3rd Week of Advent
The Rose Compass
Ships have been guided over the oceans for centuries by one star: the North star. It is so called because it is always to our north on a compass. By following the North star at night, a ship’s crew will always know the direction they need to go. Usually printed in the corner or center of the map you will find what is called the “Rose Compass.” It will have an arrow (normally pointing to the top of the map) which indicates which direction is north.
The Bible is also a compass which directs us correctly. On the roadmap to the manger, there are scriptures which point us in the right direction. Like a Rose Compass, these passages keep us steady and on course until we reach our destination. Incidentally, this first text makes reference to a star. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob: a scepter will rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17).
Jacob is Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson. The Lord also gave Jacob a new name: Israel. “…God appeared to him again and blessed him. Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel. So he named him Israel” (Genesis 35:9b-10). The promise of God to Abraham continues through his grandson who God renamed Israel.
The two symbols used in Numbers 24:17 speak in terms of the future. The star is a symbol of dominion and the scepter a symbol of royalty, such as a king. Although we may see these images portrayed in King David, we find them fulfilled in Jesus. This verse is like the compass which directs us in the right way on our journey. The star represents Christ’s kingdom and the scepter portrays him as King.
It may be interesting to note that when the wise men, or magi referred to the star they followed, they called it “his star,” “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
As we continue to use the map compass, we find another indication that the Messiah will come through the lineage of Abraham. A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1). Jesse was the father of David (who became King over Israel), also descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
A “shoot” is a term used to describe new growth out of old. For example a new tree (shoot) can grow out of an old tree (even a stump) and form into its own fullness as a tree. This “shoot” is in reference to David, and from David’s roots (descendants), the “branch will bear fruit.”
Jeremiah explains this further when he writes: “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
Israel and Judah are essentially the same. Jacob (Israel) is the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Judah is the son of Jacob. For some time in Hebrew history, Judah represented the southern kingdom and Israel was known as the northern kingdom. Both were descendants of Abraham, to whom the promise was given. This King will be called “Lord,” and “Savior.”
The angel Gabriel explained to Mary, the mother of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).
Mary later responded, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever…” (Luke 1:46-47, 54-56). It is all connected like leaves to a branch, the branch to the trunk, and the trunk to its roots. If we follow the compass on the roadmap to the manger, we find it always pointing us the direction we need to go. Stay on course and we will find the manger.
Perhaps the most revealing prophecy is the one spoken by the prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).
Micah lived and prophesied during the years 738 to 698 BC. We have travelled from the beginning of time, to the promise of Abraham, through Old Testament passages until Micah. We are now about 700 years away until the birth of our Lord. This prophecy is the most specific. It names a location: Bethlehem. “Ephrathah” is just another description of Bethlehem.
After all these centuries, we now have a location. We know he was promised… we know he is coming… we know where he will come. Trust the direction of the compass as a ship stays on course by following the North star.
O Star of wonder, star of night…
Guide us to Thy perfect Light. *
The Lord gave us a map with a compass to find the manger. He has given us reminders to check and recheck the direction he is leading us so we may stay on the right course. These Old Testament scriptures have shown us where our Savior will be born. It will happen in Bethlehem. But where exactly in Bethlehem will we find the right manger?
- John Henry Hopkins Jr., 1857
I am so glad I live in Colorado. For many reasons, but one reason in particular. I can always find the direction of west. In the Denver area, the mountains are to the west. If someone gives me a direction to “head north,” if I can’t see the mountains, I have no idea which way is north.
It’s called “getting your bearings.” In order to find the manger, we need to have our bearings set. We need to know we are going in the right direction. These previous passages, among others, keep us on the right course. Like a compass, they direct us toward Bethlehem. Granted, hindsight is “20/20,” and we have the advantage of being able to trace our path because we know where it ends.
During the season of Advent we are to prepare our hearts for this blessed event. Finding the manger helps us keep our focus. Our focus is on the “Word” becoming flesh. Our focus is on Jesus, not the manger. Upon finding the manger, we find the One who was born to become our King, our Lord and our Savior.
There is an old saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” It’s a good sentiment, but we need to take it further. Far too many people think of the Christ only twice a year: Christmas and Easter. That’s appropriate except for the fact that Jesus did not come only to be honored twice a year.
Finding the manger is not a reward. It is a challenge. Do we believe he is who he says he is? Do we trust him… completely and totally? And if so, is it more than twice a year, or only when our lives become too difficult to face on our own? I once heard someone refer to Jesus like this: “Jesus is not a ‘put him in your pocket, save him for a rainy day’ kind of Lord.” Either he is, or he is not. Either he is Lord all the time, or he is not. There is no “part-time” Jesus.
When you pack up the tree and decorations after Christmas is over, do you also pack up Jesus and store him somewhere you will not see until the next winter? I surely hope not. As the angel said to the shepherds the night Jesus was born, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Again I turn to a prophetic and familiar verse, Isaiah 9:6:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
He was born to us. He was born for you.
– Write a letter to yourself! Express your faith and trust in God through Jesus. Don’t make it like a New Year’s resolution that you keep for a week or so… make it personal. What do you believe about Jesus? In what areas of your life do you wish to have a closer relationship with him by inviting Jesus to make himself known to you in those life experiences?
– Draw a scale at the bottom of your letter (0 – 100) and mark where you feel you are now, and where you hope you will be next Christmas in your relationship with him. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Put the letter in an envelope, seal it and slide it into the Christmas tree. When you are taking down your Christmas decorations, put the sealed envelope in your Christmas storage. Open it next Christmas and see if there has been any movement in your faith and relationship with Jesus.
Is Jesus more to you than a “put him in your pocket, save him for a rainy day” Savior? Is he full-time or part-time Lord?
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
…the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
“Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.”
1 Thessalonians 4:17
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.