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Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas

Jeremiah 31:7-14 Psalm 84:1-8 Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a Matthew 2:1-12

In light of our new year – a year of hope and promise – Destiny by Frank Outlaw – Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

And there, ahead of them went the star they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. In Advent we experienced the central theme of the coming of the Christ-Star into the world. It has been a time to remember how God’s Beloved came to restore harmony to a fractured world, to dispel whatever keeps love from shining through all of us. The Christ-Star, this irresistible love in us, this radiant goodness, is at the core of our souls. Advent after Advent reminds us that each of us has the light of this shining star within us. This special season of Christmas assures us that we can radiate love and goodness to others – we can choose how we fill our days. Andy Stanley asks, “What are you holding onto that is holding you back?”

Just as a star led the Magi to the Christ Child, so we are meant to be stars leading others to the amazing, unconditional love of God. Others are also stars for us, leading us to God’s Love. In each of us, the love planted and growing, joins together with a magnificent gift of hope and encouragement.

Not much is known about these Magi, Wise Men. Someone said if it had been wise women, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, brought practical gifts like diapers, cleaned up the place, and made casseroles. We don’t know where the Wise Men came from or how many they were. Tradition says that they were men of high position from Parthia, near the site of ancient Babylon. How did they know that the star represented the Messiah? They could have been Jews who remained in Babylon after the exile and knew the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah’s coming.

They may have been eastern astrologers who studied ancient manuscripts from around the world. Because of the Jewish exile centuries earlier, they would have had copies of the Old Testament in their land. They may have had a special message from God directing them to the Messiah. Some scholars say that these Magi were each from a different land, representing the entire world bowing before Jesus. These men from faraway lands recognized Jesus as the Messiah when most of God’s chosen people in Israel did not. Matthew pictures Jesus as King over the world, not just Judea.

The Magi traveled thousands of miles to see the king of the Jews. Something beyond them was calling them, and it was the tug they had been waiting for all their lives. When they finally found the Messiah, they responded with joy, worship and gifts. This is so different from the approach people often have today. We expect God to be looking for us, to explain himself, prove who he is, and give us gifts. What are you holding onto…

Herod the Great was quite disturbed when the Magi asked about a newborn king of the Jews. Herod was not the rightful heir to the throne of David, so the Jews hated him as a usurper of the throne. Herod was ruthless and because of his many enemies, he was suspicious of people trying to overthrow him. Herod didn’t want the Jews, a religious people, to unite around a religious figure - it could swing the balance of power away from Rome.

The chief priests and teachers of the Law knew of the prophecies about the Messiah (Micah 5:2). The Magi’s news troubled Herod because he knew that the Jewish people expected the Messiah to come soon. Most Jews expected the Messiah to be a great military and political deliverer. Herod’s counselors would have told him this. No wonder, he took no chances and ordered the killing of all the baby boys in Bethlehem.

Unlike the Christmas card pictures, Jesus was probably one or two years old when the Magi found him. By this time, Joseph and Mary were married, living in a house and intending to stay in Bethlehem for a while. The Magi gave these expensive gifts because they were worthy presents for a future king. Gold was a fitting tribute for a king, now given to one who will be crowned with thorns not gold. Frankincense, the incense of purification and holiness, is given to one whose body will be a perfect sacrifice. And myrrh, the precious ointment for anointing the bodies of the honored dead, is given to one who will not be held by the bonds of death. These gifts may have provided the Holy Family the financial resources for the trip to Egypt and back.

After finding Jesus and worshipping him, the Magi were warned by God not to return through Jerusalem as they had intended. For us, getting to know Jesus may mean that our lives may take a different direction, one that takes us away from the gossip at work, away from judging others, away from off-color jokes that make fun of people, away from unforgiveness held in our hearts. The Wise Men found another way home and sometimes we must also. What are you holding onto…..

On this the Second Sunday after Christmas, we begin looking forward as we embrace the past. For we will never be able to erase the fact that Jesus came – to touch lives – to break bread – to heal hurt – to forgive sins – to wash feet – to calm seas – to walk on water – to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit and to care immensely. Yes, to care enough to be born in Bethlehem, to live in our land, and weep over our cities and die and rise again.

So, now in this season after Christmas, some of us are crippled by life events or some of us need to feel God’s saving power in our lives. Jesus came to heal. So, if we trust Jesus enough to walk out on the waters of getting involved, of washing feet and anointing people, of breaking bread and working miracles, I am sure that his saving presence will touch those blind and crippled parts of our lives and new life will come to us. Christmas to be a gift for us. It is an offer, it is a mystery, it is birth, it is hope. The birth of the Christ-child into the darkness of the world made possible not just a new way of understanding life, but a new way of living life. Through the birth of Jesus a life-giving power was released into the world which to our minds could have been no less the power of God himself. The Wise Men knew. What are you holding onto …. that is holding you back?

So, if we are to live out this gift of Christmas, what must we do? We must decide to live as people in the light of Christ, to embrace the hope offered to this hurting world. It means celebrating the glory of the Son of God that the Magi experienced in their visit to Bethlehem. It means calling attention to things that others may not want to see. This is why we need the support of our faith community, our church family. We need each other to stand together as people of the light. We know the power of light in our own darkness experiences. This gift of Christmas, this gift of hope calls us to embrace the light of Christ’s love and to allow that light to shine in and through us to illuminate our paths and the paths of others. Oh, Blessed Christmas!! Amen.

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