Isaiah 60:1-6 Psalm 72:1-7,10-14 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2: 1-12
Mrs. Davis paused as she shook the pastor’s hand when she was leaving the church one Sunday morning. “That was a wonderful sermon, Pastor. I would love it if you had your sermons printed up, so we could take them home and study them.” “Thank you so much, Mrs. Davis. As a matter of fact, I do intend to have many of my sermons published posthumously.” She replied, “Oh, that’s good news, the sooner the better.”
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 the darkness that 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 – to choose how we fill our days with the light of Christ’s love.
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 stable, 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 stayed 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. They would have had copies of the Old Testament in their land, from the Jewish exile centuries earlier. Or perhaps, they received 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 how we respond today. We expect God to be looking for us, to explain himself, prove who he is, and give us gifts.
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. 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 shift 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, like Alexander the Great. 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.
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, 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 their escape 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, opening our hearts to 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 bigotry and hatred, away from hurtful comments. The Wise Men found another way home and sometimes we must do the same.
I believe that Christmas is for healing. Healing means wholeness, not just the absence of disease or hurt. I am less interested in how much money we spent on Christmas gifts, but rather on how much time, energy and commitment we are dedicating to our lives of faith. 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 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, this season of Epiphany and after The Epaphany – the manifestation of Jesus, some of us are crippled by life events or some of us need to feel God’s saving power in our lives. Christmas is for healing. 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. New life will come to us.
More than anything else, I pray Christmas was a gift for you. You can take it if you like but I can’t really give it to you like a wrapped up pretty package. It is deeper than that, it is warmer, brighter, holier than that. It is more personal. Christmas is more challenging than a wrapped up package. 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 than the power of God himself. The Wise Men knew.
And the Wise Men went home by another way. It’s perhaps a good thing the men weren’t women. We might have heard as the women departed, “Did you see the sandals Mary was wearing with that dress? That baby didn’t look a thing like Joseph. That donkey they have has seen better days. Want to bet on how long it takes to get our casserole dishes back? I heard that Joseph didn’t even have a job.”
Epiphany is observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by “showing” Jesus as the savior of all people. It is also a time of focusing on Christian community and fellowship, especially healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children. It is a time of prayer and action.
The Wise Men knew. So, if we are to live out this gift of Christmas, what must we do? We must decide to live as people of light - the light of Christ, to embrace the hope offered to this hurting world. The light we received as we sang Silent Night on Christmas Eve. 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 from 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. The Magi knew - Oh what a Blessed Christmas gift!! Amen.