SERMON 1/2/11 Christmas 2A
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: `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. 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.” 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
When we hear this story year after year, do we tune it out and say, “Oh, I’ve heard this before, (three kings, gold, incense, myrrh and a star) … got it … I’ll just pass on this week’s sermon, where’s that bulletin and announcements?” We need to listen to this story with new ears. The more modern stories of the Magi’s visitation to Our Lord, which we’ve come to know, may seem a bit different from the scriptural version of the story. The truth is, there are so many myths that have developed around the story of the Magi, that it’s hard to discern what is based on scripture, which says “wise men came from the east to Jerusalem.”
Some of these myths have to do with the number of Magi, their names, and what occupations they held. Tradition asserts there were THREE Magi that traveled to the scene of Christ’s birth. The number of visitors is plausible, but some scholars say there is no substance for the assertion that there were three of them. That number has, by tradition, been based on the number of gifts they brought.
Another assertion was that the Magi’s names were Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar. Yet another plausible conclusion, however it comes from tradition and legend, because none of these names are mentioned in scripture. One other legend is that these three men were Kings, but they were definitely not kings, and the people of Jerusalem probably would not have considered them very wise either. Magi were astronomers who read signs. They were dream interpreters, which the equivalency today would be palm readers, sorcerers, or magicians. These three were unlikely messengers of the Good News that God Incarnate was born in a manger in Bethlehem.
So even though they are not kings, we don’t have the right names for them, and there may have been more or less than three of them, our story has not lost its purpose. The story of the wise men is that outsiders from the community were instruments by which God affirmed the miracle of the birth of the Christ Child. These Magi were Gentiles, not the insiders in the community. They were unlikely messengers because they were not very credible witnesses of the greatest story ever told, to the audience to which they were sent.
The revelation of God in Christ came not through the elite, not through the powers to be (Herod), but through the least likely characters. Magi (sorcerers/magicians), shepherds, non-Judeans, and then through a pregnant virgin girl and her betrothed husband. God brought Good News through those who were not in the “IN” crowd. The story of the Magi affirms the fact that through the birth of the Christ Child, all nations, all peoples, (the so-called outsiders and the insiders) would be called to pay homage to the Creator of all.
God chose not to declare self-revelation through the systems of power and scholarly folk. The priests, scribes, Herod, and the so-called righteous ones were actually in conflict with God’s self-revelation. Herod secretly plotted against the babe in the manger. His intent was not to really pay homage, but out of fear, he sought to put an end to the Infant. God made it possible that the greatest news on earth came by unlikely heralds.
Today, there are folks in our daily lives that will be the next unlikely messengers of God’s Good News. We see these folks every day, and many of them are not with us here in this community on Sunday mornings. There are folks around us, who are not a part of our community, who like the Magi that followed a sign in the sky, will, like us, pass on the faith to the next generations. Many of these folks have no faith community at all. A 2009 American Religious Identification Survey showed that from 1990 to 2009, the number of people who claim no religious affiliation, those who claimed no faith at all, grew from 8.2% to 15% of the total U.S. population. Startling isn’t it. In ten years, those who claim to not know God has doubled. God is calling them to come and know God’s love, but first they need to know how to find it, and they need messengers to share the Good News.
The church is and always has been the beacon of God’s love in the world, not only as a gathering place of believers, but as the light that shows the way. The church shines brightly so that others may come to know the Promised One, the Lord. The church’s role in the ongoing Revelation of God is not to be satisfied with, “We’ve made it,” but to actively serve as the star that leads others to the Promised One. The Good News in the Magi story came, not by folks with any special talent, or particular gifts, just people who by being themselves, let God’s love shine through them. However, they did have to leave the comfort of their homes and travel to make the news known.
It is easy to stay in our comfort zone and not venture into the risky, untested waters of sharing the Good News. Some Christians find it easy to say, “I’m already here at the manger scene, paying homage to the Christ Child,” but our faith encourages us to draw others to our Lord. It’s no easy task and honestly, it can be quite a burden come to think of it. Jesus called us to follow Him, and he tells us that his “burden is light,” but he didn’t say that we won’t have to carry a burden. “Take up your cross and follow me” is the real call to discipleship. That’s not pleasant, but I think the implication is that this journey as disciples is not always easy, and it may mean that we have to deal with some discomfort along the way.
Inviting others to join this journey of discipleship can be uncomfortable, it is what we are called to do, but it may be easier than we think. The Christian journey for most folks began through a simple invitation from a friend. Some of us can remember the day that a friend asked us to come to church and worship with them one Sunday. Our call to be the star of hope in the bleakness of a world filled with uncertainty, emptiness, and wandering, begins with our invitation to the unlikely messengers who are to come.
We can be a star of hope, simply by our inviting someone to join us on this journey in this community. Reaching those who are on the margins, those not like us, those whom God loves, and those are the folks to whom God calls us to minister ,really is the key to our mission. Passing on the faith to the next generations is the call of each Christian. The saints before us have done this for centuries. We are all here today because of the witness of those who came before us.
To the Virgin and her betrothed, to astronomers following a star, to blind folks, to shepherds and common folks, God revealed Godself in Christ. God reveals Godself to us, we who are poor beggars seeking where it is that we might find bread; the bread of life. For the young family trying to make it in these hard times, for the recently retired couple trying to find a home and a place of belonging, St. David’s is a star of hope in the night. For the single person living in isolation, for the recovering teen or adult who needs support, St. David’s is a star of hope in the night. For the child whose future is uncertain, for those we don’t know that are trying to find a place for God in their lives again, St. David’s is a star of hope in the night.
We are a star that shines brightly right here in Englewood and beyond. We shine as a community called into love and service. We are Christians, who together search for the grace of God, and we readily ask others to search with us. In years to come, future Christians may not know each of our names by heart. They may not know how many of us gathered here each Sunday. They may not be able to recall whether we were lawyers, doctors, teachers, or retirees. What they will know, is that we did shine brightly in this community and because of our witness and our open invitation and awaiting arms, they too came to know the everlasting grace and mercy of life abundant through Jesus Christ Our Lord.