Summary: A sermon for Epiphany-Year C.
“A Wise Choice”
Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
December 31, 2006
Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
I am told that I was a real handful when I was growing up in my home church. Well, you know the saying, “What goes around, comes around.” I think it’s safe to say that it’s come around now. My home church always put on a Christmas play with the children of the church. And one evening, I was being especially disruptive downstairs as some of the younger children were getting ready for their parts in the play, and my pastor came downstairs to try and bring us under some sort of control. I was playing one of the wise men that night. I had borrowed my father’s robe and I had a crown on my head. So rather than yelling at us, he saw a teaching moment in the midst of the chaos of the Christmas program. He found an ingenious way to get the wise men to settle down. He told us that the first one to find the place in the Bible where it spoke of the three wise men would get the $100 bill he flashed before us out of his wallet.
I am not nearly so brave as to put that much money on the line just to make some children calm down, but he was. And so I ran around the church looking for the first Bible I could find. I knew it was in the New Testament, but I wasn’t sure where. I also knew that it was in one or more of the first few books in the New Testament. Luckily, I turned to Matthew 2:1-12 and saw the heading printed on the page that read, The Visit of the Wise Men. I read on through the story and I knew I had found it. The other wise men weren’t nearly so wise as I was. I proudly exclaimed that I had found it first and that I would happily accept my $100 bill.
But you see, my pastor went to Duke, and he wasn’t nearly so dim-witted as to put $100 of his own money on the line knowing that he might lose it to some smart-alecky kid who got lucky in finding a passage of Scripture. He reminded me of the terms of his challenge. He said that I had to find the section in the Bible where it spoke of the THREE wise men. Once again, I pointed to the section that our gospel lesson came from this morning and said, “Give me my money!” He asked me to read it to him. And so I did. And you know what I discovered? I discovered that the Bible never mentions that there were three wise men. It only says that there were wise men from the east and doesn’t include the number of wise men that were there. All that is said is that there was more than just one. I had been had! And when I learned Greek, I realized that the masculine plural could also include women in the group. In Greek, if you have a group of 100 women and only one man, you must put that word in the masculine plural.
What my pastor taught me that night has stuck with me ever since. It is of supreme importance that we read what the Bible actually says and not just what we think it might say. If we read what is there, we will quickly see just how little we know about the Magi. We know there was more than one of them. We know they came from the East, which would mean they were Gentiles. We know they brought gifts to Jesus of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The only real place you could get frankincense and myrrh was in Saudi Arabia. But that doesn’t mean the Magi were from there. We know they followed a strange star in the sky that led them to Jesus. And we know they paid the young child homage as though he were a king. We really don’t even know how old Jesus was when the Magi got there other than the fact that he was no older than two because Herod ordered the killing of all children two and younger once the wise men didn’t return.