Topic: To follow a star Passage: Matthew 2:1–2:2, Matthew 2:7–2:11
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
Well we are in our Advent series, which is entitled, To follow the Star: finding our way back home. And the series name itself comes from our passage today, where the Magi follow a star to the nativity, to the birthplace of the baby Jesus, whom they have come to believe is the “king of the Jews”.
And my hope for you during this advent season is that just as the Magi have traveled a distance to find the messiah, that you too will in this season, in your hearts, seek out the messiah.
As we prepare for Jesus to enter the scene so to speak, that we would allow him to enter our hearts. And perhaps, to see in some new way, what Jesus is up to in your life, in your family, in your community.
And as you do this, my hope is that you will experience a sense of returning home. Just as the Prodigal son returned home, and realized that home was the only place he wanted to be…that when we return to Jesus, when we repent and turn to Him, that that there is no better place.
So with that said, let us turn to our sermon text this morning from Matthew chapter two, verses 1 and 2, and 7-11.
Matthew 2:1-2, 7-11
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Have you ever had an epiphany? Have you ever had a moment when things became crystal clear, completely lucid, that before that had been shrouded in mystery, or at the very least simply unclar.
For most of my teenage years and up through the majority of my time in college, I felt that way about the future. It was murky, to say the least. The majority of my friends had a good idea what they wanted to do when they graduated, and those that didn’t went to Law School (That’s actually true by the way).
But the majority of my friends were going to be, administrators, insurance salesman and saleswomen; some would be tradesman or trades women… But as for me…I wasn’t quite sure.
Most of those around me, both in high school and college were going into business and so; I too, thought I would need to go into business.
But there was a moment of clarity, an epiphany that I had when I was in college, when it all seemed to become clear. I was a church “junkie”.
I went to church on a weekly basis from high school on, I was involved in leadership in our youth group. I went to a theology discussion group for fun after our college ministry got done at 9pm…
so…one day I had this epiphany…I love this stuff…why don’t I do it for a living? And that’s what brought me to seminary and ultimately to pastoral ministry.
But many of us have these kinds of epiphany moments…moments when things that had been murky, foggy, and all of a sudden, they become much more clear.
The Magi seeking Truth
Our passage this morning is known in the Christian calendar as “The Epiphany”, when God revealed the messiah to a group of foreign “Magi”, or “Wise men”.
These men, and we don’t actually know how many there were by the way, the reason we often assume there were three is because they brought three different gifts, they had dedicated their lives to understanding the mysteries of the world.
They were in all likelihood astrologers from Babylon or Persia. And even after spending their lives seeking truth in the “heavens” as they would have called them, God uses this interest to bring them to Jesus, to this little town in Judea called Bethlehem.
Now why do the Magi follow a star: because that’s where these Magi seek their wisdom. Astrology, which is still practiced today, has been around for thousands of years.
And God, who is the Lord of the Stars, takes even this practice, even this incomplete practice to reach a group of foreigners. He knows what will guide them; He knows what will beckon them to leave their own cities and to seek truth abroad.
What are people seeking today?
Is there a lesson in this for us? Many of us Christians recoil when we hear close family and friends talk about their horoscopes, and while as Christians we should not place our hope in this “pseudo” science or religion, nevertheless, what it does show us is an inclination towards faith.
And instead of being surprised or even upset, maybe that is an opening for a deeper conversation about faith…about the deep longings we have for a connection to the divine, to God.
Where are people searching for wisdom today? Where can we find points of commonality to share the gospel?
Some see truth in science. If they see truth in science, maybe there are ways of learning about the science that points to an ordered universe, where God is the one who created the intricacies of this world.
For some it is beauty. For millennials, those who are now in their twenties up to about 35, beauty is a driving force. It’s why millenials are much more likely to root on a cause then join an organization.
But of course, the story of God taking on human flesh is a story of beauty. And that that same God, who become limited, who became like us, was willing to live like a common person, and was even willing to be treated like scum, so that we could experience new life…that is a story of beauty.
And it has the ability to connect with people at the level of their deepest longings, but we also have to be willing to share it.
What else do we learn about these Magi, these “wise men” from the East?
God’s revelation is for all people, even foreigners
Isn’t it interesting that God’s revelation, this epiphany, this unveiling of His true nature, starts with foreigners?
God’s revelation will not be just for the Jews, but for all people…think about it…Matthew’s gospel begins with foreigners traveling to Judea to worship the messiah…and it ends with Jesus commanding his followers to make disciples of what…”ta ethnos” that is the peoples…the non-Jews…the gentiles…ethnos is the word from which we get “ethnic”…
These are the ones who previous to this period were in the dark, when it came to the nature and essence of God.
So as we enter this advent season, who are the foreigners, those who do not believe like you, but who believe, that need to hear the truth of the gospel? Not just through words, but through our actions as well.
And how can we connect to their own interests, their own desires, with the unchangeable gospel of Jesus Christ?
A Clash of Kings
For the remainder of our time, I’d like to switch directions and take some time to look at a theme that emerges in the gospels, that we get just a small dose of right here in this passage.
And that is what you might call a Clash of Kingdoms.
You see even before Jesus is born, the prophesies about his birth make him dangerous to the powers that be, to the “king” of Judea, Herod.
And we see this in the interaction between Herod and the Magi right here in our text, picking up in verse 7:
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Now the Magi are “wise men” right? They understand what’s going on here…they know Herod isn’t going to “worship the child”…if he finds him, he’s kaput…It’s “curtains” as the old timey movies would often say…
So the Magi disobey Herod, but why?
It’s certainly dangerous to do so. If Herod caught them he might imprison them or even put them to death…remember they are foreigners…they are at the mercy, at least to some degree, of the leaders of the country they are visiting.
I think the answer is rather simple: it is because they realize that Herod is not nearly so powerful as the one who sent a star for them to follow all the way East to Judea.
So we see this early premonition of a clash that is going to take place. A clash on the one side between the earthly powers on the one hand, which are represented by Herod, and this new kingdom, which is coming in a very unexpected way, through a peasant child, who will be born in a small village but seems to have the backing of God, or if you are a Magi, probably you believe it’s the “gods” who send the star, but anyhow.
Now, if you know anything about Herod, you might know that he is not a Jew…and that’s a problem…he’s an Idumean…which is the region just to the south of Judea, and so Herod is always kind of insecure about his role as king.
He wants to be king, even if he is what you might call a vassal king…because he rules under the power of the Roman Empire, but he’s also insecure because he knows the Jews will never accept him as one of their own. And now this “king” is born, according to the Magi…
What is he thinking?
He’s thinking…this is a threat to my kingdom. I better snuff him out before he has a chance to usurp my power. Because just like everyone else, what Herod is concerned with is not a spiritual leader…
But a military leader that the people believe fulfills the ancient prophecies of one who would restore Israel to its former glory, and to get rid of usurpers such as himself.
So there is a clash of power already, right here in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. And the truth is, I think this clash, between the selfish, self-centered greed of Herod, and the new kingdom that Jesus would ultimately unveil to the world.
And this got me to thinking about this struggle, between the earthly power of Herod and the Spiritual power of this child, born of humble circumstances.
We ourselves struggle to allow the purity of the gospel to reign in our lives. We struggle to give up our pride, our selfishness, our need to control, and then take up the goodness, the holiness, and the obedience of the kingdom that Jesus showed us.
So as we enter into this advent season, what kind of epiphanies are you going to have? Even if not an epiphany, is there a place where to light of the gospel needs to pierce through the darkness, to enable us to see the Christ child, and to believe that he is light of the world.
Will you follow the star in this advent season, as it brings us back home, right into the arms of the Father?
Will you pray with me?