Scripture Reading Matthew 2:1-12
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.’”
7 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.
Message “A Star that Frightens?” Rev. James Renfrew
I love this colorful picture on the cover of our bulletin: the wise men from the east traveling through the desert to bring their gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Many pictures of the wise men show them riding on camels, but I love the simplicity of this picture, as they take their long journey across sand dunes to bring their gifts from afar.
I hope that the picture reminds you of gifts lovingly given and received on Christmas day. Thoughtful gifts, inspiring gifts, beautiful gifts, handmade gifts of construction paper and glue, gifts that last more than a day in their significance. I have a secret to share with children: by the time you reach my age I believe you will be far less interested in getting gifts than in giving them. The smiles and love are priceless, and are what really matter. Believe it or not, I was once a child, and with my friends we would spend the months leading up to Christmas wildly speculating about which fabulous gifts we would find under the tree. But now, when I talk with my friends, it’s all about what we plan to give the ones we love.
When we were preparing gifts for our grandchildren last week, we didn’t give anything like the wise men did, not gold, not frankincense and not myrrh. Most babies wouldn’t have a clue about gifts like those, you can’t hug them, chew on them or play with them. I think our youngest grandchild was most excited by the stuffed tiger toy she received. I was very impressed by our one-year-old a few days ago, we asked “Where’s Rajah”, and she immediately reached for her tiger.
The coming of the wise men is just one more feature of the beautiful Christmas story: visits from angels, Mary and Joseph traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the baby born and lying in a manger, angels singing in the sky, shepherds and their sheep appearing on the streets of Bethlehem, and now the arrival of wise men following the star and bringing their incredible gifts.
I don’t think that most people even noticed the star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem. They were too busy looking down and never thought to look up. It’s too bad, because if they had seen it, I think it would have been wonderful for thousands, maybe millions of people, to feel their hopes rising as they beheld the beautiful star.
When the wise men arrived in Judea they needed some local directions, so they paid a visit to King Herod. I don’t think King Herod had been looking up at all because when the wise men asked if he had seen the star, he was terrified. Instead of welcoming the joy the star was adding to people’s lives, he could only think that if other people had more joy, it would mean he would have less. He could not comprehend the idea that the star was good for everyone. Herod was frightened that the star would take something away from him, his power, his privilege, and his wealth. He was so frightened that he tried to get the wise men to reveal the baby’s whereabouts so he could quickly destroy this new hope.
On New Year’s Eve my wife and I watched a just-released Netflix movie, “Don’t Look Up”. It begins when two astronomers spot a new comet in the skies. Their joy of discovery is immediately upended when they calculate that the comet is aimed directly at the earth and will destroy the whole planet. But few people listen to their warnings, many make fun of their alarm, and in the end most people choose to ignore the warning, or try to figure out how to profit from it. Near the end of the movie, when the approaching comet is clearly visible in the sky coming ever closer, mobs of people swarm in the streets to shout their denial of reality over and over “Don’t Look Up, Don’t Look Up, Don’t Look Up!”. I won’t tell you how the movie ends.
But we are the people who do look up! Just like the wise men long ago. We may not have telescopes and binoculars in hand, but we are the kind of people who look for the things that others may not see, always keeping our senses attuned to new hopes, new possibilities, new dreams. Our community, our world, even our immediate circle of family and friends, needs to hear from us about the things we see that most may not. Yes, there is poverty, yes, there is injustice, yes, there are catastrophes, yes, there is violence and war, but what I like most about our faith family, is that we look up in hope while so many others look down.
Here’s the heart of my message: Be like the wise men. Be wise men, wise women, wise girls and wise boys. Find out more about what God is doing in this world. More than anything else, I think, it was the curiosity of the wise men that is important. They saw something new and they wanted to know more. They saw something new, and they left their place of comfort to find out more. Let’s be like them.
Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear? Do you know what I know?