The Future Glory of Israel
1 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,[a]
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.
The Visit of the Wise Men
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
There's a story about a family who were talking with their children about the morning's Sunday School lesson. They talked about the Magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. There was a long pause and one child asked, “How come nobody brought diapers?!”
this is the story of the Epiphany. The 12th day of Christmas. Though in reality it likely took much longer than 12 days for the Magi to come find Jesus. Indeed the text tells us they came to a house, so Joseph and Mary had found a place to stay other than a stable!
The Magi were kings, possibly from Persia, or even further away. The Bible lesson doesn't really tell us the specifics, does it? It doesn't even say how many there were, we presume there were 3, because of the mention of the 3 gifts.
There would have been more than just the kings, traveling into Jerusalem. after all, important powerful people never travel alone. Nowadays if you are important you travel with your publicists, personal assistants, security. 2000 years ago, the Kings' travel group would have had security and personal aides, but instead of media publicists, there would be heralds to announce their coming, and people to care for the animals on which they rode. So a troupe like this coming into the city would have caused a commotion that got people's attention. Herod may have been threatened by their mere presence, and then they asked about a newborn KING of the Jews! This would have certainly frightened Herod. Herod the Great, who was renowned for tremendous building projects in Jerusalem, including the Temple, was also terribly paranoid, so much so that he killed anyone he deemed a threat, including his wife and two of his sons.
No wonder he was “troubled, and all of the city with him” So he summoned the Magi. Lying to them that he wanted to worship this newborn king, he found out for himself what they knew. Fortunately, the Magi were warned in a dream to NOT go back to Herod and found another route out of the region.
So the Magi, however many of them and their travel companions, found their way to Jesus by a “star” that guided them to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is due south of Jerusalem and there has been much speculation over time about just what this star was. A comet, or a conjunction of the moon and several planets? We don't really know. It's one of those things that scholars like to argue about. I think spending too much time on details like was it a comet or how many magi there were, can take us away from the real reason this story is in scripture.
This is the first time that Jesus is recognized as divine by non-Jewish people!
Remember, last week, Doug told us about Simeon, who had been told he would not die before seeing the Messiah. And Simeon said over the baby Jesus, that he was a light to the Gentiles as well as to Israel. The Magi were not Jewish. But they knew that this Jewish baby was someone very special. That is why they went looking for this SomeOne. And why they brought gifts of great value to show their recognition that this was indeed Someone Special.
The gifts showed Jesus' Kingship-the Gold- and religious significance-the Frankincense. They-KINGS from other regions, brought expensive gifts to honor the baby Jesus!
The tradition of gift giving at Christmas probably began here. And ironically in our day and age, we may be very tired of Christmas by the 12th day! Be honest, some of you groaned inside when you saw we were singing one more Christmas song this morning! We get worn out by the commercial aspects of the holiday season. There is so much pressure to get the right gifts, make the right dinner, have or attend the right parties. And over the last several decades Retail companies ramp up their marketing to get more and more of our Christma$ money! The marketing wears us out...seeing Christmas displays out in the stores well before Thanksgiving, and the endless commercials braying “X number of shopping days left”, well, it can take us right out of any thought of worshiping a newborn King!
You see, I'm afraid we have started to confuse the birth of Christ with the hoopla of the holiday. The commercialism and the media are so overwhelming that we just want to be DONE with Christmas! So by New Years we may have put away the decorations with a huge sigh of relief! But we may feel something missing. We are still looking for something, for SomeOne, down deep inside.
All humans have a deep desire for Something, because we are created for more than just work, eat and sleep. We are created to be together with others. We are created with desire for someone who knows us intimately, who can still love us! God created us with a deep yearning for relationship with God and with one another. That is what all of us seek. That is what Christmas and Epiphany are all about. Not the shopping, baking, decorating, but the LOVING, the caring, the giving a gift of LOVE because you care about the other person and recognize they care for you.
And we find true completeness in the SomeOne born on Christmas day. Jesus is the SomeOne we all seek, whether we realize it or not. And we, like the Magi can bring gifts to honor and revere and acknowledge his Lordship in our Lives.
We can bring Gold...our time, talent and treasure. Yes we bring our weekly offering. We contribute to missions and other charities. We also give our time! Spending some time helping at the church, serving as an usher or greeter, helping at coffee hour, Sunday School, choir, offering a ride to others, serving on a board or committee, visiting folks. There are endless chances to give our time and talent to our Lord.
We can bring another gift to Jesus....frankincense! What?! Frankincense was a special incense used in the Temple, when it was burned it was believed that the prayers of the people went up to heaven on the smoke! We can pray for our friends and family, for our church and her leaders -lay leaders and pastors! We can pray for our Nation, for missionaries, for Christians in other parts of the world, where it is not safe to proclaim the name of Jesus! We can read our bibles outside of church! Yes the bible is often hard to understand. Altho as Mark Twain was quoted as saying, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
the Bible can be challenging for pastors too, especially the parts we do understand...but we are here for you. We have Bible study groups, weekly Wednesday prayer gathering. We even have a website on which there are devotions and links to websites with Bible study information. Our gift of frankincense is our commitment to spiritual growth.
And our third gift...Myrrh. Myrrh is resin or gum from a specific type of tree that grows in the Middle East. It was used to prepare a body for burial. Not a 'normal' gift to bring to a baby, was it? But of course, this was not just any baby. Myrrh tells reminds us that Jesus, the One for whom we are all looking, came for one reason. Jesus was born to die. To die on the Cross. Because that was the ONLY way to make us right so that we could be in complete relationship with God. We can bring all the things we do wrong, all the stuff that separates us from the love of God and of others, we can bring them to Jesus right now and say “Lord, I am sorry. I lay all my imperfections and and self centeredness and all the ways I look for someone other than You-i lay all these things at the cross right now. Lord Jesus, will You forgive me?”
When we pray this, Jesus' answer is “Yes, my child. I forgive you. Because I love you. I was born for you, I died on that cross for you, I rose again for you, all because I love you. Look no further, I am the SomeOne that you seek.”
today and every day, we can look for that SomeOne and bring our gifts to Jesus. To the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the One who was born to die for each of us. How can we do anything but worship and adore Him!