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Posts Tagged ‘three kings’

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.  2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.  3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  4 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.  5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.  6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” – Isaiah 60:1-6

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“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  2 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.”  3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;  4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  6 ‘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.  8 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.”  9 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.  10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  11 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.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. –  Matthew 2:1-12

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Happy New Year! And may this year be better than the last one!

Our Close to Home Advent journey wraps up today, and I like that it extends to the end of the Christmas season and includes the Wise Men and the Twelve Days of Christmas. So many times our seasonal studies just kind of leave us in that time of ‘Advent waiting’ but the story goes on! So I’m glad we’re continuing this week.

Sabbath

On the Sabbath

I’m going to get to the Wise Men in just a moment. But before I do, there’s one thing in the Close to Home series that we haven’t mentioned yet: the Saturday pages. Did you all notice them? Every Saturday Close to Home recommended that we observe the Sabbath in some way. They suggested making a commitment to do at least one of the following: “Go for a walk outside – Sit quietly and meditate – Plant something – Spend time with a friend or loved one – Explore a new area of your town or city – Cook or bake something – Do yoga or exercise in a way that feels good for your body – Write and mail a letter to someone you haven’t talked to in a while – Organize or redesign an area in your home – Draw or create something – Dance or play music – Write a poem or a song – Watch a movie – Take a nap – Read a book.”

Just out of curiosity: how many people here today actually tried doing one of these on at least one Saturday during Advent? [Author’s note: there were no hands raised at either service.]

To be honest I wasn’t expecting to see a whole lot of hands, because keeping Sabbath is something we’ve kind of forgotten about in our culture. It used to be, a long time ago, that Sunday was everybody’s day off – but that changed around 50 years ago or so. And I’m not saying I want the “blue laws” back.

But for the faithful, Sabbath-keeping is one of the Ten Commandments, right up there with respecting parents, and not killing, and not stealing, and not lying. So if it’s that serious to God, why do we think this one commandment can be ignored?

The thing is, when we keep Sabbath, we begin to become – from the inside – the kind of people who wouldn’t dream of breaking any of the other nine commandments. We become people more in tune with God’s kingdom.

When God gave us the Sabbath God knew we needed it. God knew we needed rest, relaxation, and time for pure enjoyment of God’s creation. God knew if we deprived ourselves of these things, we would end up with a warped view of the world and our place in it, which is the first step in the direction of injustice and violence.

sabb2

Christians don’t necessarily observe Sabbath the same way Jewish people do, but I think we can learn from and borrow some ideas from Jewish practices. In Judaism, Sabbath is observed for 24 hours every week: from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Sabbath begins with lighting candles, and praying a prayer that begins “Blessed art thou O Lord our God, King of the universe…” and then goes on to ask blessing on each member of the family at the dinner table. Those of you who have seen the movie Fiddler on the Roof have seen what the Sabbath meal looks like. It is traditionally the best meal of the week, made with the finest ingredients. And then after dinner the family has time to spend together, catching up with each other, playing games together, playing music if they choose to.

There are long lists of things Jewish believers can’t do on the Sabbath, and as a Christian I don’t get tangled up in these regulations, but I do sometimes use them as guidelines. For example: one rule says you may not carry anything across the threshold of the house on the Sabbath. This is meant to prevent people doing work on the Sabbath; I personally interpret this to mean something along the lines of: don’t go grocery shopping on the Sabbath. (In fact I find it helpful not to shop at all, or do anything involving money, on the Sabbath.)

Another rule says ‘don’t turn anything on or off during the Sabbath’. For Jewish people who observe strictly this includes TVs, cell phones, computers…! Personally I can’t go that far, but I do say “no work may be done on the computer or on the cell phone on the Sabbath”.

All this may sound a little strange… and I’ll admit it’s different. But I can also tell you it is such a joy! I look forward to the Sabbath every week, like it’s a mini-vacation. And why should Sabbath feel strange if God commands it? Jewish theology tells us the Sabbath is meant to be a foretaste of heaven – a hint of what our eternal rest will be like. Is there anything more important in this life than preparing for eternity?

So I cannot recommend strongly enough keeping the Sabbath, as the Lord leads us to. It’s a blessing that shouldn’t be missed!

wise men

On The Wise Men

Having said all of that, our theme for today is “Home By Another Way” and it focuses on the Wise Men.

Isaiah predicted that “Nations shall come to your light [that is, Israel’s light] and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Is 60:3) And a few verses later Isaiah says, “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” (v 6) This prophecy is fulfilled in the actions of these travelers from the east.

So who were these men? Were they royalty? What did they know and how did they learn about Jesus?

Out of all the Gospel writers, only Matthew mentions the Wise Men. Matthew doesn’t say anything about there being three kings – the number three is guessed at from the number of gifts given. And Matthew also doesn’t say anything about kings – the concept of royalty comes from the Isaiah prophecy. Most likely the wise men were traveling with a fairly large entourage; they were most likely leaders in their society; and most likely they were from their country’s priestly caste than the royal caste. They were specialists in astrology and other works that we today might call “magic”. What’s cool is that God reached out to them in a way that they would understand. They knew astrology: so God gave them a message in the stars. God met them where they were, and brought them to where God was; and that’s exactly what God does for each of us.

We also know the Wise Men did not arrive at the manger on the same night as the shepherds. Assuming the Wise Men saw the star when Jesus was born, they would have talked about it, planned a trip, packed, and traveled on camel-back for 1000 miles. This probably took months, possibly years.

It’s believed that Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem after Jesus was born, at least until He was presented in the Temple and until the time of Mary’s purification was complete, which makes a lot of sense because it was a long journey from Bethlehem to Nazareth and back. Scripture tells us that when the Wise Men arrived, they found Mary and Jesus in a house – which also makes sense, because people who had been there for the census would have gone home and now there were places to stay.

When the Wise Men came to Herod, Herod questioned them closely about when the star appeared. King Herod was famous in the ancient world for being paranoid and brutal: he had even had some of his own children killed because he was afraid they would steal his throne. So when Herod “inquired” about when the star appeared, and when and where the Messiah was to be born, he was trying to “ascertain exactly” – and not with the purpose of worshiping Jesus.

So when the Wise Men followed God’s instructions to go home by another road, Herod – in his paranoia and fury – ordered all the male babies in the Bethlehem region two years old and under to be killed. Can you imagine being a parent in Bethlehem in those days? Can you imagine being one of Herod’s soldiers, and having to carry out that order? Matthew only mentions the children very briefly; but they have been remembered by the church ever since. Their ‘saint day’ is December 28, the day of the Holy Innocents, and they are considered to be the first Christian martyrs.

So Jesus might have been a year old, maybe as old as two, when the Wise Men arrived.  He survived because God warned Joseph to take his family to Egypt before Herod gave his horrible order.

Before we leave this scene let me point out a contrast between the people who should have been welcoming the Messiah and the foreigners who found him. God’s people – Herod, the scribes, the Pharisees – should have been thrilled to hear that the Messiah was finally coming in their lifetime. They had been watching and waiting for hundreds of years! But instead they focused on fear, oppression, and murder. Meanwhile, people who had never read the Old Testament, who knew little about the God of Israel, came to see Jesus with an attitude of acceptance, love, justice, and worship. Jesus’ whole life would be like this: he would be loved by foreigners – Samaritans and Syrophoenicians and others; and he would be killed by the leaders of his own people.

Regarding the gifts the Wise Men brought: First I found it interesting that the Greek Bible mentions the Wise Men having huge treasure chests containing all kinds of gifts fit for both a king and God. These chests in Greek are called thesauri – which is the word we get thesaurus from (a ‘treasure chest of words’ so to speak). And out of these thesauri the Wise Men presented to Jesus:

  • Gold – for a King
  • Incense – representing prayer, for a God
  • Myrrh – a perfume often used in embalming or at funerals

gifts

Having presented these gifts to Jesus, and having greeted Mary and Joseph, and having shared the story of their journey, the Wise Men headed home. But having been warned in a dream, they did not go back by way of Jerusalem or Herod. They went home another way, by another road. Which other road is (looking at a map) a little puzzling, and it’s a question Google can’t answer; but one thing becomes clear: obeying God’s command made their long journey considerably longer.

So coming back to the close of our Close to Home journey: Where does this leave us? Do we need, or want, to go home by another way?

Quite honestly in this day and age it’s a challenge just to get home. It’s easy to lose sight of which direction our heavenly home is. So as far as heading home by another way, I would say we might do this under the following conditions:

  • We are certain that God is God: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God and Father of Jesus. There is no other God, and Jesus is the only way.
  • If God tells us to go another way. The Wise Men were “warned by a dream to go home another way”. If we receive heavenly direction: a clear, unmistakable message from God, then we need to follow it.
    • If God does tell us to travel a different road, this new road might easily:
      1. add mileage
      2. not make sense to us at the time
      3. be a matter of life and death
  • We do not, however, want to go home another way if:
    1. God isn’t directing it, or if we’re not clear on God’s direction
    2. If we’re just craving novelty – we’re getting bored and want to try something new
    3. If a course change would lead us away from God or into breaking God’s commandments

The wisdom of the Wise Men is that they chose to obey God rather than human authority – which is something the early disciples also did in the book of Acts (Acts 5:29). The story of the Wise Men teaches us that Jesus is THE true King. The Wise Men could have conspired with King Herod; they could have enriched themselves by betraying Jesus; but they knew Jesus was the greater King and deserved the greater loyalty. It was worth more to the Wise Men to know the baby Jesus than to know King Herod.

Think for a moment: if we were given a choice between going to dinner at the White House or presenting a gift to a poor woman’s baby – which would we choose? The Wise Men chose wisely.

The wisdom of the Wise Men is also found in that they studied together, traveled together, worshipped together, and interpreted God’s signs and God’s dreams together. They were moving together. They were of one heart and mind.

The Wise Men traveled over 1000 miles to meet Jesus. They risked their lives to meet Jesus. And when they finally met Jesus, they were full of joy. They had found what the one they were looking for. They had found the one whose birth the stars announced. They were overjoyed “with exceeding great joy” Matthew says.

The Wise Men challenge us to be willing to risk much; to be willing to make this baby king more important than all the kings and rulers of this world. The Wise Men challenge us to put Jesus first in every way and over every thing. Let’s take this wisdom into the New Year. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven UMC and Spencer UMC, January 2, 2022

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