Message, by Eugene
Petersen Matthew 2 ~ After Jesus was born in
Bethlehem village, Judah territory, this was during Herod’s
kingship, a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East.
They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage
to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern
sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship
When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was
terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod
lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion
scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is
the Messiah supposed to be born?”
They told him,
“Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote
it plainly: It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land, no longer
bringing up the rear. From you will come the leader who will
shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”
Herod then arranged a secret
meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout
as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the
birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy
about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave
no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join
you at once in your worship.”
Instructed by the king, they set off. Then
the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern
skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child.
They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place!
They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw
the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled
and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented
gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. In a dream,
they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out
another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned
to their own country.
Licensing and Ordination
I am filling the pulpit today for Rev. David Cartwright at Community Christian Church in Richardson, Texas, who is attending a service where his daughter Douglass Anne will become a licensed minister in the Southwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I was ordained on this day in 2005, at University Christian Church, so it holds special meaning for me also.
Today we also remember the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., a great preacher, teacher, leader, and visionary, who dared to dream that
one day our society would be big enough to embrace persons of all races, genders, nationalities, and beliefs. I actually met Dr. King once, through my birth-mother, who was a Civil Rights activist in the 1960s, and I distinctly recall the day that he died because our black and white television was on,
replaying the scenes over and over, and my mother was inconsolable, crying, “They shot him; my God, they shot him!”
I was so young at the time that I thought my Daddy had died until he walked through the door later that night; I didn’t understand the magnitude of Dr. King’s life, leadership, and legacy until much later.
Langston Hughes wrote a poem that came to mind today, called “Dream Deferred” ~
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in
Or fester like a sore ~
And then run?
stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over ~
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Let’s pray: A clear light on a winter night, pierces the darkness, revealing truth for our pathways, touching our hearts with wonder, leading us into your light, daring us to sing and shout with joy. Cast off our doubts; take away our fears, for love is revealed through your Word, Holy God, as the morning hastens to dawn. AMEN
In the Gospel of Matthew the simple cries of newborn life set off a power struggle between kingdoms. Jesus represented God’s kingdom ruled by love; Herod’s kingdom represented a darker side of human nature, marked by insecurity, selfishness, and violence. Yet, divine hope managed to emerge, thanks, in part, to the stargazers and dreamers who dared to seek a different path. Our story today provides two role models for us: the Wise Men and Herod. Both were profoundly affected by a newborn baby – but in strikingly different ways. The ways in which Herod and the Wise Men respond to the news of
God’s Son reveal the true nature of their characters, and the ways in which each of us responds to the Good News of Jesus Christ reveals the nature of our characters also.
Herod’s reaction caused a disaster. The thought of a new “king” was a threat to his power; he did not consider the birth of the Messiah, the Anointed One, to be “Good News”! Herod was a puppet king for the Roman government, and when he heard the Messiah, the King of the Jews, had been born, he snapped because he wasn’t about to give up his office. He tried to trick the wise men into revealing the location of Jesus, but it didn’t work because smart people listen to their dreams and intuitions! When Herod realized that they had actually made a fool out of him, he “lost it”– because a little baby had a brighter star. Herod the Great considered himself to be the “King of the Jews,” even though most of the Jewish people hated him for pandering to the Roman government. He carried a chip on his should, never feeling “good enough”; he was greedy, abusive, paranoid, self-centered, and the slightest threat to his personal agenda was enough to make him fly into a murderous rage. He divorced several wives to marry others and even killed his own sons to eliminate competition. In the end, they say his death from a stomach illness was so gruesome that I can’t describe it. “The theologian Josephus argued that ‘Herod the Great” got EXACTLY what he deserved, saying, “God inflicted punishment upon King Herod for his sins.”
I understand that theology, but it really doesn’t make sense because I‘ve known lots of good people who have suffered from horrible illnesses – ones they didn’t deserve; and if we’re honest, we’ve all known some dirty rotten scoundrels who never seem to catch a cold. Life isn’t fair! But that’s not the point of the Christ event anyway. When we read the story of the baby Jesus, we have to remember that 30-something years later, he ended up hanging on a cross for crimes he didn’t commit and millions of people he never met – not the least of whom were you and me. Somehow I think the worst thing that “Herod
the Great” ever had to face was knowing that he really wasn’t all that great … and perhaps that’s what “disturbed” him the most.
Still, you have to be careful about making assumptions and judging people: One day a group was touring a mental hospital, and one of the visitors made several insulting remarks about the patients. After the tour the visitors were introduced to various members of staff. The rude visitor chatted with the security guard, Bill, a kindly and wise ex-policeman.
“Are they all raving lunatics in here?” Asked the man.
“Only the ones who fail the test,” said Bill.
“What’s the test?” Asked the visitor.
“We show them a bathtub full of water, a bucket, a jug and an egg-cup, and then we ask what’s the quickest way to empty the bath,” said Bill.
“Oh I see, simple – the normal ones know it’s the bucket, right?”
“No actually,” said Bill, “The normal ones tell you to pull out the plug. Should I check to see if there’s a bed ready for
Matthew is the only gospel that tells the story of Wise Men bringing gifts to Jesus, and during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, their story is often combined with the shepherds’ story from Luke so that our manger scenes look complete. However, the Wise Men or Magi didn’t arrive until sometime later, perhaps even two years later; they bow down and pay homage to the child Jesus, who was with his mother Mary in a house. Curiously, Joseph is absent from this scene. If you go out and do a “Jay-walking” like Jay Leno and talk to people, asking what they know about the Magi, most have never read the story from the bible, so they will most likely describe “three kings from the Orient are, bearing gifts, they traveled so far … they followed a star!” (and then smile)
One evening a minister was called by his four young children to come be the audience for their living room Epiphany play. When Dad entered the “set”, he found baby Jesus played by a flashlight wrapped in a blanket; Joseph defined by his bathrobe and mop-handle staff; Mary looking solemn with a sheet-draped head; the angel of the Lord with pillow-case wings; and one wise king with another pillowcase full of gifts. This king was being played by the youngest child, who felt duty bound to explain herself and her mission, “I’m all three wise men, and I bring precious gifts: gold, circumstance and mud!”
The word “Magi” is Greek and can be translated as “wise men, astrologers, magicians, or sorcerers”; it has nothing to do with the word “kings”, however. Whoever these Wise Men were, they obviously took the signs from God very seriously because they went to great lengths and tremendous risk to remain obedient to the dreams and visions they were given from God. First, they sought the child by going on a kind of pilgrimage journey. Then, when they found Jesus, they worshipped him. They also paid homage by offering extravagant gifts to the child. Finally, the Magi put loyalty over royalty by listening to an angelic messenger, who warned them of Herod’s evil intentions. Having traveled hastily and wearily under a secret night sky, they furtively slipped away, as though they too were fugitives from Herod’s wrath; verse 13 begins with the divine dreamers disappearing into the night as mysteriously as they had come. The extravagant gifts of the Magi became gifts of “wise men” because they were the perfect items that an outcast family needed to survive ~ extremely valuable and easily transportable ~ gold, frankincense and myrrh. The medicinal qualities were probably useful, and tiny amounts of each costly substance were most likely sold to buy food and secure shelter. The Gospel of Matthew revealed that Jesus’ early childhood consisted of a series of moves, as the family shifted from pillar to post, making him “from” both everywhere and nowhere. Always the strangers and newcomers, the “Joseph/Mary family” lived both undercover and underground in order to safeguard their child’s life. This early experience became a mark of Jesus’ later ministry. The gifts from the Magi or Wise Men probably had a profound affect upon the life of Jesus, in many ways that you and I have never dreamed or imagined.
Albert Camus once said that “The greatest leaders come into the world as gently as doves. Throughout the history, amid the rise and fall of empires and nations, if we listen carefully, we can hear a faint fluttering of wings … the gentle stirrings of life and hope. Some will say that their hope lies in a nation; others in a person. Camus believes, rather, that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history … Each and every individual, on the foundation of his or her own sufferings and joys, builds for all.”
I happen to believe that one man did, however, significantly change the course of history by bringing hope, peace, joy, and love into the world and leaving it as a foundation for the rest of us to build something on ~ the church … the Body of Christ.
Our Gold, Circumstance and Mud
When I reflected on the children’s Epiphany play, I realized how wise those three gifts would be, if we would lay them before the Christ child: Our Gold, Our Circumstance, and Our Mud! We all exist in our own particular circumstances ~ sometimes limiting, sometimes depressing, sometimes challenging, but it is a safe bet that none of us considers our particular set of circumstances to be the ideal embodiment of our hopes and dreams. Paulo Coelho once said, “We cannot all see dreams in the same way. The fear of suffering is always worse than suffering itself, and no heart ever suffered when it went in search of its dreams. For dreams nourish the soul, just as food nourishes the body.” Instead of wishing that our lives had taken shape in a different way … along different paths, what if we considered offering God ourselves this year. By taking our mud to Christ, we don’t taint our relationship with God, rather we obtain fresh water for our lives. What if you gave God the greatest gift of all ~ your whole life!
Today could be the beginning of something new. Every time we come to this table and break bread together it is the beginning of something new; it is the chance to begin again … to start over … to lay down all of the mistakes … the sins … the regrets … the do-overs … it’s like a never-ending mulligan moment of golfers … you just bring it all up and lay it all down, and allow God to begin working from the inside out. The hardest part is learning to accept that grace … that kind of forgiveness – both for yourself and for those around you … I don’t know what is going on in your life, and I wouldn’t presume to know how you are feeling today. The atmosphere here in our beautiful sanctuary suggests a lot of joy and happiness, and yet some suffer from a lot of heartache and stress. Some are incredibly lonely, even in the midst of a crowd. Whoever you are and whatever you are feeling, there is a place for you at this table. A quote in the paper said, “Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.” If you want to confess your faith in Jesus Christ, or transfer membership to this congregation of the Christian church, we invite you to come forward during our Invitation to Discipleship.
“Herod the Great,” htte://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_the_Great
Camus, Albert in A Gift of Hope: How We Survive our
Tragedies by Robert Veninga.