Göttinger Predigten im Internet
ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch

Epiphany, January 6, 2006
A Sermon based on Matthew 2:1-12 (RCL) by James Mueller
(->current sermons )

Merry Christmas. Merry “take back the presents to the store and exchange for a larger size.” Merry “run a few miles to work off a Christmas ham, Christmas cookies, and more Christmas cookies.” Merry “add a room onto your house to hold everything.” Reflecting on Matthew chapter 2 in our day and age might not seem so extraordinary. We tend to receive a lot of material possessions this time of year. We do pretty well. But think about the manger scene. Joseph and Mary were poor peasants. Everyone in Bethlehem was basically what we would call poor. You don’t hang Christmas lights on houses made of dirt, mud, and straw. But Wise Men were different. They’re not from around here. What must it have been like to have some rich travelers from the orient march into Bethlehem? They had gifts that no one else in town could afford. They had gifts that no one could even imagine. Take a look with me at this truly extraordinary passage from Matthew chapter 2.

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 He called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 The answer: “In Bethlehem in Judea." 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

Before we go any further we need to rethink our understanding of the Christmas manger scene. The shepherds and angels were there, the wise men probably were not. Matthew says “they entered the house” where Jesus was, not the cave or stable where a manger would have been. This is later on. Even though they might not have been kings, to the local Bethlehem peasant they might as well have been. They are accurately described as “wise men”, that is, they were interested in understanding wisdom and mysteries. Daniel, yes the one with the lions, was promoted to the rank of Magi when he served the Persian Empire. Think of them as astronomers, mystics, or scientists. They were fascinated with the sky. They noticed when one particular star started doing funny things, miraculous things, that their science could not easily explain.

Could you imagine being so curious about God that you’d be willing to take a trip through the desert? Why did they do it? They were curious about God. Notice how the Magi allow both their intellect and spiritual curiosity to guide them. Not one, not the other, the two go together. Intellect and faith go hand in hand. So they spent weeks, maybe months, walking through a desert, wondering what they were going to find. But when they get close they must do that thing that men, ancient as well as modern, hate the most – they had to stop and ask for directions! “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” The answer: Bethlehem. They continued their journey and again found the star stopped over the place where the child was.

The Bible says something interesting here. “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” I love that word overjoyed. I would translate it something like “jumping for joy.” These men had hungered for truth, hungered for answers to the mysteries of life, hungered for God. That same hunger is found in people today, but they don’t know where to start. Do you look at horoscopes, synagogues, old churches, where do you look? I experienced a hunger for God in college – I hungered to know the truth. There were always weird groups showing up on college campuses talking about “there is a heaven, there’s not a heaven, there’s one god, there’s many gods, every religion is right, all religions are wrong.” To say it simply, not everyone there could have been right. When you hunger for “The Truth” you start to realize that everyone can’t be right. So I started searching the god of my childhood, I started reading the Bible, and I looked into the facts of the bible and tested it against all of those opposing voices. My faith and my mind started wrestling with each other to find out the truth! And the Holy Spirit joined His voice in the conversation and hasn’t stopped since. My faith is a work in progress with deep roots in my college journey of faith. The wise men didn’t start with all the answers, but they hungered for truth. We need to hunger like that. And we don’t even need to walk a desert to find it.

Verse 11 - On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. What must it have taken for these powerful, wealthy, wise men to bow down before the son of peasants? Why did they worship this little baby? No one could believe these important men from afar were in their little town, and here they were giving gifts fit for a king to Mary’s baby. In fact, the Bible says they scuffed up their knees and got dirt on their Polo-labeled, Versace-styled, silk robes. They bowed before this baby and worshiped him! Not just that – they brought some serious biblical bling bling. Expensive stuff – gold, incense, and myrrh. A Bethlehem peasant had never seen that kind of bling bling. Why? Because they knew Jesus was the real deal. If this is the son of God they would have given him anything, no matter the cost. They worshipped him because he was the answer to their spiritual quest.

Do you trust that answer? Can you trust that God is real and that he has a plan for your life? If you think about it, this whole story depends on whom the wise men trusted and whom they didn’t. Had they trusted Herod, who wanted to kill Jesus, history might have been very different. I’m sure the oily voice of Herod stuck in their minds, “When you find him bring me word so that I too may worship him.” They did not return to Jerusalem – they didn’t trust him. God warned them in a dream not to go back. They took a back road out of town and made their way back across the desert.

So in the end their trust was right. We must all decide whom we shall hear and whom we shall follow. The manger reveals many things. It shows us where Herod is going. This king had a power trip. A white-knuckle grip on power. He wasn’t going to let it go. “Jesus is the son of God, okay kill him”. What? Are you joking? He really wanted to kill that baby because he couldn’t let go of the power. Powerful people thought the same thing years later. They thought killing Jesus would help them keep power. But Jesus’ journey didn’t end with Herod, it didn’t even end with the cross. His journey continues today because Easter had an answer for all those death threats. Spiritual journeys, because of Jesus, ultimately are eternal journeys.

The wise men were on a spiritual journey – they’re going one direction to God. Not Herod. He’s 180 degrees and heading the other way. His life is heading the wrong way and he doesn’t care. The wise men knew not to go back to Herod. After seeing Jesus they went in a new direction. Where are you going? Here we are, letting God talk to us. Jesus and the manger scene, just like the wise men. But when you go home, what direction are you going to head? We’re all going somewhere. Is your life direction going to change because of that baby?

I hope the wise men story becomes your story. In many ways we are in the same position today. If the rest of the world saw us they would see educated, wealthy, important people. But when you get your chance to come face to face with God’s truth, what are you going to do? Don’t go through a Herod power trip. Don’t head the other way. Even if it means dirtying up the knees on your Levi’s, think about the direction of your life. The Christmas story has this amazing baby, sent by God to save all people – even me, even you. So where is He in your heart? What does Christmas mean to you? Let’s pray.

Rev. James Mueller