A Christmas Embrace

The small boy was obviously lost. Standing in the shopping mall with crowds of people rushing by, he looked terribly anxious, glancing all around for a familiar face. It was Christmastime and the worst time of year to be in the midst of a rushing crowd, disconnected from a family member. Yet, standing beside The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettle, I could see what he could not—an elderly man standing not far away with eyes fixed on the boy. I thought to myself that this was his grandfather. Sure enough, their eyes met and the older man ran to embrace the boy. “You thought you were lost, didn’t you? Well, I knew where you were all the time.” No scolding of the boy for wandering off. No embarrassing lecture in front of strangers. No reprimand of any sort.

For so many people Christmastime only accentuates their sense of lostness—of being alone in the crowd. The emphasis on family, happy memories, celebration and giving just reminds them of their isolation and that life has not been like that for them. Perhaps that is why The Salvation Army has made Christmas a major focus of its year. Perhaps that is why we arrange special meals in the community, Christmas assistance and the giving of toys. We want to replace the sense of loss or meet the urgent need and display the spirit of Christmas in the most practical ways.

Yet in spite of all we do, we cannot fix broken lives or heal the deep wounds of the heart. Sometimes we are surprised to discover that the people who feel most lost in this Christmas maze are not the economically strapped. Sometimes the hurting, broken, lonely and lost are actually the ones who appear to have it all together.

The Bible tells a story of such a man—Zacchaeus. He was actually very prosperous. However, his profession as a tax collector ostracized him. But Jesus, like the doting grandfather, saw where he was all the time and connected with him in a life–changing way. When criticized by the people because He was having a bite to eat with a “sinner” like Zacchaeus, Jesus declared emphatically that He had come into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Zacchaeus changed from the scheming deceiver that he was to a generous, responsible citizen. Why? Not because he was publicly shamed, reprimanded or made to feel like an outsider, but because Jesus was on the lookout for him. He gave him a sense of dignity. He knew he could be different.

It is so important that we don’t get carried away with nostalgia when it comes to the Christmas story. We can romanticize the scene of Jesus’ birth and miss the power of its message. God took on human flesh, moved into our neighborhood and spent His life in search of those who needed to reconnect with their Maker.

Maybe some of us would never admit to being a lost soul, but we would admit to a loss of our idealism, values, faith or hope. Maybe we would even venture to admit that we have lost much of our love for ourselves or others. It’s not something we declare to everyone. We may feel like the young boy, unnoticed by the crowd but frantically needing to be found. Well, friends, Christmas is about the coming of the Savior of the world—the loving Savior—the one who searches out lost people, embraces them and gives them the best sense of belonging they could ever imagine.

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By General Linda Bond

Of Promises and Kings

We are not good at waiting. Fast food, express mail, speedy print, express checkout lines (which seldom are), all give ample testimony to the lifestyle of many of us. Andy Rooney reminded us that “any line you choose to stand in during your life will usually turn out to be the slowest.” We just do not like to wait.

And we can’t wait for Christmas. We count off the days, open little windows on Advent calendars, all in an effort to make the time go faster. Then when Christmas comes, we can’t wait to open the presents. Then we can’t wait to take the tree down and put the decorations away. Then we can’t wait for the next holiday, for summer, for school to start, and then we can’t wait for Christmas to come again!

The days of our lives are spent in waiting, but not necessarily in enjoyment.

And so we are waiting again—Advent is a season of waiting—only now the curiosity is that we are waiting for One who has already come.

Israel was waiting for a king, the right king. The people had waited for years, thinking that possibly Saul or David might be it. And if not one of them, perhaps Solomon. But it was not to be. And every succeeding king only met with disaster, moral decay, sin and sometimes a failure to trust God.

But the kind of king these people needed could not be like any other king; they would need to have a king who had powers of intellect, wisdom and understanding, practical ability, be able to give good counsel and have the might and will to make right decisions, have gifts of piety and knowledge and possess the fear of the Lord. He would need to be one who would judge the people fairly, not be given to partiality, not by appearances but by the truth. This king would be righteous, just, faithful. He would be one on whom the Spirit of the Lord rested. For the kind of king needed to lead a people such as they had to be one who was filled with a divine Spirit. In short, he would need to be the perfect king.

In Israel, every time a king had been crowned, words like this were read:

“A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow
out of his roots. The spirit of the
Lord shall rest on him . . . His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord”
(Isaiah 11–1-3).

Every time a king was crowned, the spiritually sensitive wondered if this might be the one, this descendant of King of David, who would lead the people out of darkness. Words were sung in hopeful anticipation and expectation of better days ahead. And every time those who had prayed and sung were disappointed.

But the people of God did not give up looking for the one who would bring deliverance for the oppressed and peace between God and man. Although the situation might have appeared hopeless, the people were not without hope, because they had the promise of God, and they believed Him. That was enough for them, so they waited and watched. And God kept His promises and fulfilled their hopes in ways they could only faintly imagine—He sent more than a king. He sent a Savior. It is His birth we celebrate.

Some of us have waited so long for something that it hurt—perhaps not gifts at Christmas—but rather light in darkness, hope in despair, direction in times of uncertainty. Or maybe there has been a search for meaning in existence, for a spark in a spiritual life which seems to be making little progress, for consolation in the dark night of the soul when prayers seem to rise no higher than the ceiling of our prayer room. If so, we can identify with those who waited for the birth of the King those many years ago. They waited and watched and hoped because they had the promise of God, as do you and I. And a message of Christmas is that God always keeps His promises and we can trust Him.

In this season of our great joy, we will do many things to celebrate the gift of God’s Son to the world. We will also celebrate the promise–keeping God who keeps His word, who promises to be with us and who comes close to each of us, through a King, through a Son.

“Noel, noel, noel, sing all we may, Because the King of all kings was born this blessèd day.”

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By Commissioner William Roberts

Bible Study: Encounters with Christ – Joseph

Not a word he spoke was ever recorded. Our picture of him is of someone in the supporting cast while the main stars shine. He is Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. That was certainly no small part to play in history, yet it leaves more questions about him than answers.

Joseph is introduced as the one betrothed to Mary, the mother of Christ. Scholars tell us that though their engagement was an arranged marriage by their two families, Joseph had ratified it by the betrothal, his adult ascent to his parents’ wishes. The idea of falling in love and then marrying was largely foreign in Palestine. Love would come, a choice first of the head and then the heart.

Although the couple did not live together or have intimate relations during betrothal, their relationship was still serious enough that it could only have ended by a formal divorce. That rarely happened except in the case of infidelity.

So it was that during their betrothal, Joseph was convinced he was dealing with betrayal. Mary told him she was pregnant, but her story was so implausible, so utterly impossible, to likely have made him doubt not only her purity but her sanity as well. Supposedly God had made her pregnant! Of all the outlandish excuses! The poor man was left with a decision. The Bible records, “Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19).

Joseph never shied away from personal sacrifice or discomfort. He was willing to set aside his own interests, to go when told to go, to obey when the command was given. Besides obedience, what else did Joseph have to give? He was a carpenter, not a worker in wood. His was not the fine craftmanship that made furniture that adorned palaces or the homes of wealth. His work was sawing the beams for houses, laying the bricks for walls. It was common labor. Joseph was a plain man, the commonest of commoners. And here in the great story of Christ is the first indication that God has an estimate of a person far different than the people with whom that person lived. Had the prophet not said centuries earlier, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7)?

After hearing the news, this most tragic news, Joseph no doubt settled into a night of troubled sleep. It was the tossing and turning that curses anyone who has seen a cherished relationship reduced to ashes. Emotions ranged from anger to sorrow while thoughts bounded from hopelessness to resignation. Somehow he fell asleep and dreamed a dream that changed everything.

The Lord spoke to Joseph’s troubled heart. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 20–21).

If the events of that day were incredible, how can you top that dream? In a moment every question of Joseph’s was answered. Mary was telling the truth. God had visited her and come upon her. This was a virgin conception for a baby unlike any that had ever or would ever walk the earth! She had not been unfaithful; she was not insane. There would be no divorce, no public disgrace or private agony. More than that, Joseph now entered into the redemption drama. How, he wondered, could such a simple man be drawn into something so sacred, so holy as to be almost unspeakable?

The Bible next tells us, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name of Jesus” (vs. 24–25). It was the expectation of a man, then as now, that when he married, love would be consummated in sexual union. But Joseph understood the sacredness of the moment. That time of intimacy would come, but for now he was the caretaker of the one who would give flesh to the incarnate Son of God. He had waited this long. He could wait longer, especially given what was at stake.

Joseph continued to obey God. In doing so he went along roads he never intended and experienced things he could not have imagined. At the height of her pregnancy, Joseph would saddle her on a donkey while they trudged to Bethlehem to pay a tax levied by the cursed occupiers of their land. The trip was further complicated by a village that had no room for the couple, leaving them vying for space among farm animals. Yet in the still of the night, that promised baby boy came. And Joseph with calloused hands would be the first to touch, to hold, to hug the baby Jesus. Here in the featherweight of a baby’s body was the Savior of the world entrusted to a man who daily heaved bricks and beams.

The drama was scarcely over. That night shepherds as crude as Joseph broke the silence of that night with excited tales of angels singing to proclaim the baby’s birth (Luke 2:8–18). Joseph knew better than to consider them delusional after what he had already experienced. As the days passed the couple was visited by foreign royalty who not only brought gifts of tremendous value but knelt before this child (Matt. 2:11).

Dreams were not over for Joseph. The murderous King Herod would allow no rival, infant though He might be. In a rage he ordered that all baby boys under two years old in Bethlehem to be slaughtered. Jesus was spared because Joseph heeded the dream that warned him to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Mary (2: 13–18). The little family stayed in Egypt until again in a dream, God spoke to Joseph to tell him to go back home to Nazareth (2:19-23).

After this Joseph made only a brief appearance in Scripture when Jesus was 12 years old. After that he was not seen again. It is assumed that he died before Jesus began His public ministry, early death being a common fate in ancient Palestine. He never saw Jesus when He healed the sick or raised the dead, nor did he hear Him speak or watch as the common people, people just like him, heard Him gladly. He missed the moment of triumph as Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” from the crowds. He did not stand with Mary at the foot of the cross a few days later to hold her as her heart broke in woeful anguish. Joseph never heard the breathless tales of excitement that this Jesus had risen from the dead, nor did he watch as the Roman Empire shuddered under the wave of believers who turned to Him for salvation.

But Joseph’s faith was rewarded by being the first to touch Him, the first to hold Him and with Mary the first to love Him. And he was the first man to hear that this child was born to be the Savior of the world. He was the first man to experience that knowing Jesus changed a commoner into something uncommon, the very thing Jesus will do for you today.

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By Major Allen Satterlee

The Duct Taped Tree

The Duct Taped Tree

As a young family, we began the tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree with a vision steeped in the scent of mulled cider and the dusting of snowflakes in the air. We’d bundle the kids into the station wagon, whether they wanted to go or not, determined to “make a memory” that they’d cherish into adulthood. Despite the muddy boots and the cranky kids, we did succeed at creating a lasting memory in our final attempt at cutting our own tree, but it took quite a few days for our classic tree story to develop.

Upon our return home the tree sat neglected for a number of days in our backyard. I finally decided to get that lonely tree up and decorated, with or without anyone’s help. So, Christmas carols blaring, I wrestled it into the house, battled with the cantankerous three–legged tree stand and triumphantly raised the tree to its full height—about a foot too high for our family room.

So now what? My husband was busy with supervising the Salvation Army kettle campaign in our area, the boys at 6 and 4 were absorbed with their G.I. Joes and I was determined to finish what I’d started. I’m a carpenter’s daughter, so I thought, how hard can it be to saw off a section of the trunk and a couple of lower branches? Bad question. After what seemed like hours of sawing, there was only a faint line around the trunk. I came up with Plan B—what if I cut off the top of the tree, remove a few inches of the trunk where I could actually cut through it and then somehow wire the top back on?

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An hour and yards of duct tape and garland later, I stood back and thought “hmm, that’s barely noticeable.” Right. That’s why there is a chapter in the annals of the Shade family history entitled The Year Mom Cut Off the Top of the Christmas Tree, right before The Year We Bought an Artificial Tree.

Ah, the wonders of duct tape. How often do we attempt to manage our lives by patching up the wounded places with duct tape? The prophet Jeremiah spoke about it centuries ago: “They treat my dear people’s wounds as though they were not serious, saying, ‘Everything is all right! Everything is all right!’ But it’s not all right” (Jer. 8:11, God’s Word Translation). As much as I wished it were so, all the duct tape in the world wouldn’t have made my tree all right, nor can I tape up and heal the gaping wounds in my soul, those places either torn apart by my own sin or betrayed by the offense of another.

It took the wounding of Jesus to do that for me—for us. “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Frederick Buechner puts the coming of Jesus into perspective for us: “Jesus was not looking for the wounded so He could put band–aids on them—He was looking for a man [or woman] who He could make whole.”

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Did I really think that no one would notice the duct tape? Well, just in case they did, that’s what the garland and other glittery decorations were for. Surely some bling on our tree would cover up the problem area. That attempt didn’t work any better than the duct tape. It’s a lesson generally faced by the age of 6 or 7—the attempted cover–up is worse than the initial offense. Better to admit your guilt, take the punishment and move on.

Like my tree, we can choose to wrap our wounded selves in colorful garland. We fill our lives up with so many distractions that we don’t have to look at our hearts. We allow addictions of all kinds to keep us from those we love and from God. We deny that anything is wrong or that our priorities are out of whack. We rationalize that our religious behavior will make it all right. Yet here’s the truth that we don’t want to hear: If our glittery garland is covering up something in us that God longs to make whole, then we are sinning.

The brokenness that separates us from God is serious—fractures that no amount of duct tape or garland can repair. Yet as Martin Marty knows, “Brokenness and wounding do not occur to break human dignity, but to open the heart so God can act.” It is only in response to our confession and repentance that God sweeps in with a gracious sense of forgiveness and healing.

My family may still chuckle about Mom and her duct–taped tree, but for me it has become a vivid reminder of the futility of attempted cover–ups and the enormity of the grace of God.

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By Major Jo Ann Shade

How I Met the Army: That’s Where I Want You

Salvation Army Soldier - Alberta BellWhen my husband Ernie and I and our two children moved from the Southside of Chicago to the Westside, I found myself in need of a congregation of believers. I planned on visiting churches in the immediate area to see if one would be a comfortable fit for me.

During my daily prayers I asked for guidance in my search. Four months passed and I had not visited any churches. This was the longest time I had gone without being part of a congregation. Then early one July afternoon, while my children were napping, there came a knock at the door. I really didn’t want to be bothered, so after a long hesitation, I finally answered the knock. To my surprise, there stood Salvation Army Captain (now Colonel) William Norris, the corps officer of Chicago’s Midwest Corps. With his infectious smile, Captain Norris was there to set up a tenants’ meeting, since The Salvation Army was the building sponsor. While listening to the captain explain the reason for his visit, I heard my inner voice say, “That’s where I want you.”

Ever since that day I have repeatedly said that God brought The Salvation Army to me. This was well illustrated at my first Salvation Army meeting. It was important for me to find a church that taught holiness. As I attended a service a couple of weeks after my visit from Captain Norris, it was he who spoke of believing in holiness. Before the end of service, I knew this was where God wanted me to be. The following Easter Sunday, Captain Norris enrolled me as a Salvation Army soldier.

The Army has been a very important part of my family’s life. I was a stay–at–home mom, and with the blessing and support of my husband, my children and I were able to participate in many Army programs. I have been involved in youth ministry and activities, namely Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. I have also been a Sunbeam leader and a Corps Cadet counselor. Almost every year I attend the Central Bible Leadership Institute (CBLI), where I was first trained to teach what I love—the Word of God. I have also been privileged to meet many wonderful and influential Army officers there. Over the years, our children have participated in all the Army youth programs. With the addition of our third child, my daughters and son eventually became graduate Corps Cadets.

As a member of the now closed Chicago Heights Corps for 23 years, I consider my fellow soldiers to be family. The love was abundant and evident. Before I could drive, Captain Norris would pick my children and me up at home and drive us to church and church functions. Since I lived farther away from the corps than anyone else, this was tangible evidence of their kindness.

During one drive, I remember saying that no one looked like me at church. Captain William responded, “What does that have to do with anything?” My skin color didn’t matter at the Army—what mattered was what was on the inside.

My children and I always felt loved at the corps, and had a real sense of belonging.

Easter Sunday 2012 marked the celebration of my Jubilee (50th) year as a Salvation Army soldier. I have enjoyed fifty years of involvement, teaching and belonging. I didn’t just sit on the bench. I got involved, and I still am to this day. I continue to teach Vacation Bible School and Sunday school, and I am also happy to be involved with both Women’s Ministries and Community Care Ministries. My corps is now Chicago Midway Citadel. To God be the Glory!

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By Alberta Bell

That’s God’s Music

From the December 2012 issue of the War Cry:

Salvation Army Band performing in the snow.It was almost Christmas. Michigan City, Indiana, whispered winter. Cold. Snow. Why would anyone be out on such a night?

Lieutenant Ray Wert had to go out. The Salvation Army corps held its Salvation meeting Sunday nights. Before each meeting he and a few faithful soldiers would go to the usual corner and offer an invitation to attend. Salvationists call it an Open Air meeting.

As usual, the small contingent would announce that Jesus saves lost sinners, then invite anyone interested to follow the Army band into the corps or church and hear an unabridged message from the pulpit. Afterward, the lieutenant would record information about the evening in his book of statistics.

A small group of Salvationists marched to the corner the week before Christmas. They sang, spoke and played dilapidated brass instruments.

No one stopped. No one even passed.

Another one for just the statistician, Lieutenant Wert thought.

A few months later a woman approached lieutenant during an Open Air on that same street corner. It was springtime, and many stopped to listen or to mock the fanatical people in their funny uniforms. The woman waited until the 15 minute service ended.

“Excuse me, sir. Are you the officer here?”

“Yes, my name is Lieutenant Wert.”

“Were you at this same street corner the week before Christmas?”

“I haven’t missed a week in the last two years,” he answered. “Yes, there were a few of us out that night. Why do you ask?”

“My father lived in that apartment above the store there.” She pointed to a dingy building just up the street. “He’d been in a coma for the last six months. My father’s body was there, but he was not.” She wiped her nose on a stiff handkerchief and tucked it into her white purse.

“We heard the strains of the band music as it played hymns. Daddy sat straight up in his bed and said ‘That’s God’s music!’ And with that, he lay back down and died. Thank you Lieutenant Wert. You’ll never know how much that meant to me. Thank you so much!”

As the little band of Salvationists marched back to the corps, there was a spring in their steps and thanks in their hearts.

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By Pauline Hylton

What A Difference the Kettle Makes: “Salvation’s Ring”

I absentmindedly slide the shopping cart with the renegade wheel across the steamy asphalt parking lot. It’s Christmas in Florida. After many years of living here, you’d think I’d be used to it by now: the stifling heat, hair curling humidity, relentless sun bearing down, making me ever mindful that I live in the Sunshine State.

My mind travels back to the Christmases of my childhood in Chicago—rushing through similar lots, bracing against the bitterness of the Windy City, finding my way through rows sectioned off by mounds of brilliant snow banked upwards of ten feet by exhausted snow plow operators.

My musings are interrupted by the tinkling of a Salvation Army bell followed by the singsong plea, “Help the Salvation Army.” Instinctively I remove the purse from my shoulder, open it, and drop a ten dollar bill into the familiar red kettle. The bell ringer smiles and gives me a cheerful “Thank you.” She doesn’t know that I do this with every kettle I pass.

My husband used to cringe at these impromptu responses to the kettle, since there’s no way to write it off. But after years of observing this impulsive behavior and living with the results of my turbulent childhood, he understands. When he’s with me he doesn’t say a word.

The bell ringer and I chat amiably for a few minutes about the heat and the crowds. I am scouting her out to see if she would be interested in my story. She seems open to listening, perhaps due to the present lull at the store’s door. So I begin …

Mom’s Promise
Living now in one of the most affluent areas of the country is a far cry from the days five decades ago when I lived in Chicago as a teen. Coming home from school one warm October afternoon, I was met with the horrific sight of two men gingerly placing our belongings on the lawn of our rented bungalow. My mom courageously attempted to hold herself together for the sake of her six kids and assured us that she would find us a new place. I wondered how she would keep that promise. My stepfather was gone on one of his binges and there certainly were no cash reserves.

Enter the calm, peaceful Salvation Army shelter on Wisconsin Avenue. In spite of the years, I can go back as if it was yesterday. I recall the dark wooden floors that my mom humbly polished during our six week stay, as well as the clatter of the heavy plastic plates we kids set on the long tables before each plain but satisfying meal. And how the smell of meat braising in a large kettle was such a treat after weeks of watery potato soup.

Sense Out of Chaos
The bell ringer listens attentively as I describe the stark but comforting beds with their thin plaid coverlets and the joy at receiving the green pleated skirt and pretty white blouse as well as other new clothes. The gratitude for material needs is easier to describe than the binding up of the broken heart of a skinny, red–haired girl.

I pause in my story, searching for words to describe the feelings of safety, of peace, of acceptance that I had never felt before. I tell her how grateful I am that she is giving her time to help those who still call on the Army when they are in crisis. I want her to know that her sacrifice is not in vain—that someone will be more than blessed and that their life will be changed deeply, maybe completely.

I feel a bit panicky that she won’t get it so I look in her eyes and they tell me she does.

She looks away to thank another contributor, then back at me. Her soft eyes tell me to go on. I finish my story by sharing how amazing my husband is and that I can remember the words to the songs from the service we were able to attend while at the shelter — the up-beat gospel tunes and the holy hymns so unfamiliar then but a sweet part of me now.

I thank the bell ringer for listening, wish her a Merry Christmas, and head into the swirl of frantic shoppers, my list clutched in my hand. Reflecting on my conversation, I am filled with wonder and gratitude for a God who knew my deep need for salvation and the hope that someone would make sense out of my chaotic life.

Eventually, Jesus did.

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By Patricia Kelly

Bible Study: The Magi

Hungering to know not only the state of things but where the world was headed, the great thinkers of the ancient world sought answers wherever there was a promising lead. There was no neat separation between true science and superstition in those days. A doctor, for example, might use surprisingly advanced techniques coupled with potions and charms to affect a cure. Along this line, Magi (wise men of the ancient Medes and Persians) saw no difference between astrology and  astronomy. The stars were to be studied not only for their place in the universe but how they influenced the affairs of people.

It was in their study of the heavens that they saw the remarkable star. Though they might turn their eyes away, something drew them back again to study it. What did it mean? Why did it appear now? Leaving their observatory, they went to the library that contained the Hebrew Scriptures, no doubt left over from the Jewish Babylonian captivity. The Magi read of a coming King to the Hebrew people. Their Persian records told of how the God of the Hebrews had interacted in their own history. Nebuchadnezzar had been humbled twice by Yahweh (Daniel 3 and 4). Belshazzar saw his fate etched on the wall as the book was closed on the Babylonian kingdom (Daniel 5). Darius watched as Daniel was spared the vicious fangs of lions by the power of the true God (Daniel 6). Queen Esther’s unlikely story was still told. And the prophet Isaiah had predicted by name that Cyrus would allow the captive Israelites to return to their home in Palestine to rebuild their nation (Isaiah 44 – 45:1). Although the Jews had largely left Persia, their footprints left traces through the history of the kingdom to that day. The Magi knew that the God who had made Himself known so mightily among them those centuries ago was the likely One to herald the coming of the King of Israel in their day.

The present day Magi had missed those remarkable historical events, but they resolved not to miss this one. Setting out on their journey westward and conforming to the travel standards of the day, they loaded their camels. These were worthy beasts, able to carry heavy loads, capable of going 17 days without water while moving at a slow but steady pace of two miles an hour. Given the preparations for their journey, the time needed to rest on the way, the slow pace they had to take, the Magi devoted two years of their lives to get to Palestine, and two years to return. There was commitment to their devotion that was costly, but they reckoned that the reward of seeing Yahweh at work was well worth it.

Panic in The Palace
The place to start had to be in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish nation, although now reduced to a vassal state under Roman rule. The Bible tells us that, after arriving at Herod the Great’s palace, they asked, “Where is the one that has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).

It is likely that the Magi were dismissed from Herod’s court while a panicked discussion followed. What were they talking about? How could something like this occur and we didn’t know about it? Herod had murdered his own family members as well as anyone else who appeared to have some chance of threatening his throne. Was there now a subversive element in his kingdom that he had overlooked in his purges?

Soon the intelligence was gathered. Bethlehem, David’s home village, was where the King was to be born. And then Herod, ever ready to manipulate and exploit, decided to do so with the Magi. “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship  Him’” (vs. 7-8).

The Magi now knew to travel the seven miles to Bethlehem. Given the ignorance at the palace, what would be the chances of finding Him in a backwoods country village? But the star! “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him” (vs. 10-11). The star, the journey, the seeking brought them to this moment. No doubt speeches had been prepared and rehearsed, but when they saw the Christ child, all was swallowed up in worship. They anticipated a regal occasion in a grand palace, only to find themselves in a humble laborer’s house, made holy by the presence of Christ.

And now the gifts they guarded on their dangerous passage were laid at Jesus’ feet. Gold to acknowledge His royalty, frankincense to recognize His divinity and myrrh, a spice used for burial, to speak to His sacrificial death. As valuable as the gifts were, the Magi no doubt felt their offerings were not enough. But the Lord knew their intent, proven by their effort to bring them to Jesus.

Despite a Tyrant’s Wish
The Magi were to report back to Herod, but “having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (vs. 12). The double–cross enraged Herod. His remedy was efficient and cruel. Why search for the one child when with a simple decree He would just be one more toddler in the slaughter? Herod’s troops stormed into Bethlehem and the surrounding area, ripping all boys under two years old from their mothers’ arms. They were mercilessly killed by a tyrant’s wish (vs. 16).

All those infants died, but Jesus escaped. Like the Magi, Mary’s husband Joseph was also warned in a dream. Stealing away to safety in Egypt (vs. 13- 14), the former country of Jewish slavery became a haven, while the Promised Land had been turned into a killing zone.

We hear nothing more of the Magi. But one of Jesus’ disciples, Bartholomew, came to Persia after Christ’s resurrection. When he arrived he would have found those old Jewish stories that had been woven into Persian history. Then he heard what took place after the Magi returned. And he told them the wondrous story of the Christ of the Magi’s quest.

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By Major Allen Satterlee

The Army’s Response to Hurricane Sandy

The Salvation Army, in collaboration with the New York City (NYC) Office of Emergency Management, Restore NYC, the National Guard, the New York Police Department and NYC Services participated in an Emergency Surge of food and water that hit the ground within hours after Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The super storm left in its wake severe damage and flooding in the low lying areas around New York City as well as resulting in a prolonged blackout in lower Manhattan and in Rockaway for weeks. Over a ten day period, the Emergency Surge continued, providing over 2 million prepared meals and 700,000 bottles of water throughout New York City.

Working out of the NYC Emergency Operating Center (EOC), Salvation Army Emergency Services personnel coordinated the feeding of all Special Needs Shelters in New York City as well as utilizing Salvation Army Thrift Store trucks to both deliver emergency products to the impacted areas and haul away piles of spontaneous clothing donations that were clogging the city streets.

“New York City presents a particularly complex set of logistics,” said John Berglund, Director of Emergency Disaster Services for the Army’s Greater New York Division. “It has been so gratifying to see all of these constituencies pull together as one to address critical needs.”

In New Jersey, first responders and survivors entered 15 shelters across the state as Sandy made landfall. In these American Red Cross shelters, The Salvation Army served three meals daily, provided new clothing and personal hygiene items. Shelter managers from the American Red Cross also utilized emotional and spiritual care teams from the Army. And, as in NYC, the Army provided support services at a special medical needs shelter in Atlantic City.

Counsel and solace at Salvation Army shelter in Albany, NYIn addition to providing shelter support, emergency feeding and distribution of a myriad of disaster supplies, Army personnel came alongside survivors, offering solace, hope and prayer, as requested. “Besides food and hydration, one of the vital contributions offered by The Salvation Army is the ministry of presence,” noted Major Darryl Leedom, National Liaison for Public Affairs. “Simply being there, listening to the stories of those in need is an intentional engagement that brings hope and healing.”

While receiving a hot meal, one woman commented, “It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to lose everything you have from such an event. When you see the whole community, young and old, coming out to receive help, you understand how critical it is that we support one another. I am so thankful for people like those with The Salvation Army who show us that they care.”

Organizations donating funds to The Salvation Army for disaster relief include: FedEx Corp., Target, the PNC Foundation, the National Football League and National Basketball Association, Eli Lilly, and many other corporate and individual donors.

Salvation Army distribution site on New York's Coney Island.“This will be both a response and recovery effort, and we will be there every step of the way for those in need,” said Major George Hood, National Community Relations and Development Secretary. “We would not be able to do what we do if it were not for the generosity of the American public and our partners.” The Salvation Army welcomes the support of additional partners to provide long term case management for those in need, long after the hurricane response has ended.

According to Salvation Army Emergency Services, a $10 donation feeds a disaster survivor for one day. A $30 donation provides one food box, containing staple foods for a family of four, or one household cleanup kit, containing brooms, mops, buckets and other cleaning supplies. A $500 donation keeps a Salvation Army canteen (mobile feeding unit) fully operational for one day.