Scripture Matthew 2:1-12
There are times when something is happening around you and you don’t quite realize that you are part of it. It could be just the group of people around you are involved with something and you suddenly realize you’re included. It could also be someone making an announcement and you don’t realize you are a recipient of what’s being announced. It could be that someone is calling on you, but you don’t realize it, you think they are calling on someone else.
As a basketball coach of middle school boys… I tell you it can be astonishing at times how often kids don’t realize you are talking to them.
“Billy, you’re on.”
“Billy… you’re on, get out there.”
“Billy… let’s go!”
“Oh… am I on?”
“Is your name Billy? YES!”
And then Billy finally jumps up all excited and finally gets on the floor.
There was also the time last year when Bev and I went to a play and it was one of those one’s where they call people up on stage a couple of times during the performance. They looked over in my section at one point and said, “You sir…” I thought “Oh crap.” And sure enough, yes they meant me.
The funny part about that one was, because I’m used to public speaking, and spoke clear and loud, some people in the audience thought I was a plant, that I was actually a member of the cast. On the way out I had to correct a few people on that assumption when they came up to say “Good job, we’re you part of the play?” Now we make sure we’re sitting in the balcony for shows. Just to be on the safe side.
There’s also times when people will just show up that you don’t expect. Times when someone will surprise you because you don’t always realize they think that much of you to make an effort to be there.
When Bev and I got married we were totally surprised when my aunt from the Yukon showed up at the wedding! I mean, that’s a long way to go for a little service in a small Cape Breton church. But I was ring bearer at her wedding and she wanted to come and see mine! That was a pretty special treat and totally unexpected!
And I know some of you have similar stories of people showing up out of the blue and surprising you at an occasion you never expected to see them at!
Today’s scripture reading is one of those moments. Do you think for a moment, that Mary and Joseph expected strangers to show up at their door, up to two years after the birth of their son, to pay their respects to the child?
I mean, the shepherds showing up at the manger on the night of his birth, that was one thing. But now, they’ve settled into a home in Bethlehem, little baby Jesus is learning to walk and talk, and then there’s a knock on the door.
Mary goes to see who’s there and she meets a number of strangers standing on the front step and they want to see the new born King of the Jews. Well that’s going to be different, now isn’t it? It’s not exactly a door to door salesman trying to sell you a great deal!
We don’t actually know how many wise men there are. We seem to assume three because that’s how many gifts they bring. But scripture doesn’t actually say how many. All we know is it’s plural, more than one, who has come. It certainly could be three, but it could be two or it could be a dozen!
And their names, we don’t actually know their names. Tradition says their names are Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The names likely were given because we like to identify people we think are important, so someone made up some names for them. Other ancient Christian churches had different names for them, likely for the same reason.
Now we have different titles for these men too. We call them wise men. We call them kings. We call them magi. Who are they?
It seems most researchers agree that they are not kings. They are men who are respected in their communities, and they are very well educated. They study astronomy, as well as history, as they knew they were looking for a sign of the birth of the new King of the Jews, and recognized the star as the sign of a promised birth of a king recorded in Jewish scripture.
We’ve built a whole life for these men. They rode in on camels, we say. But we don’t actually know that either, it’s not recorded in scripture how they travelled. Like I already said, we don’t actually know how many there were or what their names are. We also don’t know how far they came. We like to think they came from a long way away, but all we actually know is they came from “the East.”
The gifts are significant however. All three would have been somewhat traditional gifts given to a king. Gold, well it makes sense. A king is to be rich and gold is a rich gift to give! Frankincense is an incense, a sign of royalty or even a deity depending on one’s own tradition. Myrrh is today’s equivalent of an embalming oil, so a symbol of death. Something all people face in life, even kings.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the myth of a story we forget the facts. All we have in this story is an unnamed group of educated men come from the east to pay their respects and give gifts to a newborn king at some point up to two years after his birth.
However, there are also consequences to their travels. They saw the star rise at some point, which signalled to them the event happened. So they set out. On their way, they stop at the local capital city, Jerusalem, to see if they can get some clearer directions.
Now I know some of you women out there may be questioning the fact these men stopped for directions, but it’s true! It’s right there in the Bible! They stop and ask King Herod where they can visit the new born King!
Now, what we’ve ascertained from the Bible is that Herod is not always a rational man. He’s clever, because he manages to figure out a timeline for the birth, but he also manages to narrow it down to a city as well. In talking with the wise men, Herod figures that it’s had to happen within the last two years and that Bethlehem was the place to go looking.
He’s also clever enough to realize these wise men have a far better chance of finding this new king than he does. Certainly government officials haven’t heard about this new king yet, and it’s been nearly two years now, so these strangers may have better luck. So he sends them off with a smile and a “let me know how it goes!” and then waits. He will not tolerate a threat to his rule over the kingdom. So he waits.
And then the star comes back, that same star they saw which launched their journey, it leads them straight to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus and his family are living.
Why is it so important we remember these wise men who came to visit Jesus? We also remember the shepherds. And I’m sure there were other visitors who came. Joseph’s extended family who live in the area, no doubt they have dropped in. Neighbours have also likely dropped by. Not unlike what we do here in Cape Breton. We like to make sure people are taken care of. They might have dropped off some casseroles or something. Yet none of them made it into scripture.
So why, almost two years later, are we remembering the wise men? Why? Because they represent the kingship of Jesus. They have come with treasures fit for a king, and a king this child will be. They are also foreigners, so it shows early on that Jesus is for more than his Jewish brothers and sisters, Jesus has come for all nations.
The Gospel of Matthew is written for a Jewish audience. But Matthew is highlighting that Jesus came for more people than just themselves. Jesus is to be shared, as he has been recognized by educated people from other nations. They too have come to worship him and they were so excited to meet him.
When they saw the star reappear to guide them the rest of the way, Matthew says they rejoiced exceedingly! They needed to meet him as well. So from the very beginning, Jesus has impacted other nations just by being born, years before it’s recorded he did any teaching or miracles.
Which means this child, this king, the one who grows to be the most influential man in the history of the world, he came for us as well.
Jesus is the Messiah promised through the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament. But he is also the Messiah, he is also the Saviour of all people of every place and every time. Including Cape Breton in 2019.
We also learn from the wise men that this child, this Saviour of the world, is worthy of worship. Even before he has done a single thing of note in his life, he is worthy of worship. Just by being born, he is worshipped. He is worshipped by lowly shepherds and he is worshipped by educated men who likely have royalty in their own blood as well. He is worshipped by the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, for he is worthy of all worship. He is our king today as well, and he is worthy of our worship.
God sent this child into the world for a reason. He sent him to show us the way to God through a deep relationship with the one he sends. This is God’s child, this is God among us, this is God with us, this is our Saviour.
Being our Saviour means he is the one who saves. He saves us from our sin. He saves us from our pain. He saves us from our struggles. He even saves us from death. When we worship him, when we welcome him into our lives as our own personal Saviour, he saves us from death because in him we have life with God for all eternity.
What a blessing it is that God sent us this newborn king. This child who carries God’s purpose within him is a child who will share this purpose with the entire world as people continue to be influenced by him even still today.
What a gift this child has been and continues to be for all people who call upon his name.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Saviour, born so that we may live with him forevermore in the company of our Father in heaven.
He was born for you, so that you may know him and our Father in heaven, and the love they have for all God’s children. A life changing love worthy of our worship today.
Let us pray,
Lord Jesus, you are worthy of our worship and our praise. You have come into this world to love us as God loves us. You have come to teach us about our Father in heaven and about ourselves.
Help us to know God’s plan for our lives, our church, and our community, as we follow you.
May our lives be instruments of worship. May all we do be in praise of our Saviour. May we know and show the purifying love of God all through our lives.
This we pray in your most Holy Name. Amen and amen.