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.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
All of us are called upon to make decisions. This can be a decision that is very personal – about how we are to live in harmony with others.
And those decisions that appear to be personal also have a wider impact on others. Life style decisions can effect what kind of world we will have. And life style decisions have an impact our political decisions.
The question that is basic to our living together is: What values or beliefs will we base our decisions on? We hear the term core values as the rationale for our actions and our beliefs. Yet, in our pluralistic world the question of how we arrive at core values is very much under question. And there are questions about whether our core values are based on some universal principle – that what we believe is more than our relative culture perspective.
I like to watch Steve Colbert because his program is a satire of commentators that have unexamined yet passionate beliefs about the world. He invented the word truthiness to show how some people’s understanding of truth is just an unexamined bias. Truthiness is belief that overcomes truth and thus a person can impose his/her will on others because of the claim they have the truth and nothing but the truth, even if it has not been tested and is really one of self interest. His point is many commentators are really projecting a world view that is unexamined and dangerous to well-being.
The task of faith is to grow so it provides us with the foundation to address the issues we experience in our personal life as well as the issues society presents. We are to grow in wisdom. We are to grow in understanding. This is so we can confront those ideas that create ill will.
Ideas matter for they are foundational to our core values. And not all ideas are equally good. We have seen this in politics and religion gone bad. Those views which create justification for acts of violence and prejudice.
We have seen this in fascism, in racism, and in condemning people who have different life styles. This means we must test our foundational beliefs to see if they are worthy of our loyalty.
When we read closely this story of the wise men we see that Matthew is telling a story about this difficulty of raising questions with the taken for granted views and the demand of joy to change one’s mind.
Matthew wants us to see something beyond the familiar. Every one of us has a longing for God deep within us. We don’t always recognize this desire for what it is, but we feel it. Our spirits hunger for meaning, our souls for hope, and our hearts for love.
Why do we go to church? We have mixed motives, but at least part of our reason for going is the faint hope that we will feel God’s presence. We go in response to a longing even if we can’t name it. We have been called forth like the magi, led by the light of a star. We have felt the pull of God’s love.
The longing is so deep and the voice so distant that even in those moments when we think we might have felt something or heard something we don’t often take even a single step forward. It’s less frightening to stay where we are than it is to move toward a light that we’re not absolutely certain we saw. For every three far-seeing, truly wise persons, there are a hundred who won’t see beyond their noses. Most of us are too practical to chase stars.
When the magi ask about the new king, Herod fears for his job. He asks the reference librarians for help. The scribes point to Bethlehem.
Herod tries to hoodwink the magi into coming back to tell him the child’s location so that he can pay the child a visit, too. Herod knows that anyone worthy of worship is threatening.
This story begins to let us in on alittle insight for the rest of the story…the appearance of Jesus disturbs the status quo for everyone. Everything we own, claim, or dream is threatened if a new king takes over. The baby grew up and changed all the rules. Jesus taught a revolutionary ethic of unconditional love, stubborn forgiveness and radical hospitality to those who were marginalized in his society. Jesus got into a lot of trouble for teaching and living out his notion of what God’s kingdom looks like.
None of us wants to lose that to which we have grown accustomed. Our trivial desires obscure our genuine longing. We know much of that to which God invites us, but we don’t want any part of it.
God invites us to spend less money on ourselves and more on those in need.
God calls us to waste less time amusing ourselves and give more time to our family, friends, and strangers.
God tries to gently persuade us to turn our attention from the temporary to the permanent—from passing time to investing in eternity.
We know far more about God’s invitations than we admit. If we don’t listen for God, it may be because we’ve already heard God.
Are we courageous enough to seek God in the common questions of ordinary life? In each confrontation, at every stage, will we go forward in faith or shrink back in fear. We are tempted to lie at anchor when we are meant to sail with the wind; tempted to hide in the darkness, when we’re called to follow the light.
The wise men followed even though it seemed foolish. They wanted to see Jesus more than they wanted to keep their treasures, more than they wanted to play it safe, and more than they feared the difficulties of the journey.
The Christian faith is not a set of beliefs, but a willingness to travel, to pursue God’s gentle light. Christianity is not a place to stand, but a direction in which to move. God invites us to follow the star.
The Magi followed the star and offered these costly, meaningful gifts. They have completed their journey. Now they go back to their lives; they go back home. But again, the Scriptures always have layers of meaning. The Magi go back a different way to avoid Herod. They now know that Jesus is a sign of God’s love for the world. Herod is about hatred; Jesus is about love. So they go back a different way. Once we have met Jesus Christ, we go about our lives in a different way.
We have that opportunity at the beginning of this New Year. I invite you to the Lord’s Table, to receive the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. As you come to this altar, focus on who Jesus is, for you, for the world. Look in his wonderful face. You have come to meet him. As you receive the sacrament, reflect on something that is an occasion for joy in your life: an experience, a person, a moment, a memory. Something overwhelming when you think about it, and once you have received the sacrament, once you have made this journey, you will return a different way.
The epiphany of the Lord is finally a tale of transformation, and, at the beginning of a calendar year, it offers to us the possibility, once again, of our own transformation. We turn, we repent, we focus, we reflect, and we seek the face of God. We are changed; we are transformed.
This wellknown story about gifts received and later shared reminds us as that transformation is not our achievement but God’s intervention, God’s gift.
Meeting Jesus can change us. Maybe you were born in Jerusalem, or maybe you have been in this congregation all your life. Maybe you have come from some secular place that seems far away, or maybe God has given you some clues, some signs, and you have found yourself here, now.
So, a path is set before you: focus—turn your eyes upon Jesus. Reflect and receive—you will be overwhelmed with joy. You will return, to your world, and enter this New Year in a different way. Brothers and sisters, let us set out for the journey together!