The Visit of the Wise Men
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘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[d] my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Happy New Years, everyone! Congratulations, we have made it to the first Sunday of 2021!
My favorite part of New Years is that it is a time where we are invited to stop and reflect on the last year. I recognize that January 1st, 2021 was just a date on the calendar and that the difference between December 31st and January 1st was minimal. However, I think that it’s important to acknowledge all that we have been through in the past year.
2020 had some wonderful things in it. The search committee successfully completed your search for a new pastor. I was called and moved here to Las Cruces, and I think that through it all we did the best we could to have a meaningful year of ministry together.
Even though we could not gather in person, we still held onto the values that make this church so special. We had a group that read the book, “So You Want to Talk About Race” and discussed how we can be a more actively anti-racist church. Our Creation Care folks looked into how to make our church more energy efficient with the use of solar energy. We bought headphones for students so they could participate in their Zoom classrooms, and our Season of the Heart event was a great success, raising over $3,000 for local non-profits.
We also made it through a year full of illness, fear, isolation, and an extremely difficult election season. When I stop and think about all we went through last year, I feel like we need to take a second to recognize that we made it through what turned out to be an extremely hard year.
In fact, why don’t we do that right now? Let’s stop, take a deep breath, let it out and say, “WE SURVIVED 2020!” That is certainly something to be celebrated. I am so proud to be your pastor, and so thankful that you called me to be a part of this community.
The other thing I love about New Years is it gives us time to look forward to a fresh, brand new year that is full of opportunity. It reminds us that life goes on, and that there are new beginnings, opportunities, and challenges ahead of us. So, this morning I want to ask you all to consider the question—where is God calling us to go in 2021?
This is the perfect Sunday to ask that question, because our scripture this morning tells the story of the Wise Men and the Star. The text says that they followed the star to Jerusalem and to King Herod, thinking that if a new King of the Jews had been born of course he would be there. However, our Christmas story is full of surprises, and the astrologists from the East soon discovered that they needed to leave Jerusalem to continue their search for the baby.
Not much is known about the Wise Men, except that they came from the East and were searching for the King of the Jews. We don’t even really know how many of them there are—the text describes 3 gifts, which is where the idea of there being 3 wise men comes from. We also don’t know whether it was just wise men or if there were women among them, but I do love the joke that says “of course it was just men because wise women would have brought diapers and baby formula instead of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
So, the text tells us that the wise men came from the East, that they were astrologists following a star, and that they knew they were searching for the King of the Jews. But if you read the story, you also find out that they were brave and that they made the decision to do the right thing, even if it was the harder thing. They defied King Herod’s command to come back and tell him where the Christ child was. They did what they could to keep Jesus and his family safe.
Karoline Lewis writes: “As much as I want to cast the Wise Men as just innocent and uninformed responders, they are so much more. They are resisters. They insist that their witness testifies to a truth that will challenge power. That will defy authority. All because they believe in their own experience, their own encounter, their own epiphany. They get that there just might be more to the story than what they have been told. And therein lies the heart of our Christian faith.”
She continues: “Following a star is never a blind endeavor. The story of these astrologists from the east reminds us that even something as simple as a star in the sky might lead us into places of risk, spaces of courage, and directions that demand trusting hearts. Let’s follow their lead.”
So, this morning I invite you to spend some time consider where God is leading us this New Year. What metaphorical guiding stars is God putting in our path and directing us to follow? What opportunities do we have to be brave, and strong, and courageous in the face of adversity? I am looking forward to going on this journey with you and discovering the answers to these questions together in 2021.
As I close my sermon for this morning, I want to share the poem “I Could Use a Star” by Rev. Eric Anderson with you:
Where’s my star, O God?
Where the heavenly beacon
guiding me across my unmapped life
to wonders and to glories?
Where, in all Your heavenly wonder,
is my star?
And perhaps God replies:
Look up, my child.
Look within. You can perceive it.
Seek and find.
My star for you has led you
to this place and time.
It has led you over sea and mountain.
Look, my child. Where your footsteps
run, that is where I led you.
And I reply:
Have I truly followed
this ephemeral guiding star
of Yours? Do not my footprints
wander more than stride?
And where, in all Your wonder,
is the Christ to worship?
And perhaps God laughs:
You wandered? Does that mean
you did not follow the guiding star?
The magi, after all,
first went to the wrong city.
Yet truly you, as they,
seek first awry. For you will find
the Christ is always with you:
always with you in your heart.
May we be people who follow the guiding star. May we be open to the path that God is guiding us down. May we find that Christ is always with us. Amen.