread to the nations, Luke 2:16-20 reveal a difference that we should take note of and apply to our own lives. As I imagine being surrounded by farm animals, I am sure Mary breathed in the stinky air of the night, followed by a sigh of relief that her temporary birthing pain (without medicine!) was just complete. The Shepherds, bustling around her setting, were amazed at the fulfillment of the prophecy they’d been waiting for so long to save them and peering over her shoulder, I can envision their googly eyes of wonder before rushing out to spread the truth of proof that this was indeed the gift they had all been waiting for. But in this order of gentle chaos, Mary took a different response, conceivably similar to her initial response when she was told of the great puzzle that would occur within her.
First told of His entrance to appear through the Holy Spirit in her womb, Luke 1:38 remarks Mary’s confidence: “I am the Lord’s servant… may it happen to me as you have said” Luke 1:38, NIV). Comparatively, two books later, Mary in Luke 2:19 took time to analyze and think over this gift rather than jump right into the crazy conundrum of spreading the news. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NIV) and perhaps we too, now given this gift of life should learn to do the same.
Treasuring and keeping these moments near to her heart, Mary took time to reflect on all these things that had happened to her. From her virgin conception and birth to seeing the miracle with Elizabeth and the Shepherds, it was all in awe to her as she pondered, weighed, kept, and revolved her thoughts and emotions around not only the treasure of the greatest scavenger hunt in history but the story of revelation it took to get there. Keeping her attention on Christ before, during, and even after Christmas, let us too ponder the revelation Jesus is doing in each of our hearts, minds, and lives.
This Christmas, I was unfortunately not given a scavenger hunt because my Father is in the hospital and too ill to know that he didn’t make one. However, rather than be filled with sadness for this missing “gift”, I smile knowing that my Heavenly Father has already given and blessed me with the best gift of eternal life and that gift is worth so much more than any worldly present I could ever find at the end of a set of clues specially written for me. Like my Dad’s hand-crafted notes with wit, charm, humor, compassion, and love, God has written His mystery of each of those things on my heart and year after year I am amazed at what He continues to reveal to me.
Because the greatest gift of all, you see, isn’t the twinkling lights, cookies, and milk left for Santa, or even people we are blessed with to hold our hands and stand by our sides. It isn’t the hustle and bustle of preparations like Black Friday shopping, kids staying up all night to open their presents at 6 a.m. or finding the perfect gift for that spouse or loved one. It isn’t the family gatherings full of food, fellowship, and games, or even the Christmas Eve Services we attend singing God and praising His name. It isn’t even a scavenger hunt that meant the world to a little girl, but it is the birth of the true answer to that quest that everyone is in need of and desperately searching for.
It is the birth of a baby in a manger, and it is His dedication to the world. It is His free gift to humanity and the context surrounding those things in His Word. It is all He’s given to us and those He’s blessed us with to fellowship and share. But above all things, it is He Himself and the treasure we hold near in prayer. From our knees on the pavement to our hands lifted high, the best gift this Christmas still was, is and will always be Jesus, to hold, to have, to love, to seek, to choose, to recognize.