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Rise and Seek, Kneel and Worship
Psalm 72:1-7 & 10-14, Matthew 2:1-12
Hear now the words from Matthew chapter 2, verses 1 through 12:
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 have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all of Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for it has been written by the prophets:
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.”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
When I was almost 4 years old my little sister was born. I was so excited to be a big sister and have my very own live baby doll to play with and dress up. Even at such a young age, I had created what I thought was the ideal relationship for me and this new baby. Having been around so much longer than she had, naturally it made sense that I would make all the decisions about how things worked and frankly I thought I knew best. For few years this set up worked out exactly as I had planned and it seemed that my sister was adapting to my reality just fine. Then, she learned to talk. One Christmas morning when she was about 2 years old, she had gotten a little airplane that she could ride on which was extremely fascinating to her, since at that time airplanes were one of her favorite things. But I looked over and noticed she had yet to open the gift from me, a Minnie Mouse doll that helped her learn how to lace and tie, zip, and button. I tried desperately to steal her attention away from the airplane and onto what I believed was the better gift from the greatest big sister of all time, but she wouldn’t have it. Rather than letting it go for the moment and coming back to it when she was interested, I proceeded to open the gift for her and remind her who it came from. Even with this new gift in sight, I got nothing from her. I continue trying to win her attention and refocus her on what I thought was important by opening another one of her gifts and her stocking, when finally she had enough. She was tired of me bossing her around and looked me straight in the eyes with her hands on her hips and shouted, “NO!” I was stunned. Why was she pushing back? I thought we had something good going. I was only trying to help, but was I? In such a short time, I had already grown accustom to the life I had and the relationship that was being created with my little sister. But her resistance stopped me in my tracks. How was I going to move on from here? What was going to be my response?
While this story might seem small and insignificant, I imagine we could all think of a time when we felt like the life we knew was being taken from us or was changing without our consent. Or taking it a step further, we might be able to think of a time when we chose not to engage with another person for fear of how that interaction might change our way of life or threaten our own interests. Maybe your family had to move due to an increase of rent or a new job. Maybe you have sustained an injury from an accident that was out of your control and you aren’t able to live your life in the same way. Maybe people with thoughts and lifestyles different from your own, join the board we serve on or move into the neighbor. How did that moment change you? How did you choose to respond?
I am not proud to report that this moment with my sister had a significantly negative impact on our relationship for the rest of our childhood. I discovered that she was going to march to the beat of a different drum and I didn’t see the importance of working on a relationship with someone so vastly different than myself. As dramatic as it may sound, I felt I had my power stripped from me that day and wasn’t sure how to recover. It wasn’t until years later did I realize that I was using my power to control and manipulate my sister into being a mini version of myself. I wasn’t allowing her to be her true self or work towards a stronger relationship because I didn’t have a carefully laid out plan of what that would look like and how we would get there.
We see Herod and the Magi both coming into contact with change and the unknown impact it will have on their lives and the lives of those in their circle. When the Magi showed up at King Herod’s palace requesting help in finding the new king, Herod felt threatened. He was afraid of losing his power and control to this infant king. Not only was he feeling afraid but the text tells us that all of Jerusalem was afraid too. I imagine that they began to wonder: what would this new king mean for them? How might this new king change the lifestyle that they had grown accustomed too?
Herod doesn’t stop to think or ask any questions, only reacts because he is afraid. He gets the ball rolling on his scheme to maintain his control by sending out the Magi to find the new king so he too can worship him. However, if we look closely and continue on in the story, we discover he had no plans of paying respect and worshiping Jesus, he wanted him out of the picture, he wanted Jesus dead. Herod went to great lengths to try and make his plans a reality when he ordered all the baby boys under 2 years old to be killed. He thought that would surely take care of this “problem” so that the life he knew and the life he had created for those that followed him, would remain unchanged and unaffected.
In Psalm 72, we see a description of God’s ideal leader. A king is one who “judges people with righteousness, defends the cause of the poor, has pity on the weak, and redeems the lives of those who are oppressed and subject to violence.” This seems like a tall order for any human leader and in fact, it is. For all the kings we see in the Old and New Testament, none of them perfectly lived up to this job description. They all had moments of success and moments of failure. King Herod was far from bringing justice or extending mercy and God decided that it was time for a new king to reign. The only king who could fulfill God’s desires that we see in Psalm 72, is the little king born in a manger in Bethlehem. But Jesus wasn’t born and immediately taking his place in power however, the tension with his coming did start as early as his birth. Christ’s reign would come in time but not without its share of bumps along the way. Differing from the Luke story of the shepherds where the text is filled with all the characters in awe and filled with great joy at the birth of Jesus, Matthew’s text shows us that not everyone was filled with that same great joy. There was going to be times of conflict and times of joy with Jesus as King. People were going to have to trust that God was working and had a plan for this child that was bigger than the challenges along the way. Trusting in God’s unknown plan is not particularly an easy task.
The Magi’s response to the unknown and change was a little different than King Herod’s. They weren’t spending time in fields nearby like the shepherds when they saw the sign from God. Nor did they just stumble upon this miraculous event by accident. They had spent hours in the sacred texts to be ready to recognize the signs when they showed up. They didn’t know if what they were studying was true or how it would come to fruition. They were outsiders coming to a new land all because they recognized a sign in a star that led them to Bethlehem.
It would have been easy for them to identify this event as something that was happening elsewhere and therefore they could stay at home and move on to another study. They could have disconnected themselves from what they learned because they didn’t have all the answers or know how following the sign would affect them. They could have insulated themselves with what and who they knew, carefully keeping all other things at a great distance. But that’s not how they responded. They wanted to seek after the star, wherever it would lead, and look for confirmation of what they had learned and seen. They were willing to take a risk. They could not see what or who was going to await them on their journey or even what they would find at their destination. They didn’t have a carefully made out travel plan. They only had the star in the sky and so they followed.
Our world is not completely unlike the world we read in scripture. We are faced with changes each day, big and small. We have the opportunity to engage or remain disconnected. In Birmingham, Alabama there is a kindergartner named Austin. He learned that there are thousands of people in his community that did not have homes and were often going to bed hungry. He decided to strap on a superhero cape and find a way to make positive change. This issue of homelessness was still new to him but he asked questions of his parents, recognized a need for change, thought through how he could respond and set out to do something. He decided to give up all his allowance and any money that his family would spend on toys to buy chicken sandwiches that he would personally deliver to his homeless neighbors. Austin wasn’t concerned with what might happen or worried about encountering people who were different than people he knew. He wasn’t even concerned about no longer receiving extra toys. He believed he needed to seek change and was willing to take a risk, without knowing the outcome.
Today may be the last day of the Christmas season but we can still allow the story of Christmas, the birth of Emmanuel, to transform us in the days to come. We have the opportunity to let go of the reigns we hold on our own lives and turn them over to God. While we try and grasp on to control, we are putting ourselves above all else. We are choosing to disregard God’s direction for us, only seeing what is humanly possible. But when we turn our lives over to God, we are inviting God to do the unimaginable. We are putting our lives in the hands of the One who holds the world and came to earth in human form to be in relationship with us. We are opening ourselves up to experience signs and wonders from God each and every day.
Psalm 72 and Matthew 2 remind us that the only one worthy of our praise and worship is the True King who entered the world as a little baby born in a manger, was enthroned on the cross and comes to transform this world so that all may know his divine glory. You might not consider yourself a leader but we all hold positions of influence in our lives and lead within them in a variety of ways. It may be within the community, your job, within your family or friend group, school, your sports team, or here at the church. When you are faced with change, others around you look at how you choose to respond. Will you react as Herod did, responding with hast and out of fear of the unknown future? Will you try to maintain control by doing whatever you have to; even harm others, to keep your life the way it is? Or will you respond like the Magi? Spending time in study of God’s Word, engaging with the world around you especially those who are different from yourself, rising up to seek after the signs that God places before you, allowing yourself to be transformed, and finally falling to your knees at the glory and majesty that you find in God’s presence. How will you allow the wonder of Christmas shape you this new year?
Mighty God, we thank you that you continue to pursue us even when we have gone astray. We thank you that you find unconventional ways to speak to us and remind us of your glory. Lift our heads up to see your signs and wonders around us. Help us as we begin a new year to open ourselves up to your transformative power. In the name of your Son, the One True King, we pray, Amen.
We are called to lead as Jesus led. While we will never be able to live up to his glory, that should not stop us from pursing justice, mercy, and peace in our world today. Leading can be a tremendous challenge. And sometimes it can feel lonely and defeating but look up for signs of God’s presence around you. Take the risk as the Magi did so long ago and follow after the signs. When you come into contact with the Holy One, kneel and worship, giving all joy, honor and praise to the One who led you there. Go out in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.