The word discretionary rolled around in my brain for several days. Personally, I had one definition--money that wasn’t earmarked, like the bill tucked in whatever purse I carry just in case it might be needed.
In taking an informal poll the meaning of discretionary, I received shrugged shoulders and visible question marks with the exception of one who guessed, “free?” and another who whipped out quickly— “Oh, that’s easy, discretionary funds for the pastor in case anyone wanders into the church office needing financial help.”
Discretionary: available for use at the discretion of the user, optional, non-compulsory, voluntary, up to the individual, non-mandatory, elective, open to choose, unrestricted, permissive, flexible, not earmarked for a particular purpose but for whatever you choose. Discretionary research revealed an interesting faceted definition--any of the surfaces of a cut gemstone; an aspect or phase, as of a subject or personality which illuminated a pathway toward ‘encouragement-nuggets’ perfect for this Christmas season waltzing gracefully into the subject—Not Obligated.
While mulling over how I would develop discretionary, another unrelated subject kept gnawing at me which stemmed from chatting with brother John who described a devotional he had given at a Christmas party in which he engaged the audience in telling the story from Matthew of the wise men who followed the star to Jesus. After we hung up, I became enamored with the star. How did the wise men know about the star? Who were they and how many? Why did they journey from the east? An idea of combining discretionary, the wise men and the star became entwined for Not Obligated. I don’t intend this to be a Sunday School lesson but since I’ve heard the Christmas story for 80 plus years and am still learning, I figure maybe others could profit from a more inclusive meaning of the word discretionary as well about the star, wisemen and their gifts.
Luke’s story of Jesus’s birth, mentions the manger, shepherds and angels; Matthew’s account records the star and wisemen: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi (wisemen) from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 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.” Matt. 2:1-2 They had studied the Jewish scriptures which prophesied the star appearing: Daniel 9:24-26; Micah 5:2, Neh. 2:5).
9…and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11…they bowed down and worshiped him. …Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. The valuable gifts from the Magi were not designated for a particular purpose but freely given for Joseph and Mary to use at their discretion.
Commentators have proposed that the Magi represented the three known continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Then, like now, gold represented wealth and power. Magi in the Greek, was a term that referred to a kind of subclass of Persian priests, come to be known as wise men. Their orientation was much more in what we might today identify with science.” Looking to a star is “very much in keeping with the religious tradition of this place in time of looking to the heavens, the stars, and the planets for information about the gods’ wishes and doings, and some stars or planets were identified with God.”
The travelers from the east, whether they numbered 3 or 12, made discretionary decisions regarding how to use their time and their possessions. No one sent them. The fact that they came to worship Jesus and to freely give treasures that would finance Joseph and Mary’s trip home. The Three Wise Men are venerated as saints in the Catholic Church.
There are proof texts to support the identification of the Magi with kings. For example, in the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 60, we read, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Verse 6 says, “They shall bring gold and frankincense.” In Psalm 72, we find a prediction: “The kings of Tarshish and the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.”
We have the same freedom of using our discretionary (not earmarked) time and money any way we choose. This time of the year as we are aware opens the hearts of many to give lavishly, and often too generously for their personal financial situations. Friends have shared how they anonymously buy presents for needy families and put them on the porch. Our family experienced a single seminary student and a deacon from the church he pastored bringing Christmas to our family—I’ve written a blog about that joy-filled experience. When our children realized they had new toys, without any direction from us they went to their toy box and chose toys to give away. Receiving does that to us, opens our hearts to the contagion of joy in giving.
Another aspect of the busy Christmas season is looking around for those who do not have finances for giving like they once did or would like to. Our church has an angel tree hanging with community youth requests for members to choose one to shop for, wrap to be received at a Christmas party.
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. I John 4:15
A Christmas sentiment echoes my prayers for you.
May your home be warmed
by the love of the Savior…
your hearts wrapped in His peace…
and your new year filled
with His overflowing joy.
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.