Sunday January 10, 2016
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] 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.’[b]”
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.
This morning we have some ‘star words’! We hear words about a star and travellers on a long journey and a guiding light or force and the dark side of life – a savage king Herod. What do we make of these ‘star words’?
Well, there is an old Quaker saying I heard once. “Do not expect more light until you follow what light you already have”. Sounds like something a Jedi master would say…….
Epiphany is about the light – light being shown in darkness. An epiphany moment is seeing something for the first time or making a great discovery or finally finding the thing or the person or the understanding for which you have been searching all along.
I suppose that begs the obvious question. For what have you been searching? What are you looking for and what are you seeking in 2016? Change of place, change of occupation, building on something already begun, higher income level, to be more generous, more caring; less self-centred, to get into the Bible and find some answers……?
We are not the first, nor will we be the last people to search for something long promised. The Magi searched and searched. These little know gentile eastern people, either from Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia, searched for an event promised, a person promised long prior.
They searched in a particular way though. They followed what light they were given. As they followed light that was given they were given more light. They followed the star of the new king across open country and into the darkness of the crazed king, Herod. They didn’t know the full dimensions of Herod’s darkness and they almost contributed to God’s promise being snuffed out before it could be fully revealed. Herod conducted his own search. He searched for this long-promised ‘new king’ he heard the Easterners speak of. He conducted a death search and killed all male children under two years of age in vicinity of Bethlehem. Many innocents were slaughtered that day, and it was dark.
But Light was still present. Those few who kept seeking it and followed it when it was revealed – one moment after the next, one night, one day, another night, another day– to them the Light was given more fully.
Friends, like the Magi, we travel life’s way without knowing many things. We don’t really know what will become of us this year. We don’t know how life will go, what crises may come, what wonderful things we will see, great moments we will experience, dark times we might experience. Yet, just as it was for the Magi, God’s light is revealed one moment, one day and night at a time. The Magi call out to us and say, “follow the light you have been given and God’s light will shine on your way”.
Now, those star-gazers didn’t exactly know where to find the new King, but they did seem to trust that in any darkness there actually was light, and they trusted the old promises of God that that the One who turns the darkness of sin and death into the light of forgiveness and life was revealing this light for sinners in their time.
Now that is a leap from faith. They didn’t know the intentions of God in all this leading by just knowing the stars. Matthew makes it very clear that it was the light of God’s Word that filled in the picture for all those involved with the coming of the new King.
It was the Light of his revealed will in his spoken Word that made their journey and their search fruitful and meaningful. Their meaning, purpose, direction and joy did not come from the star they followed, but the Word they heard about that star. It was only when the Word of promise from the Scriptures was proclaimed that they knew where to find the new King and who this King was – the Light for all humanity, all creation.
Same for us. We live in this Word light – the light of the good news, the light of the gospel – that the creator of the universe has kept his promise to bring his light into any darkness we experience within and around us by forgiving our sin and freeing us from the tyranny of darkness and death still active in our time.
We didn’t make it happen, we couldn’t make this happen. We didn’t receive light by searching, by choosing, by finding. The light of Jesus resurrection was revealed to us by God’s choosing and by God’s means and by God’s grace given in this king of Light, and we are right with our God because he made it so; he ‘flicked the switch’. Our confessions of the Faith call this “an especially brilliant light” – justification by grace, through faith, for Christ’s sake.
So now we have this light of the gospel and yet, we still live in a shadowy existence. There are so many things we are unaware of and so many things about which our understanding is limited.
Well, there is a lot that the Magi probably didn’t know either. They probably had no idea of the full scope of this Christ Child and the light he would bring to all people – Jew and Gentile alike.
They probably had no clue that this baby they were eventually led to honour and praise would grow up and be crucified on a deathly cross for the sin of all people of all time.
But even if they didn’t understand all of life and the many ways of the world, and even if they only saw in part and not yet in full, the thing is that they followed what light was given, and as a result, the light of joy and fulfilment and peace was present in their lives.
They gathered in the presence of the Light and they were overwhelmed with joy because they knew that they were in the light. They still lived in the same shadows as we: lack of understanding, unfulfilled searching, fear of failure, self-orientated lifestyle……
But they saw and heard that these dark things are lived are all lived right in the light of Jesus presence. They seem to understand that a new reality of reliance on the God’s light in Christ, new understanding, true enlightenment, peace and joy come to those who dwell with the Saviour – and they gladly gave their gifts and their lives to him.
The Light we have is blinding. We have open access to the God of all things by faith in his Son, Jesus, and we have confidence in his grace, love, power, strength, wisdom and peace. We are confident that our God keeps his promises and does what he says and gives us enough light for each day – the light of encouragement, challenge, love, instruction, hope, strength for living.
“Do not expect more light until you follow what light you already have”.
Follow that Star – the bright Morning Star of Jesus into 2016. Hear his ‘star words’ as he speaks and acts by the Spirit working in the Word to make that especially brilliant light of the gospel shape you in 2016.
As for these easterners, so for you. As you follow the light you have been given, this light will increase in your life and God’s great mystery to include all people in his light will happen through you – and there will be light in darkness and the Light will lighten the darkness and eventually, the darkness will be no more.