Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 2:1-12:
Most of us have particular roads on which we like to
travel. For the most part, we always go
to and from work the same way, we go to the grocery store the same way, we go
to church the same way. We do this so
much that there are times when we totally disengage while driving and we end
up, usually at home, and we don’t remember doing the drive at all. We know the route so well that we don’t even
really have to be involved in doing it any more. Now this does not mean that this route is necessarily
the best route to take, the easiest or the quickest, although we would probably
argue that it is, but it is the route that we are most used to and so it’s what
we do. And we stay on that route unless
something pushes us off of it, construction, and accident or perhaps a major
snow storm. Normally, there are multiple
ways to do something, multiple routes to take, but we don’t take them because
it’s not how we normally go and we don’t really want to change anything. We like our particular road just fine, thank
you very much. Even if it’s not really
working for us anymore, we’re going to stick to it, because gosh darn it we’re
not quitters. Finding a different road
isn’t really all that hard, most of the time, but it’s making the decision to
go home by a different road that’s the tough part.
The story of Epiphany, the arrival of the wise men, is a
story familiar to us; it’s a well-traveled road, even though what we know or
think doesn’t match the reality. The
first part is that regardless of what our nativity sets show, the shepherds and
the wise men were never in the same place at the same time. The wise men do not find Jesus in a manger,
but instead in a house. Now it could be
that Jesus was still an infant, because according to Matthew, Joseph and Mary
live in Bethlehem, they don’t have to go there because of a census. That is Luke’s story, and they are simply
different. But what happens after the
wise men leave their meeting with Herod, and they don’t come back to see him,
is that Herod orders the killing of all male children under the age of two,
known as the slaughter of the innocents, and not included in the passage we
heard, but that means that Jesus could be as old as two when the wise men
arrive. To survive this death order, Joseph
takes Mary and Jesus, and they become refugees, fleeing to another country, a
country that has a different ethnic group and also, for the most part,
practices a different religion then them.
They do this so they won’t be killed, and fortunately for Jesus, and for
us, that country did not refuse these refugees entrance, perhaps something we
should keep in mind based on current world events. Now I’ll stop meddling and start preaching
But how men wise men are there? We say there are three, but the passage
doesn’t actually say that. We hold that there are three, at least in the
western church, because there are three gifts given, and surely no one would
show us without bringing their own gift right?
But other traditions hold that these are group gifts and that perhaps
there are twelve wise men, we simply don’t know. And even though we just sang We Three Kings, Matthew never says
anything about them being kings, nor being from the orient, he simply says they
came from the east. Probably a better
location would be they came from Babylon which was the center of astronomical studies. And one thing we do know, and certainly would
have been known in the ancient world, was that magi would travel to visit
significant kings, and so by having these wise men come and visit Jesus,
Matthew is making a distinct theological and political statement about who Jesus
is and how he relates to the Roman empire.
Because remember that the reason why Herod sees Jesus as a threat is
because these men ask where they can find the king of the Jews, which is the
official title held by Herod himself.
There is one other significant piece of information to
consider before we get to the point that I want to emphasize from the passage,
and that is that these wise men are not Jewish, they are not local, they are
not from the in-group and yet they understand who Jesus is and what he means,
and they do something about it, long before those who are supposed to know such
things do. They arrive and ask where
they can find Jesus because they have seen the sign, and so what does Herod
do? He calls the scribes and the priests
to find out what they know, and they know the prophecy, they know what they are
supposed to believed, and really even what they are supposed to do, but they don’t
They had to have seen the sign in the sky that brought the
wise men thousands of miles, but they didn’t go, even when they knew what to
do. They thought being priests and
scribes, being in the in crowd was enough, have the right knowledge, believe
the right things, be able to provide the right answers, that’s all that was
necessary. But what we see, not just in
this story, but time and time again in the gospels is that knowledge and belief
are not enough. With whom does Jesus
have his arguments and disputes? It’s
those who are super religious, who think they know the right things, who think
they have God all figured out. But Jesus
tells them they don’t have it figured out.
That it’s not just about believing something, but about doing something
about it. That when we see the signs, we
are not just supposed to know what they mean, not just talk about it and say
how important this is, but to go and see and worship. As James says, “faith without works is
dead.” Which takes us back to the last
line of today’s passage, that “having been warned in a dream not to return to
Herod,” the wise men “left for their own country by another road.”
At the beginning of the new year, we like to make resolutions
for things that we are going to do this year, and this year it’s actually going
to happen because this year we really mean it.
But rarely do those things happen for very long because the resolutions
require us to take a different road, to go a way that is not normal, to do
something different. It would have been really easy for the wise men to skip
going to see Herod, but still go back home the same way, but not only did they
not go back to see Herod, but they went home by a different route. Perhaps they wouldn’t have been in any danger
had they not changed, but changing their road certainly did change their lives. Michael Michalko, who writes about how to be
more creative, says that in order to spur creativity we should move beyond our
normal roads and routines, to do new things, go new ways, to change directions
in order to keep your mind active and learning new things.
And changing direction shouldn’t be hard for us as
Christians because what Jesus tells us to do is to repent, which literally means
to turn around. To stop going down the
road we are one and instead to go down a different road. In an article on how to stick to your New
Year’s resolutions by Austin Frakt, he says that when we are seeking to undertake
a change we should ask two questions. The
first is “why don’t I do this already?” And
the second is “Why do I feel the need to do this now?” The first question is a practical one that
seeks to explain what barriers prevent us from doing something, most usually
barriers we have put up. The second
question is the emotional one, of coming up with our reasons for why we want to
do it, because if we have the reason why we want to do it, or need to do it,
then we have the reasons in place to overcome the barriers that we naturally
want to put in place, to overcome the natural stasis of the system of our
lives. We need that motivation to be
able to take a different road.
The other piece of advice that Frakt suggests is to have it
time limited. That is don’t say I’m going
to start exercising every day for the rest of my life, because that becomes too
big and too overwhelming. Instead say,
for the next two weeks I’m going to schedule this every day and do it. And then at the end of the two weeks, if you
were successful, then make a commitment for two more weeks, and if you weren’t
successful, then answer the questions again because you had to have missed
something important in either the barriers or the reasons to undertake it. He also recommends telling others you are making
this commitment and then having them hold you accountable, so that you have to
tell them that you haven’t done your commitment and why you haven’t, and often
having to tell that to others is enough to get you do go down a different road.
I’ve been told by my lovely wife that reading the Bible
every day for a year is too daunting, and so I’m asking the same thing. In your bulletin you will find a sheet that
has the readings just for January. Can
you make a commitment to try this for 31 days?
There is a check mark you can put next to each day as you complete the
readings. Then, I want you to put this
into the offering plate at the end of the month as your offering to God. I hope you will take on this opportunity for
the next month, but here are the three resolutions I think we should make. What am I going to do to deepen my
relationship with God? What am I going to do to deepen my relationship with my
church? What am I going to do to deepen my relationship with my community?
Robert Frost said “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I
took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” What Jesus says is “Enter through the narrow
gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and
there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard
that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The wise men went home by a different road, but
here is the most important piece of information: Ultimately this is not about
us. It’s about God and about what God is
calling us to do and to be, after all before the wise men took that different
road, they bowed down and worshipped Jesus, and so going back to the tradition
of the Methodist church and the acts of John Wesley is has been traditional to
say the Wesleyan covenantal prayer at the beginning of the year, and so we say
it again together today:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.