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Wise People Ask For Directions

20 Dec

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” That statement, penned almost 60 years ago by E. B. White, is still true today. Between the grief and mourning over the shootings in San Bernardino, the focus on Presidential debates, fears of terrorism, and the over-commercialization of Christmas shopping, it is difficult to find the meaning in the madness of the season.

Once discovered, people respond in a variety of ways to the message of Christmas. Some are offended. The Freedom From Religion Foundation takes the opportunity of the holidays to promote their manifesto. Some are nonplused. They know the story but go about their business without pausing to consider the meaning. But those who discovered the savior rejoice in his birth. The account of the Magi searching for Jesus portrays all of these responses (Matthew 2:1-12).

There are three main actors in this part of the Christmas drama—King Herod, the wise men, and the star.

King Herod was not Jewish, but was declared “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. He ruled Palestine from 37-4 B.C. He was cruel and merciless, jealous, suspicious, and paranoid. He killed his enemies including his brother-in-law, one of his wives, and three sons.

Rather than kings, the magi were of a priestly caste from Persia or Babylon. They were skilled in astronomy and astrology. The magi probably learned about the one true God and the coming Messiah from Daniel, who was the leader of the magi (Daniel 2:48).

The star was either a natural phenomenon such as a star, comet, supernova, or conjunction of planets; a supernatural phenomenon; or an angel. The significance is not found in what the phenomenon was but rather what it pointed to.

Verses 1-2 explain that wise people seek Jesus. The wise men saw the star and knew it signified the birth of royalty. They correctly interpreted the signs and knew the messiah of Israel had been born. They traveled some 900 miles from Babylon to seek the newborn king.

On December 17, 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.”

In the same way, the religious leaders of Israel saw the same signs as the magi but completely missed the point. Foolish people ignore Jesus (3-8).

Knowing he is not the rightful heir to David’s throne, Herod feels threatened by the birth of a new king (3). He summons the religious leaders and asks them to explain what the magi were talking about (4). The religious leaders know the facts about the Messiah’s birth, but don’t appear overly impressed (5-6).

Feigning interest, King Herod sends the magi to Bethlehem to finish their quest. Once they find the newborn king, they are to send word to Herod so that he can come and pay his respects (7-8). As the text explains later, Herod is secretly hatching a plot to protect his throne by eliminating a supposed rival (16-18).

Verses 9-12 show that wise people worship Jesus. The star reappears and leads the wise men to the child in Bethlehem (9). The magi honor Jesus as they present their gifts to him (10-11). Their quest ends in worship.

I put together the following chart to compare and contrast the differing responses by the characters in the story. It is difficult not to identify with one of them.

Foolish people

Wise people

Herod

Scribes & Priests

Magi

Intimidated

Indifferent

Intrigued

Duplicity

Disturbed

Devotion

Troubled

Factual

Rejoiced

Opposing

Ignoring

Seeking

Antagonism

Apathy

Adoration

Hostility

Disinterest

Worship

The question each one of us must answer is, “How do we respond to the message of Christmas?” Are we antagonistic? Do we reject the birth of Jesus? Are we apathetic to the news of the gospel? Do we know the story so well that we are no longer moved? Are we just going through the motions? Do we express praise and adoration? Like the wise men, do we come and worship the God who sent his son to be our savior?

The magi discovered that those who seek Jesus Christ are invited to worship him. May we seek him and find him and worship him as well.

This message was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 20, 2015. It is part of a series on Advent. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

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