THE MAGI REVISITED
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So welcome back everybody. You came back! The excitement of Easter is over. Is it really over though? We’re entering the period of the traditional church calendar known as Eastertide. Fifty days during which we continue to focus on the resurrection. New life in and through Christ. Of course, I like to talk about Easter as a year round thing. New life as a year round thing. There needn’t be any kind of let down. There needn’t be any kind of post-holiday blues. I remember being on a bus after a holiday in Jamaica heading back to the airport. The mood was not as festive as it was days earlier on the bus on the way to the resort. Somebody said, “Back to reality.”
We don’t have to be sombre about this though. The fact that you’re here this morning signals to me a desire to follow this living Christ – or at the very least some level of interest in finding out what it might mean to follow this living Christ. I had said throughout Lent that 8 weeks seemed like not a very long time to go through a book like Matthew. So we’re going to take two more weeks – go back into the book and look at things from a post-Easter perspective. What does it mean to be the church? What does it mean to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them, as Jesus said, “to do everything I have commanded you and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” What might these things mean to us 2,000 years later in this wonderful city of ours?
I ask this question because we must always remember that God is at work in history at specific times and specific places. We’re not simply sitting around talking theory here. When we discuss the nature of God, when we speak of Christ delivering us in Christ and transforming us by the power of the Holy Spirit – remembering at the same time that the three persons of the Trinity are connected and this is a mystery and they’re never acting independently of one another (as someone has said, “When you summon one, you beckon all three”) – we’re speaking of how God works in specific times and places and in specific people. In a Bible study recently we were talking about the importance of telling our own stories – stories of how God had worked in our lives. Stories of how God has brought new life to us. Stories of how God has changed us. Stories of what God has done in us that we could not have done in ourselves. Share these stories. Be ready with these stories when the opportunities to share present themselves because God works in specific times and in specific people. People like us amazingly (if you’re like me you may say “amazingly” J).
So it’s Christmas in April. Easter year round. Christmas year round. 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.” Wise men were seeking Jesus. They weren’t part of the people of Israel. If they were they would have said “The Messiah” or “Our King”. God had been revealed in the person of this child. God continues to reveal himself today. God reveals himself through the church of course – he calls and enables us to make him known. God is also at work in hearts in ways that we could never imagine. God is seeking after people. Type “Muslims Having Visions of Jesus” into your favourite search engine and check the stories.
I remember being in seminary and listening as a young woman from Turkey shared her story. She talked about having seen a man in white in a dream. She didn’t know who it was. Years later she immigrated to Sweden. She never forgot this dream that she had had – it was so compelling. One day she was in a video store. She saw the cover of a movie (this was back in VHS days) about the life of Christ. The face on the cover was the same one she had dreamt. Do we believe God can reveal himself in dreams? She went to a church to find out more. She became a follower of this man of whom she had dreamt.
There was a kind of expectation in the world into which Christ was born. Barclay describes it like this – “…just about the time Jesus was born, there was in the world a strange feeling of expectation, a waiting for the coming of a king…Augustus, the Roman Emperor, being hailed as the Saviour of the World, and Virgil, the Roman poet, writing his Fourth Eclogue, which is known as the Messianic Eclogue, about the golden days to come.” As one modern poet put it – “So we’re told this is the golden age, and gold is the reason, for the wars we wage.”
In the midst of this, God is at work. These wise men are seeking Jesus. It had been revealed to them that God was doing a new thing. The question we must ask ourselves in our faith community is – Is God doing a new thing in and among us? Through us? Are we ready for people who are seeking and who come to us like those Greeks came to Philip that time saying “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” I know God is bringing life among us because I know you. We saw evidence of this last week, didn’t we? We must be attuned to this and open to it, even if we find it troubling.
Herod was troubled. Herod’s main purpose in life seemed to behold onto power at all costs. Make a name for himself, which he did to some degree – Herod the Great. A client king. Installed by the Romans. Half Jewish, half Idumean. Paranoid. Suspicious. Built all kinds of things – The Jerusalem Temple, Masada, the port at Caesarea Maritima. Would go to any length to preserve power, even infanticide. This goes on to this day. He was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. Perhaps the people of Jerusalem knew the lengths to which King Herod would go to hang onto power. I think though that beyond that, the message for us is that the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of Christ has shaken things up. It should disturb us. I don’t mean in a bad way necessarily though it might be unsettling. Change is hard. Being changed by the Holy Spirit – God stirring our waters as it were – may be unsettling. In the midst of this, we’re invited to look to the one who lived his life in perfect obedience and trust. The one to whom we’re invited to look in the midst of doubt and wind and waves of uncertainty and the unknown. The one we trust wants nothing but good for us. To seek him, just like these wise men.
To recognize him and be able to point to him. The chief priests and scribes play a great role here. King Herod inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it was 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.’” To be familiar with the Word. The Christ. Our shepherd. The one in whom God was most perfectly and clearly revealed. To be familiar with the word – the Bible - in which God is revealed. To be able to tell our stories, and to tell the story of how God worked out his Great Salvation Plan from Abraham through the kings and prophets through to Christ. To tell and to show the story of how Christ has given the church the task of opening the doors to the Kingdom for those who are seeking him. The universalisation of the God’s Great Deliverance Project. The actions of the wise men point forward to Jesus’ own words – “I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac in the kingdom of heaven.” The proclamation and demonstration of the Word. The proclamation and demonstration of the word. This is our response as the church of Christ.
The story of the wise men doesn’t end there of course. The wise men know what to do. They follow the star. When they enter the house over which it stops they are overwhelmed with joy. Let us take the time to consider our deliverance friends. The deliverance of the world that God so loved. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, the psalmist sang. They were overwhelmed with joy – the good and fitting and proper response. Joy and worship. They knelt down and paid him homage. The same word that’s used of Mary and the other Mary when they see the risen Jesus. The same word that’s used of the disciples when Jesus appears to them in Galilee. This is a big deal. This is the biggest deal in the world. “Who do you say that I am?” Is the most important question we may ever be asked. They offer him gifts that are fit for a king. They offer him gifts fit for the one who is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing. This is our lamb friends. This is our King.
And he is risen friends. He is risen indeed.
And so we worship. We come to God regularly and with intent and ask God to enable us to present all that we have, all that we are, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship. We ask God to do something new in us, so that when people come to us and they are seeking Christ it might be said that in the days of Trudeau, when Jesus was born in Toronto, in Blythwood Road Baptist Church, people came seeking him and they found him. They found new life. Be born in us today, is the line from O Little Town of Bethlehem. I love that. Christmas all year! Easter all year!
These things need to be our concern here friends. I would counsel us not to worry too much about how people take this news. We see in our story here three different reactions. Hostility and hate (murderous hate) on the part of Herod. Seeming indifference on the part of the chief priests and scribes. They knew the scriptures but didn’t seem too interested in accompanying the wise men to see if the Deliverer had indeed been born. Joy and worship on the part of the wise men. We’re to keep making this story known in our words. In our deeds. We’re to keep telling it year after year. Keep dressing children in robes and giving them chocolate gold coins and having them kneel before the Christ child. I remember one year we had Mia and Ria Bailey as wise men and little Rachel Long as a three year old Christ in a robe and with a souvenir of Australia tea towel over her head. Our job is to keep on proclaiming the message that we went through over the weeks of Lent – the message of our King, the beloved Son of God who adopts us into the family, the one who enables a new ethic, the one who calls us to step out in faith, to die to self and find life in him, our Hosanna, our crucified and risen Saviour.
People will react in different ways. We needn’t get too hung up on this. The wheat and the weeds are all growing together and God is patient, willing all to come to know him. In the meantime, we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. One writer describes the contrast between the reaction of Herod and the reaction of the magi like this – “For us, the contrast can serve to symbolize the internal contrast between that part of the inner self which willingly and joyfully accepts the Lordship of Christ our king and that darker side of the self which firmly and persistently rejects his right to rule. Scoff not at Herod until you have acknowledged the Herod within yourself!”
In the midst of this Christ holds onto us and lifts us up and says “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” He holds onto us and says “Come. Follow me.”
God is at work in unexpected ways friends. May we be a community of faith among whom God is bringing new life. May we be a community of faith coming to know what it means to present our lives to him as our spiritual act of worship. May we be a community of faith pointing by our every act and word to the one in whom deliverance is found. May these things all be true of us.