Sermons

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

 

These three characters of the Wise Men, or Magi, or three Kings hold a great deal of mystery and intrigue in our Christmas story.  Though only spoken of in Matthew’s Gospel, no nativity set or Christmas Pageant seems complete without them.

 

And yet we don’t really know much about them.  And much of what we think we know about them is actually speculation or church lore.

 

For instance, the notion that these visitors were Kings comes not from the Gospel narrative, but probably from the passage we heard from Isaiah this morning and that we are using for our Song of Praise.  “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”  

 

Or from the Psalm we read together, “10May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. 11May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.”

 

Not Kings, they were probably of the priestly class of Zoroastrianism who divined meaning from the stars.  The study and worship of the stars was common in the east, from where these gift-bearers came.

 

We don’t know how many of them there were.  “Wait” you say, “There were three! As in ‘We three kings of orient are…’”

 

Well...Matthew doesn’t tell us there were three.  Matthew only tells us there were three gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh.  

 

And we don’t know when they got to Jesus. Our nativity sets and pageants lead us to believe they knelt before the newborn babe.  After all, we celebrate their arrival 12 days after Christmas, right?

But given their travel distance and the fact that Herod sought to destroy all male children under the age of two, it is more likely they arrived much later, and greeted a toddler Jesus.

 

And we don’t really know exactly where they were from or what their names were, though exact locations and names have been ascribed over time.

 

What we do know, at least as Matthew tells it, is that a group of magi saw a star rise which they interpreted as the promised sign that the new King of the Jewish people had been borne.

 

They do not, according to Matthew, follow the star the entire way.  They see it at its rising, but don’t pick it up again until Nazareth.  From there, they follow it to Bethlehem.

 

And, again, we know that they brought gifts.  We know that these gifts were gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We know that these were gifts one would bring to a King.

 

And we know that they would hold deeper meaning in Jesus’ life.  Gold to acknowledge Jesus’ kingship on earth, frankincense for his divinity and myrrh, an anointing and embalming oil, to forcast his death.

 

We know, according to Matthew, that Herod sought their counsel.  And we know that the birth of a new King would threaten Herod’s power.

 

Finally, we know that they did not return to Herod to tell him the location of the birth, but were warned in a dream to go home another way.

 

That is what we know from Matthew’s report.

 

But we also know that Matthew was writing a version of the Gospel story meant to prove that God’s love made human flesh was for the benefit for all of God’s creation, not just for the chosen people of Israel.  Right from the beginning, Matthew builds his thesis by introducing to us these Gentile wise weekers who come to worship this child the knew would save the world.

 

Even people from the east knew were included in this revelation of love come down to earth, Matthew argues.  Even those of another race and religion all together could see God with us, Emmanuel. This God was for everyone.

 

That’s Matthew’s main point with these wise, gift-bearing visitors, and it’s a good one.  It reminds us that there is no limit, no in an out group with God. It reminds us that God longs to be in relationship with everyone, regardless of what parameters we put on God.  

 

This feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrate every year on January 6, begins the season of Epiphany which takes from today all the way to Lent, which begins this year on March 6th.  For two months, we will live in this season of Epiphany, in which we will recall all the different ways Jesus, and who Jesus was, was revealed to those around him.

 

Each Sunday Gospel will remind us of another Epiphany, another revealing; the baptism of Jesus; the wedding at Cana, the calling of the disciples, the miracles and healings of Jesus and then, finally, on the last sunday after the Epiphany, we will hear the story of Jesus on the mountaintop, where he is transfigured before those who were with him and, again, revealed to be Emmanuel, God with us.

 

This is the season when we bask in a basic truth of what we know about God -- that God is always, desperately, trying to make God’s self known in our lives, in the world around us.  

 

Brother David Vryhof at the Episcopal Monastery on Memorial Drive in Cambridge likes to describe God as a loving grandparent playing hide and seek with their grandchild.  God the grandparent hides behind the drapes but always sticks one leg out from behind in a desperate attempt to be found.

 

God is always trying to be found.  That’s what this season of Epiphany teaches us.  And God doesn’t care where we are coming from, what we look like or what we hold in our hearts.  That’s what the magi and that star rising in the east remind us.

 

Now is the time to wonder how it is God will reveal God’s self to you.  What star will God place in your life in great hope you will follow?

 

It requires we ask ourselves what stars we might already be following that keep us from following the one that leads to God.  What star are you following in your life? Where will it lead?

 

God raises stars in our lives, in all shapes and sizes, in steadfast hope that we will follow these stars to where God waits for us; not as a baby, or even a toddler, but as the source of all love and light; of all hope and all peace; of all grace and healing and hope.  That’s who’s waiting for us, if we will dare to follow the stars God gives us.

 

Isaiah says, “Now, Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

 

That’s our task.  Now, arise. Shine.  Follow. And find.

 

AMEN.

 

© 2019 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

 

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