Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘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 shepherd My people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Ask a child, "What is light?" and you will probably get an answer something like this: "Light is what you see things with."
Ask a physicist and you'll probably get an answer something like this: "Light is a mixture of electromagnetic radiation, with wave-lengths roughly between 400 and 700 billionths of a metre and an intensity distribution characteristic of the radiation from a body that has a temperature of about 6,000 degrees Celsius.”
Most things we see, when we look around the world in which we live, do not radiate light of their own. They are visible only because they reflect part of the light that falls on them from some primary source, such as the sun, an electric lamp or a light emitting diode.
Scientists call the light source and its reflection being "in resonance," meaning that light and the object it strikes are "in resonance" and out of that interaction the object is radiant and visible.
Divine light seems to function on the same principle. Humans do not emit their own light but reflect the light that falls on them from the primary source - God. The human spirit is then in resonance with God and becomes, as Isaiah put it, "radiant."’
Christmas is traditionally about light. We walk or drive down the streets decorated with Christmas lights and the sky is often lit up with fireworks – especially in the middle of the Christmas season as the world celebrates the beginning of a new year. There are lights on the Christmas tree and perhaps a star on the top of the tree.
When we look at nativity scenes either in dioramas or pictures, we often see a halo of light around the head of the baby Jesus, the angel and Mary, Jesus human mother. We often see a bright shining star above all of this.
Lights are used to guide us in all sorts of situations. There are traffic lights, taillights and indicators on cars, airfield landing lights, neon lights and light emitting diodes in televisions and computer screens used as signs to point us to what is important – to that which we should know about.
As wise people we usually obey the lights, follow the lighted signs and instructions given on the screens.
Following light is not new. For thousands of years people have looked to lights, especially lights in the sky to guide and inspire them.
There were wise men in the East who saw a light in the sky, a star as our text says, which they were compelled to follow – somehow, through God’s instigation these foreigners knew that the light pointed to the new born King of the Jews.
The Jewish people had been expecting a Messiah, a Saviour to rescue them from oppression and hard times. The Old Testament prophesies had foretold of a star: Numbers 24:17 (NIV)
17 “I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
Perhaps the Wise Men or Magi from the East knew of this prophesy and others concerning the Messiah and when they saw the star in the West, followed it as far as Jerusalem, and sought local knowledge concerning where they might find the new born King of the Jews.
It is surprising that Gentiles, foreigners, would be seeking Jesus – and yet it should not surprise us when we remember that God had promised a Saviour for the whole world. The travellers from the East said: We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”
Jesus Himself tells us in Revelation 22:16 (NIV) who this star is: 16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
God wants to bring all nations to Jesus and so He begins with a few wise men or Magi – astronomers or magicians, foreigners to help make Jesus known to the world.
Even those who are pagans, the wise men or Magi as we know them, respond to God’s invitation to come to the light and see Jesus – but more than that – to worship Him, to bask in His Divine light.
Did you note that those who should have come, those who knew all the prophesies, did not come - …all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, did not acknowledge Jesus with joy and celebration, with respect and worship.
Like the wise men or Magi we are invited to come and worship as the Epiphany hymn “Angels, from the Realms of Glory” written by James Montgomery says:
Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the new born King.
But, there are many, even in the church today, who do not recognize Jesus for who He is – some regard Him merely as a mythical figure to inspire us.
Jesus is more, much more than this and it takes foreigners to recognize and acknowledge Him for who He is. Remember the Centurion at the foot of the cross who said, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”
Nearing Bethlehem, where the infant Jesus was, these foreigners, the Magi or wise men, were overjoyed. When they came into His presence they bowed down – they submitted themselves completely to Jesus and His will for them.
In recognizing and worshipping Jesus, the Magi submit themselves and their lives to Jesus, spiritually, physically and materially. They see God and worship Him. The worship is expressed as they prostrate themselves on the ground before Jesus and then as they give Him their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
Gold is a traditional gift to a king – thus they recognize Jesus claim to the throne of heaven. Frankincense is a gift given to God in Worship (incense is burnt and the aroma is like prayers being offered to God) and Myrrh is given to a man as a symbol of his mortality – myrrh was used in burial rites.
Two faced Herod the Great, who regarded himself as King of the Jews, was disturbed by the possibility of another claimant to the title. He had a paranoia about anyone who might possibly make a claim to his throne. He had in the past eliminated close family members for fear that they would want what he claimed as his.
Herod, with the hope of finding out where Jesus was to be found, came up with the deceitful scheme of finding out where Jesus was so that He could be eliminated. God, of course knew all this and protected His Son from the threat of Herod with a dream instructing the Magi to bypass Herod and return home via a different route.
Have you, like Herod, tried to eliminate Jesus from your life? Herod tried – with the slaughter of innocents – to remove Jesus from the world. We do the same when we stop or restrict children from learning about Jesus. We do the same when we condone abortion cutting short the life God gives in the world.
But God will continue to shine His star for you and for the world. His invitation like that given to the wise men or magi will always shine inviting you and the world to recognize your Messiah – Jesus.
God invites you to lay out your heart and life before Jesus who came to be your King – who gave up His life on the cross – so that He could take it up again and share it with you for eternity.
Jesus invites you to spend your life in His company – to share your gifts with Him for the good of His Kingdom and the world He wants you to share your life in fellowship here at St Matthew (or where ever your Christian church – your spiritual home is).
God invites you to bring your gifts to Jesus, as the wise men or Magi did, for the proclamation of the Gospel and aid of all in need.
Your gold, together with that of your fellow church members, will help maintain the ministry God wants St Matthew to provide in 2019 to each, and every member and contact of the congregation, the local community, Whitiora School and the wider Lutheran Church of New Zealand.
Your prayers like frankincense burnt as incense will rise to God and He will answer them all.
Your mortal life will be laid out for God to use like myrrh to cover the corruption of a world which is decaying without Christ. Your life can bring the Good News of Jesus death and resurrection to people who have no hope.
You, in Christ Jesus are “the light of Christ who has come into the world”.
As the prophet Isaiah said (60:5-6 NIV): …you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; … proclaiming the praise of the Lord.