Welcome to worship at Christ Lutheran Church and welcome if you’re listening on the radio. We are so blessed to begin a new year---able to be here together to worship the Lord who makes this new year possible.
This day of January 6 has been observed in the church for centuries as the day to remember the coming of the wise men to worship the baby Jesus. The day is called Epiphany, a word which refers to the unveiling, the revealing of the Christ child to the world, represented, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, by those visitors from the east. I wonder where in the east? Maybe Conrad, Havre?
The Greek word used here to describe these visitors is “magos” which has been translated as wise men---Magi---even princes or kings. Magi is the proper name for a group---men of wisdom from ancient Persia who studied the stars. And they traveled a great distance to worship this newborn king.
Let’s hear more from one of them---
Video---The Wise Man by the Skit Guys
“400 years of silence broken by the cries of the Son of God”. From the end of the Old Testament, the writing of Malachi, to the birth of Jesus was 400 years, sometimes referred to as 400 years of silence. It’s not that God wasn’t active. He wasn’t on vacation for 400 years. God is always active, always answering prayer, always working to bring his plans to completion.
In those 400 years there were other books written, some referred to as the Apocrypha--- and some groups call them scripture. But Protestant Christians don’t view them as even close to the same level as the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. For 400 years the Holy Spirit did not inspire books to be written in the same way as Malachi or Matthew.
But the Magi, the wise men, were listening and watching and they recognized in that star, that something amazing was happening. The Star of Bethlehem---we have a DVD by that name on the library cart out in the Gathering Place. It’s well worth watching this documentary on the historical evidence for the star.
And when they got to Bethlehem, 400 years of silence were broken by the cries of the Son of God.
John Stott writes that the visit of the Magi to Jesus “is beautifully complementary to that of the shepherds. The two groups could not have been more different from each other than they were. Racially the shepherds were Jews, while the Magi were Gentiles. Intellectually the shepherds were simple and untutored, while the Magi were scholars, wise men form the east. Socially the shepherds belonged to the world’s have-nots, whereas the Magi (judging from the expensive gifts they brought) were wealthy.”
Yet despite these major differences, the Magi were united with the shepherds in their worship of the Lord Jesus. This day of Epiphany celebrates that fact that Jesus came to save all people of all races and all nations, all economic and educational levels.
Stott points out that most religions are tied primarily to one people or culture. But the followers of Jesus are not mainly from the area where Jesus lived. Nor are Jesus’ followers mainly Caucasian or of western culture. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity’s most recent numbers show 68% of Christians are people of color and other sources show 80% of Christians are non-white and non-western.
This is the significance of Epiphany. Jesus brought together shepherds from the fields and Magi from the east, because he is the savior of the whole world!
So how many Magi came to worship Jesus? This is a trick question. Matthew doesn’t say that 3 wise men came to worship Jesus in Bethlehem. He says wise men came. But we assume it was 3 because they brought 3 gifts.
But the number 3 is still very important in what Matthew tells us because we see 3 reactions to Jesus’ birth.
William Barclay talks about those 3 reactions– hatred, indifference, and worship.
King Herod reacted with hatred and hostility. Herod was afraid that this little child was going to interfere with his throne, his power and his influence. His instinct was to destroy the child – which he tried to do in ordering the killing of every child in Bethlehem under the age of 2. But Joseph and Mary had fled to Egypt with Jesus before Herod’s soldiers got to Bethlehem. Herod wanted to erase Christ from his life.
There are those who still react that way to Jesus, fearful that His presence will prevent them from living the self-centered life they crave. If a person wants to live by following their wants and ways – Jesus won’t stop that, but he won’t endorse that either. And so some react to His presence with hostility. Maybe even you and me at times when what we want, doesn’t fit with what we know God wants for us.
And some people react with indifference. Herod called the chief priests and teachers of the law together to get their response to what the wise men said about a king being born.
The chief priests and teachers of the law said that the prophet had foretold the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem. We heard that reading today from the prophet Malachi. But Matthew records no other response on their part. You might think that the religious leaders would want to accompany the wise men to Bethlehem, but no.
Perhaps they were so wrapped up in their temple regulations and legal discussions that they disregarded this talk of the Messiah. After all, others had talked of the Messiah before. But this time it wasn’t talk – it was THE Messiah.
It’s the same today isn’t it. Many people would say they want a savior – a Messiah in their lives – but they are indifferent to the fact that He is already here. Their lives are too busy, too focused on lesser things, little pretend messiahs, to realize that the savior they need has been with them all along. Are we so wrapped up in our little lives that we don’t recognize that the Messiah is with us?
Hostility and indifference – thankfully, the third reaction to Jesus’ birth was worship and adoration. The wise men had travelled hundreds, probably more than a thousand miles to present the noblest gifts to Christ the King. To offer themselves in praise, to bring honor to this newborn child.
That should be the reaction of the whole world – of you and me – to Christs’ birth. To realize the depth of God’s love – that He would personally enter human life as a helpless child – should evoke powerful feelings in us of wonder, love, and praise.
3 reactions to Jesus – hostility, indifference, adoration
And with that adoration came 3 gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold is the gift for a King. In many ancient societies you would never approach a king without a gift. And gold – the king of all metals was the perfect gift for a king.
Jesus was born to be King – but He was to reign not by force – but by love. And He was to rule over people not from a throne, but from a cross.
Frankincense is the gift for a priest. It was in the temple in Jerusalem that the sweet perfume of frankincense was used. The function of a Jewish priest was to open the way to God for humans through the sacrifices in the temple. But those sacrifices were no longer needed, because of what Jesus did. He opened a new way to God – not based on people’s imperfect efforts, but based on His perfect love and forgiveness.
Myrrh is the gift for one who is to die. Myrrh was used to prepare bodies for burial. It was a strange gift to bring to celebrate a child’s birth – out of place with the other gifts – the glitter of gold and the sweet fragrance of frankincense. Myrrh carried the scent of death. It was a bittersweet gift which foreshadowed Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus was born into the world to live AND die for you and me.
3 gifts – highly symbolic of Jesus’ mission in the world.
3 gifts – What gifts do we bring
to worship the Christ child?
A little girl told her parents that she was going to tell them the Christmas story. She had been part of the Christmas pageant at her church and she knew the story well.
She told her parents about Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus – about the shepherds coming to worship Him. And then she got to the wise men. She said – “Wise men came from the east bearing gifts and they knelt before the Christ child and gave him gold, circumstance and mud.”
That’s really a great description of what we need to give the Christ child.
Our gold – we spend so much of our time trying to make money, save money and manage money that it too easily becomes the focus of our lives. Giving our gold to the LORD is a symbol of our commitment to use our resources in ways that bring glory to the one who has provided us with everything we have.
Our circumstance – we all exist amidst a variety of circumstances, some good, some bad – some depressing, some uplifting. None of our lives are exactly what we would hope for. And they will never be close to perfect in this world.
But whatever our circumstances instead of whining or giving up, we can offer them to the Christ child, so that He can work through our circumstances to transform us and our world. When we offer our lives to Christ – incredible new things begin.
And our mud – we all add plenty of dirt and grime to the clear waters of life that God gives us. Our sin causes a silty, muddy mess.
But the living water of Christ washes away the mud. When we turn the mud of our lives over to Him, His clear, pure water flows through our souls once more.
So what gifts do you and I bring to worship the new born King?
What could be better than our gold---our circumstance---and our mud---that is, what could be better than to offer our whole lives to Christ?