Matthew 2: 1-12 |:| Home By Another Way
Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; January 3, 2016
Epiphany is three days from now but we celebrate it today in worship. The day when the wise ones and their caravans finally reached Jesus after Herod instructed them to find out where this King of the Jews they were asking about was and bring the information back to him. It is interesting seeing how these foreigners came to the king who claimed to be King of the Jews asking where this new King of the Jews was to be born. Herod, naturally nervous since he had no plans of giving up his title as King of the Jews – let alone to someone who was not his heir, sought council for where this child was to be born. Once the high priests and scribes told him he instructed the wise ones where to find him so he could go and worship him.
So with the rising of the star these wise ones – knowing how to study stars – made their way to Bethlehem. Their journey was likely weeks to months long and as they followed the star they came to Jesus who was likely a year or two old. In meeting this child they had responded in an unlikely manner for people who were not Jewish or of the worshiping kind. These wise ones knelt down and worshiped this child. The text notes that they gave Jesus gifts.
The[se] gifts of the magi are symbolic, even sacramental, offerings signaling that disciples of Jesus are called to participate in this infinite generosity by giving themselves to God and others freely.
These wise ones find the Christ child with the help of the star they followed and once they meet the Word made flesh know he is worthy to be worshiped.
Before departing the magi receive a dream informing them not to return to Herod with the location of Jesus. Trusting this dream the wise ones leave Jesus by another way. Those who were not likely to be ones to worship Christ were the exact ones who did. They offered him their gifts and knew they had met the one named King of the Jews. The magi didn’t return to Herod and in doing so kept Jesus safe. They kept him safe by going home another way.
In life we often have moments where we are met with an initial moment of wonder and we are given the choice to follow that wonder or to dismiss it as just another star in the sky. If we do choose to follow our wonder, we too can find our way to the manger. We, like the wise ones, are unlikely worshipers of the Christ child. Sure we aren’t magi from an unexpected land but we are wayward followers – imperfect, fallible, doubt-filled, fearful – yet we know that being all of those things and many more we are still welcomed followers of the Christ child.
Here’s what I think is significant from this story – the wise ones are impacted by their experience with the Christ so much so that when they have a dream to not return to Herod they follow it. They are transformed to the point they have to go home another way. That’s what happens when one experiences Jesus – they are transformed to the point they can’t go back the way they came.
Each year we read the Epiphany text and can think we have the story down – that there is nothing more for us here. Yet what we are reminded of is that our lives are continual journeys of being drawn to the manger to meet the Christ child once more. Seeking the wisdom of Jesus is a practice that never ends.
Those who have visited the manger many times as a matter of rote habit could be invited to rediscover the promise held in honest seeking, for surely even the more well-schooled Christian needs regular reminding that no one is above another, that no one has a corner on the complete truth, and that even the baptized travel a path with many distractions, some leading to disastrous ends with pious-sounding names.
Regardless of how we come by the manger we come with the prompting of God. At times we may have no idea who lies in the manger. Other times we have mistaken ideas about the child in swaddling clothes.
Nevertheless, all are present due to seeking, and our finding. … The magi’s journey to Bethlehem exposes God’s intention to welcome everyone “into the joy of [God’s] home not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens, and remarkably, on earth as well.
Every Epiphany we are invited to remember that we are on a continual journey of meeting the Christ child. Whether we initially met the Christ child during our own childhood or have recently come to know him, we are perpetually invited to move farther in our wonder and follow the steps of the Spirit’s leading.
With each nudge or wonderment from God we are invited back to the manger. Our stay at the manger might be long or short but the outcome will be up to us – will we allow ourselves to be transformed once again by the meeting of the Christ child or will we return the way we came and wait until the next nudge or wonderment comes along.
During Advent we have been reminded that God came to teach us the greatest of commandments – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself – so this Epiphany as we stand in the manger we can ask ourselves what is God teaching us about where we can grown with these two commandments.
Having just made our way through Advent we know that life is more than just what we want or a self focused life – that at the core this life of following Christ is Hope during our despair, Peace through our turmoil, Joy in the midst of our sorrow, and Love undergirding it all. So what might the nudges be that God is stirring inside of you this Epiphany?
I’ve heard many of us bond over how busy our lives have become. With our lives being this busy we forget to take time to study, meditate, explore new thoughts. God might be placing wonder about how you will take on the activity of reading scripture throughout the week and exploring portions of scripture you haven’t read in awhile or perhaps ever. Reading scripture reminds us that for millennia people have been sharing the stories of their faith with the next generation and it connects us to those around the world who read the same Holy Scriptures we do. These are more than stories that pertain to our time together on Sunday morning and might be what God is drawing you towards this Epiphany. Life can be so full with meaningful activities that require us to be at this place or that place at a specific time that taking time for studying Scripture is easily pushed to the next day or not done at all.
Perhaps life is so hectic and nonstop that God is nudging you towards meditation or a form of prayer that allows you to slowdown and refocus yourself throughout the day. It might be that contemplative prayer or meditation, taking 10 – 30 minutes a day to focus on God or to intentionally pose a question and open your mind to the Spirit’s leading on possible clarity, might be what you find Jesus inviting you to leave the manger with this time. It could be finding a template of a desk labyrinth and when the day gets stressful tracing the labyrinth with your fingers and centering your mind on a phrase or a thought. It could even be that driving is one of your most stressful times during the day and rather than listening to the radio you take that time to pray. Meditation and prayer can guide us through discernment on what God is drawing us to or give us the strength to make it through the difficult times in life.
It could be that what you’ll find in the meeting of Christ in the manger this year round is that you need to connect with community. That might be found in joining a Church School class or participating in the next round of GPS groups. Taking the connections you have made with those around you during worship to a new place. You might find that community is needed with people at work or in your neighborhoods – those who you haven’t gotten to know very well, taking time to have conversations with them, getting to know them and how to share more of life with them. We are not meant to go through life by ourselves. Sharing the ups and downs of life with those around us allows for God to work through those in our lives to meet our needs and learn from one another.
As we examine what God is drawing us towards and remembering that loving God and loving others calls us to meet the injustices in life and throughout the world with action you could find that joining our Monthly Mission Partners in their service opportunities or finding regular ways to serve with our Congregational Mission Partners is how to engage the city around you. Serving with our MMPs or CMPs are ways that allow us to hear the stories of those who are in different stages or seasons of life, getting to know what they need and learning from their experiences so that we can join them in changing systems and resources so that they can have their basic needs met and thrive in all areas of life.
God uses simple ways of nudging us towards a new season of discipleship or drawing us into deeper wonder of what God has in store for us next. For the magi it was the stars they were already used to studying and following. For us it could be a gut instinct or a conversation with family or friends. God uses what is familiar to us to guide us further in discipleship so that we can trust it is the Spirit leading. Sometimes it takes us time to believe we are following the healthiest path for us at this time in life, so just as the star stayed and guided the wise ones God stays with us guiding us.
For us it can be helpful to remember that meeting Christ is not a royal welcome as we know them to be, the journey of being a worshiper of Christ is not one that is filled with glitz or glamour but rather one where we kneel in the muck of a manger and give of our gifts and selves, it can be easier to go home the way we came – because it does not require us to change or take risks, but it leads us away from the ways of connecting with the transformation we are invited to experience.
Christ never forces us to take the other way, merely invites us. The love of Christ guides us to continue to experience God in new ways. What is God nudging you toward? What are your wonderments about and what are they leading you to? Once you have experienced the Christ child you don’t leave the same. Even if you are not ready to go home by another way you know what you have experienced and that something is different in your world. It might be a while before you are ready to journey back to the manger and experience all Christ has for you this time round. The journey of discipleship is the journey of continually meeting the Christ child and realizing the Word made flesh has welcomed us to do work with God.
We are not told what happened to the magi – to the wise ones – when they met Jesus. All we are told is that in meeting him they came to worship him and ensure he was kept safe by not returning to Herod. None of us may know what the other experiences when they meet Jesus in the manger this year, nor do we need to. All we need to be willing to do is journey with each other to go home by another way. To encourage and support each other for what God is calling us towards this season.
Every epiphany we are reminded that on this life long journey of following the teachings and ways of the Christ child we come back to the manger for the chance to worship God through our generosity and leave the manger by another way and reach home once more. This Epiphany we read this story once again and get to see if the nudges and wonderings God has been guiding in our lives are just another star in the sky or one that leads us to meet the transformative Christ child then going home by another way.
A modern wise one known as James Taylor wrote a song called home by another way and Kevin’s playing it will be our musical meditation as we continue in worship.
On Epiphany, Leo the Great wrote, “A star with new brilliance appeared to three wise men in the East” that “was brighter and more beautiful than others” attracting the “eyes and hearts of those looking on.” The determination of the magi to “follow the lead of this heavenly light” expressed a willingness to be “led by the splendor of grace to knowledge of the truth.” In this way, “they adore the Word in flesh, wisdom in infancy, strength in weakness, and the Lord of majesty in the reality of a man.”
With it being a new calendar year many are examining what they hope to have happen in 2016, resolutions and what have you. These are well and good and for those that are kept a positive addition to your lives.
The wise ones could have thought they just met one of many royal children or that the following of the star was nothing more than a false lead that led them to meet a random child. The magi having been given word from Herod risked punishment from the ruler if they disobeyed him. They could have returned to Herod out of fear or uncertainty but rather they leaned into their experience of meeting the Christ child and journeyed another way home.