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Dear Christian friends,
I wish we could sing Christmas carols the year round. They are fun to sing. People know them. People sing them out. Yet, not all Christmas carols are totally accurate. For instance, we love to sing “Away in a Manger.” The phrase, “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes; but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” Many say that there wouldn’t have been cows in the manger. It also appears that when the author of the hymn wrote “But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” felt that if a baby cries he is sinning. That’s not true. How else can a baby let his parents know that he is hungry or needs a good change of the swaddlings?
Another Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are” hardly has anything right in its title. First, we don’t know if there were three. That seems to be the conclusion from the gifts the Wise Men brought – the gold, frankincense and myrrh. They were not kings. They were Magi, scholars, astrologists, astronomers. They were not from the Orient. We think of the Orient being theFar East. They were from the Middle East, fromPersia.
Today on Epiphany we celebrate the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus. They are the subject of the sermon. Today we see how the Christ Child is the “Gift That Fits All People.”
There are some interesting people, places and things connected with the first Christmas story. There were the Magi. That’s the Greek word. They were named Wise Men because that is what they were. They were well educated, probably trained in astronomy and for that reason were attracted to the star that God had put in the heavens to take them to the place where Jesus was. Remember the Wise Men were not locals. They came from afar. We connect the Wise Men with Epiphany. It is the Greek word that means “manifestation” or “appearing.” The fact that God wanted the Wise Men fromPersia there proves that God’s gift that first Christmas was for everyone. He is the gift that fits all.
Then there is the star. It appeared in the skies to lead the Magi to the place where Jesus lay. People have tried to figure out what exactly appeared in the skies that first Christmas. Some have said that it was a planet conjunction in which Jupiter and Saturn appeared together in the heavens. Some have said that the timing seems right for such a situation. Other say there might have been a blood red comet that appeared. Or maybe the Almighty God simply did something that only he can do because he can do anything. He did something very special for a very special occasion – the birth of the Savior.
There is still one more interesting part of the Christmas story. The Christmas story had a villain. He is really one of the monsters of all times – King Herod. He ruled in Israela long time. Psychologists would have had a field day with him. He did something that seemed to be totally selfless for the Jews. He groomed the land. He loved to build things. He built an aqueduct that provided water for a very thirsty city. He built palaces. He was most famous for the building the GreatTemplein the city of Jerusalem, even though he didn’t really have any use for it. He had no relationship with the Lord nor for the people of Jerusalem. He had ten wives and all kinds of children. As life went on he became more and more mentally unstable. His fears were directed toward his own family. He was afraid of a coup from inside. He had his favorite wife killed, her grandfather, her mother and three of his own sons because he was afraid they were out to get the throne. Caesar Augustus said this very famous quote, “I would rather be one of Herod’s pigs than one of his sons.”
Yet look how close he got to Jesus but failed to believe. There are people in the Bible like that. The most obvious one is Pharaoh in the time of Moses. He saw ten miraculous, albeit, harmful plagues because he didn’t let God’s people go. How about Judas? He was with Jesus. He saw the miracles; he was taught by Jesus; he even preached about Jesus when the disciples were sent out to preach. Yet the Bible says about Judas because he chose to reject, “It would have been better if he had not been born.” He betrayed Jesus, and, in doing so, betrayed himself.
But then many a person has been raised in a Christian family went to Christian schools, confirmed before the altar of the Lord and promised that they would remain faithful for the rest of their lives before the altar of the Lord only to be no better than Judas or Pharaoh or Herod in the end. And the real truth is that we all have the potential to be that way. We all have the potential to be apostates because there is a laziness or an indifferent attitude in us to seize excuses to avoid worship of the Lord the study of his Word instead of enjoying and treasuring the time we can be with him.
But why? Why didn’t Herod take note of what the Wise Men saw? Why didn’t he take that miraculous star more seriously? Because he had his own agenda and would not give the Lord his rightful place in his heart. He didn’t want to hear about another king. He didn’t want to hear about the Lord’s king. Isn’t that something when people fight against the Lord and think that they are going to somehow win?
Yet that is what is done by us. We shake our fist at God when things don’t turn out the way we want. A man goes into a school and starts shooting up people and God gets the blame. People say there is no God because he would never allow anything like that to occur if he existed. People forget that this is a world that has been corrupted by sin. Sinners occupy this world and have a very ugly side. Just because something happens that isn’t the way people would do it, then somehow God no longer exists.
Don’t let pride stand in the way of a relationship with God. But, then, no one finds God on his own. Herod certainly didn’t, but the Wise Men didn’t either. Sure God guided them by a star, but the star didn’t really guide them either. The Word did. When the Wise Men arrived at the palaceof Herod, they wanted to know where the newborn king was. Herod summoned all the teachers and experts and where did they go? They went to the Word. They went to the book of Micah where they read, “But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
The Word revealed where the newborn king was to be born, the city of David; not a grand growing city, the city of Bethlehem. The word revealed what the king would do – he would shepherd his people. He didn’t come to make a power grab. He came to be a shepherd of a lot of lost sheep, sheep that don’t want to be shepherded. “For all we like sheep have gone astray, each has turned to his own way.” While that is true, the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all and become the sacrifice for all people for all time. The sin that plagues all of us is forgiven by him who came for us all. Yes, indeed, he is the perfect that is a perfect fit.
As the Wise Men did, we worship him. We use the word “worship” a lot. That word is used three times here. When we worship people from the road can see us through those nice big windows and see our cars in the parking lot. But I am not sure that people out there or in here completely understand what the word “worship” really means.
Someone defined worship as the time when people meet God and God meets his people. I like that definition. Jesus came to this earth to meet with people and people met with him. We come to meet God as he speaks to us in his word and makes us promises; we respond with praise and prayers and song.
Notice the different aspects of worship. Matthew says, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” The original language says they rejoiced with rejoicing. It is kind of like rejoicing to the third power. They were happy. Why not? This was their Savior. This is the one who settles and comforts troubled consciences. Why not sing “Joy to the World?” He came to right the wrong. He came to reconcile us to God. He came to assure us that “There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” The creator and his creation are at peace. There is joy!
There is another aspect of worship. There is sacrifice. The Wise Men came a long distance. They came hundreds of miles. Their journey must have taken weeks. We complain when we have to come a few miles in air conditioned cars. Maybe we ought to rent a camel once. Perhaps we would understand the word sacrifice a bit better.
There is also another aspect of sacrifice. Notice the gifts that were brought. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and myrrh.” While Jesus doesn’t expect expensive gifts he does deserve our best gifts. These gifts honor Jesus because they support the work to bring him to more people.
Finally the worship ended. The Wise Men probably had a hard time leaving the manger. In so many respects there is so much mystery that went on here. We don’t even know the names of the Wise Men. We don’t know what became of them. Yet they make an indelible impression. Until their arrival the Christmas story was localized to the city ofBethlehem. The shepherds were local, the Wise Men weren’t. The shepherds were Jewish, the Wise Men weren’t. The shepherds were blue collar; the Wise Men were the bluebloods. You see, God shows no favoritism. Perhaps better said, God shows favoritism to all people. He sent Jesus for all people. He is the gift that fits everyone perfectly.