Isaiah 60:1-6 & Matthew 2:1-12
Traditionally, today is the day we focus on the Three Wise Men.
Someone once said its debatable whether the Wise Men where truly wise. Mary and Joseph didn’t need gold, frankincense or myrrh. What they needed was a donkey-load of disposable diapers.
So much for wisdom.
If you are one of those who comes skidding out of 2018 right into 2019, today might be a good day to put on the brakes.
Let’s just stop for a moment—(Pause)There is nothing more distracting than the never-ending rush to get everything done.
Close your eyes for a moment.
Breathe in the goodness of God—(Pause)
Breathe in the love of God—(Pause)
Allow the Spirit to remind you that you are God’s beloved—(Pause)
Clear your mind of all that has stressed you out this morning—(Pause)
We are told that the Wise Men were from a distant country and culture, somewhere from the “East”, where they had picked up signs in the heavens that convinced them that a historical birth was about to take place. The story tells us that they followed the star which led them to the general location of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
According to Google Maps, Bethlehem is about 6 miles from Jerusalem, (if you take the Hebron Road)
The Wise Men must have come to the conclusion that with Jerusalem being the capitol of Judah, this child had to be the king of the Jews. Therefore they probably assumed he would be born in Jerusalem where the royal court was.
Their first stop was the King’s residence, but King Herod was as stumped as they were. Only after the king calls in some advisors was he told of the prophecy of one of the ancient prophets;
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
And right there and then the question of where the new King could be found became of strategic importance to King Herod. Now he too, wanted to know all about this “new-born king”.
In a certain sense the whole story pivots around the motives of these two groups; King Herod on the one hand and the Wise Men on the other.
Both had a stake in finding this new child.
The Wise Men’s interest was to find the newborn King so they could pay homage to him while King Herod’s interest was to exterminate any threat to his power.
We light the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve to honor Jesus as the Light of God, who, like a candle, drives away the darkness.
We all know that candles attract moths.
The Wise Men are attracted from a distant and foreign place to witness this event and when they discover Jesus, they bow before him and their gifts are literally gifts meant for a king. Their insight is astounding. Their reverence inspiring. They have come like moths attracted by the Light.
But moths attracted to a flame also face danger. Flying too close to a flame means they could singe their wings and destroy themselves. This is exemplified by King Herod whose mind is so poisoned by his obsession with power that he misses the entire opportunity to understand and experience God’s love revealed in this child.
We know that after their visit with Joseph and Mary and after paying homage to Jesus, the Wise Men returned to their homeland, satisfied and fulfilled by their experience.
We also know that after stewing in his fear the heartless Herod sends in his stormtroopers to execute all the newborn boys in Bethlehem, except for Jesus, whose family is forewarned and who flee to Egypt in time.
Instead of interpreting this story as a historically correct narrative we need to rather interpret it as a mythological narrative that conveys a great deal of wisdom and points to the choices we have in life. That, after all, is the purpose of the Bible; to be a source of wisdom for all times—even ours.
The Jesus birth story is the story of God. Just when we believe we have figured God out God disrupts our labels and dogmas and traditions to point us in the right way.
The fact is that King Herod, representing the power of the state, together with the priests and sages of Jerusalem, were clueless as to what was taking place in Bethlehem, while strangers from a foreign land and a foreign culture and even a foreign faith, were the ones to see and understand.
This story was meant to shock. Its shock value was to remind us that the moment we think we know it all, we might have to check to see if we have not lost our way.
The moment we begin to claim that our interpretation of God; our tradition of faith; our culture; our lifestyles are in sink now settles perfectly with God’s will for us, we probably need to know that we are due a very good shake up.
If our thinking of God; our world view; our set of values; our lifestyles have remained unchanged over the past decades, it might be a sign that we have stagnated.
“Well”, you might be thinking, “I thought we were going to relax and calm our anxieties as we ease into 2019, not be challenged and burdened with more demands.
The idea of always testing one’s inner self—who you are; how you think and how you act, is not to be a stressful journey to a guilt-laden state of mind but to be embraced as a healthy spiritual workout.
To question and test oneself could be like the journey of the Wise Men. They had an inkling of an idea that something great was happening and their journey brought them to a place of great joy.
Someone once said (Scott Hoezee) “the Christ Child who attracted these odd Magi to his cradle later had the same magnetic effect on Samaritan adulterers, immoral prostitutes, greasy tax collectors on the take, despised Roman soldiers, and ostracized lepers”.
It is not too late for us to be delighted again, by the Light that led strangers from a foreign land to the feet of this Child. To discover new ways of tying our story with his—our lives with his.
Daniel Handler, (“Lemony Snicket”) writes;
“There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself.”
Let us join hands as we “go out into the world and find such a thing for ourselves this year.” Amen.
for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord
has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise
and his glory will appear
Nations shall come
to your light,
and kings to the brightness
of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes
and look around;
they all gather together,
they come to you;
your sons shall come
from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried
on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see
and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill
because the abundance
of the sea
shall be brought
the wealth of the nations
shall come to you.
A multitude of camels
shall cover you,
the young camels
of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba
They shall bring gold
and shall proclaim the praise
of the Lord.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.