January 12, 2020

Matthew 2:1-12

Who still has their Christmas tree up? We do! It’s nice to enjoy those Christmas lights just a little longer. And during this season of Epiphany, we continue to celebrate God’s son come to earth in human form, Jesus Christ, the light of the world!

With all the Christmas celebrations, have you had time just to be with Jesus? If so, what difference has that made?

The story of the Magi gives us a chance to think about what it looks like to spend time with God’s son. From their story, we learn that you are never the same after an encounter with Jesus. You will go home another way.

The Wise Men first noticed God at work in nature. While studying the stars they noticed something new in the sky, a star that appeared that they had never seen before. They were astrologers, curious to learn more about this star. Their curiosity prompted them to leave their homes and set out on a journey. They followed that star, many miles on foot and camel, across the desert. They were not sure where it would take them, but they were determined to find out.

The star led them to Jerusalem. Since they were on a journey to meet a new king, they went to the palace. There they met King Herod. They were surprised that Herod and his people weren’t aware of the birth this new king. Our scriptures tell us “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3).

Herod was one of the most powerful people in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. He had a big palace, money and an army to protect him. Still, he was frightened; threatened by the birth of a child, who he was told would be king of the Jews. Herod was afraid of losing his power and that made him dangerous. The thing that mattered more to him than anything else was to be in power. He was willing to go to whatever lengths it took to stay in power. This included killing his wife and sons, and hundreds of baby boys for fear that they might usurp his power.

Herod told the Wise Men that when they found the new king to stop by and tell him where this child was, “so that he could worship him.” Yeah right!

They continued to follow the star another six miles or so down the road to Bethlehem. When they saw Jesus, they recognized that they were in the presence of The Holy. And their response was to bow down and worship him and give him gifts.

That encounter changed them. They became attuned to God’s leading, warning them in a dream of Herod’s murderous intents. So, they made a decision to defy Herod’s orders to protect the newborn king.

The scripture tells us, they went home another way. Not only did they leave by another route, I believe they also went home different on the inside. They were changed by this face-to-face meeting with God’s son.

How does your connection with Jesus change you? In what ways are you different as a result of your relationship with Jesus?

From the Magi, we see four behaviors that are good models for us to follow: 

  1. Notice God at Work in the World
  2. Faithfully Follow God’s Lead
  3. When in the Presence of The Holy, Respond with Worship
  4. Live in Faith, Even in the Face of Opposition

Let’s consider these each in a bit more detail.

Notice God at Work in the World

When you pay attention to God’s activities in the world your eyes become open to the ways God is guiding you. Sometimes God may come to us in a dream, as he did for the Wise Men and for Joseph. Sometimes we may see God at work in nature, like the Wise Men did as they noticed the star, or as Moses did when he noticed the bush that was burning but not being consumed. When we become attuned to what God is doing, God reveals himself to us.

Often, I have noticed God at work through people. We think of angels as messengers from God, but people can be messengers from God too. As we pay attention we can see and hear God’s messages to us through the people around us.

For example, a mother sat at the kitchen table surrounded by bills and trying to figure out how she was going to pay them. Tears of frustration welled up in her eyes and flowed down her cheeks. Sensing her mother’s distress, her five-year-old daughter ran over to her mom, gave her a big hug and said: “Don’t worry mommy, Jesus knows why you’re sad and he loves you.”

Messengers of faith come to us in all shapes and sizes and sometimes they surprise us with their message. As we journey along our paths of faith, it is important for us to keep our eyes and ears open so that we may perceive God’s good news for us.

Faithfully Follow God’s Lead

Another way that the Magi’s story inspires is though their faith to follow God’s lead. They had the faith to set out on a long journey, following a star wherever it might take them.

Think about what faith that would have taken! They risked their reputation. People certainly must have thought they were foolish for embarking on such a journey. They didn’t let that stop them. They spent their money to support this trip. They spent their time to travel a long distance. They were willing to experience discomfort making this long journey to a place that was unfamiliar and foreign.

Faith is the willingness to do what God calls us to do, even without knowing all the details. If we had all the details, it wouldn’t take faith! Faith is trusting that God is leading us and being willing to set off even without a map.

How does faith show itself in your life? Some people are called to travel long distances for God, but most of us are called to live faithful lives right where we are, to bloom where we are planted. Faith means living out God’s will even if people think of us as foolish. That can show itself by living our values at work, as we are called to make ethical decisions and treat people with kindness and fairness. That can show itself by living out our values with our friends, by living clean and moral lives in situations where it may make us look not cool. Faith involves spending our money in support of God’s work. Faith involves being willing to step outside our comfort zones and live as God’s people.

Sometimes God seems so far away that it is hard to step out in faith. Sometimes we feel lost and confused and don’t see God in our lives. When that happens, it is important to remember that we may be lost, but God isn’t. When we seek God, we will find God.

Like the Wise Men, God will guide and direct us. God will bring us into contact with people who will help us on our journey. We will encounter situations that will guide our paths and point us to God. God will touch our eyes so that we can see, and God will open our ears so that we can hear. We will “find” God and realize that God has been with us all along.

When in the Presence of the Holy, Respond with Worship

Another way the relationship with Jesus changes us is that because Jesus is holy, being in relationship with him prompts us to worship him and to live more holy lives ourselves. As with the Magi, it also prompts us to give of our gifts give of our time and talents and make sacrifices for him. We gather here together this morning as an assembly of people changed by Jesus. We come to worship and praise God and live as God’s people in this place.

In Jesus, we have a model for what holiness looks like in the flesh. Jesus really listened to people. Jesus treated people with genuine love and respect, especially the outsiders. Jesus brought healing and wholeness to the people he encountered. Jesus lived out love for God and love for the neighbor.

Because of the first Christmas and because Jesus came to earth in human form, we have an example of how to live a holy life. Jesus is a role model of living out God’s love.

Those wrist bands that were popular a few years ago bore the letters WWJD meaning – What Would Jesus Do? That is a good question to ask ourselves as we live out our faith in the world.

Live in Faith, Even in the Face of Opposition

The final way that the Magi’s journey serves as a guide to us, is that the Magi recognized the forces that were working against God’s will and stood up to them. They did what they could to protect Jesus, even though it put them at risk. Herod was a powerful guy, who had armies at his command, and wasn’t afraid to use them. Defying Herod’s order to come back and tell him where the child was could have cost the Wise Men their lives. But they resisted this tyrant and that gave the holy family the time that was needed to escape to the safety of Egypt.

Sometimes we, too, are called to live out our faith in ways that put us at risk. Sometimes we, too, are called to take action against corrupt or evil leaders. The first step is recognizing God’s will. And once we know what God is calling us to do, we need to have the courage to do it.

It can be hard to do that, especially when we are afraid. Maybe that is why God’s messengers often say, “Fear not!” Fear not! A child has been born, Immanuel, God with Us! Fear not! He will save us from our sins. Fear not! Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Fear not! We are named and claimed as God’s beloved forever!

Conclusion

So as we let this Epiphany story role around in our heads and our hearts and our souls, the Magi give us some models of what it looks like to go home another way, after an encounter with the living Christ. Like the Magi, on our journeys we will experience God’s loving guidance as we step out in faith. Like the Magi, as we bow down and worship we form a relationship with God’s holy son. Like the Magi, we will encounter opposition in our journey of faith. But Like the Magi, God will lead us and get us to the place God wants us to go.  

May you have the courage to follow your star as you step out in faith on the journey to which God is calling you. And may you go home another way, made new by your relationship with God holy son! Amen!