“What’s in the stars for you?” Perhaps you remember seeing this huge front-page horoscope in the Edmonton Journal a few days ago. It may seem laughable to us that anyone would live his or her life by the “dictates of the stars” but the fact that the newspaper paid for the information and then gave it front-page prominence says that someone must be paying attention.
If you’re not into following the horoscope, and I hope you’re not, what stars do you follow? Are you chasing after the rising star of the hottest mutual fund, banking on your own star appeal to bring you good fortune in 2002, or has stardust made you blind to everything around you except that special someone? The Holy Spirit wants to convince you this morning that there is only one star worth following, the star of the Bible – Jesus Christ.
We’ll learn about this star from Matthew’s gospel. Unlike Luke, who describes Jesus’ birth in some detail, Matthew simply says that Jesus is born and then quickly describes how his birth affected the world around him. And what an effect it had! Matthew reports, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi 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 in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1, 2).
Who were these Magi? Where did they come from? How many were there? We don’t know the answers to those questions. What we do know is that they weren’t Jewish, that they found out about the birth of Jesus through a special star, and that it wasn’t mere curiosity that brought them to Jesus; the Magi came to worship. That tells us that these Magi knew that Jesus was not just another king but the long expected King of kings. In effect, the Magi were the first to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy that was read to you this morning. “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Is. 60:3).
But now how would these foreigners have known about the King of kings and his importance to them as their Saviour? Well, if these Magi had come from Babylon or Persia, (present day Iraq and Iran) they could have learned about the promised Saviour from teachings passed down to them from the prophet Daniel. That’s not as far-fetched as it may sound because about 570 B.C. Daniel was appointed head of the Magi in Babylon and held other important government posts for 60 years (Daniel 2:48). Since Daniel wasn’t shy about sharing and living his faith he no doubt affected the lives of magi for generations to come. Friends, don’t ever underestimate the importance of sharing your faith. You never know how many people will be affected by it.
But now what about this star the Magi followed to the Christ-child? What was it exactly? Some have said that that the star was really a comet or a couple of planets lined up together to guide the Magi but neither explain how the star appeared and disappeared and then guided the Magi to the exact house where Jesus was. To do that the star had to be low enough in the sky so that it would distinguish the house that Jesus was in from the other houses around it. Therefore we’ll simply say that this star was some bright object in the heavens God specially used to guide the Magi to Jesus.
The star does reveal something about Jesus; it tells us that he is so glorious and wonderful that even the stars in the heavens must serve him. Therefore it’s foolish for us to turn to the stars and hope that they can share with us some hidden message about our future. The stars in the heavens do speak all right, they tell us that there is a powerful and wise God and he is the one that we should worship and honour, not the stars he created (Psalm 19:1-4).
When King Herod heard about the Magi’s quest to find a newborn king he was greatly disturbed. A star is born? That’s not the kind of thing Herod liked to hear for he didn’t tolerate co-stars in his life. Perhaps you remember from last Sunday’s sermon how he killed at least one wife and a couple of sons because he thought they were trying to take his throne. The Romans were right when they said, “Better Herod’s sow (u|") than Herod’s son (uiJov").”
While we’re not surprised by Herod’s reaction to the news of Jesus’ birth, Jerusalem’s response was curious. Matthew says that all of Jerusalem was disturbed along with Herod (v. 3). You think that they would be overjoyed at the news. The Messiah had come! Hadn’t they been dying to hear that news? Actually that’s what they were afraid of, dying because one could never be sure what a hysterical Herod would do. From Jerusalem’s point of view, things would have been better had the Magi never showed up, had Jesus never been born.
I wonder if that isn’t how we feel some times? We’re OK with this Jesus thing as long as it doesn’t upset our life too much. We can handle letting the spouse and children go to church and even showing up ourselves every now and then but ask me to read my Bible everyday, to cut back on my drinking, to curb my selfish spending habits, to help with the church work...whoa, let’s not get carried away Pastor. I don’t want to be labeled a “Jesus Freak”! Why not? What star are you following? Yours or God’s?
Why wouldn’t we want to be “Jesus Freaks”? Isn’t he the one who saved us and takes care of us? Don’t we owe him our life, if not our obedience? Friends, we’re not just guilty of cracking the first commandment, we shatter it every time we think that putting God first isn’t really that important. Lord forgive us for our shallowness. Forgive us for your Son’s sake for that is what you have promised to do.
After asking around a bit the Magi must have been very surprised that no one seemed to know a thing about this newborn king. How could it be that they, who lived hundreds of kilometers away, knew about his birth but no one in the capital city seemed to care? Were the people and their leaders just clueless? No, for when Herod called together the Jewish leaders and asked them where the Christ was to be born they were quick to answer, “In Bethlehem in Judea, 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 be the shepherd of my people Israel’” (Matthew 2:5, 6).
“Duhh, Herod! Everyone knows where the Christ is to be born. It’s right there in the Bible!” It’s right there in the Bible. How true that is. Everything you need to know about life and death, everything you need to know about the path to happiness – it’s right there in the Bible. Therefore how foolish it is for us to look elsewhere for answers to life’s problems like in a horoscope. What star are you following? Follow the light of the Bible and its star Jesus, for he is the way to heaven.
If the Magi thought it was strange that no one seemed to know anything about Christ’s birth, they must have thought it was even stranger that no one accompanied them to Bethlehem to see the King of kings. Here they had traveled hundreds of uncomfortable kilometers to see the newborn king but the Jewish leaders weren’t even willing to travel the ten kilometers to Bethlehem to see their Saviour.
Wise are they who still seek Jesus today, no matter what obstacles lay in the way. When you know that Jesus is your Saviour and that his Word provides nourishment for your faith, like the Magi, no quantity of kilometers will keep you from hearing his Word. If you are finding that distance, or work schedules are getting in your way of hearing God’s Word, talk to me about it. If you can’t make it here I’ll gladly stop by to share God’s Word and Holy Communion with you until you can work things out to join us here again on a regular basis.
I’m happy to say that there are a lot of wise people here today for many of you have traveled long distances and rearranged work schedules so that you could be here to worship the Christ-child. Keep it up! But be aware of the temptation to worship with the hypocrisy of Herod and not the sincerity of the Magi. Don’t be eager to come to worship just to show everyone else your faithfulness. For if you do you’ve made yourself, not God, the star of the worship service. Come instead eager to praise God for his faithfulness.
By the time the Magi tore themselves away from Herod, the star had reappeared. Overjoyed they followed it until it led them directly to the house where Jesus was. There they went in, saw the child, and worshipped him. Their worship consisted of a lot more than just bowing before Jesus. They worshipped him with their possessions. Much has been made of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the Magi gave but let’s just say that they brought their very best, for they brought gifts fit for a king.
Wise are they who still lay their finest at his feet. This week I just finished tallying the total offerings that were collected during 2001. If my numbers are right the average Sunday offering per attendee – that’s every man, woman, and child was $26.75. Would you say that we brought our best to the Lord? That’s an impossible question to answer, but you can ask yourself whether or not you brought your best.
Now does it mean that if you didn’t at least give $26.75 per Sunday that you didn’t give your best? No, for if you receive a loony a week for an allowance God hasn’t given you $26.75 to give back to him. On the other hand just because you gave $26.75 or more every week doesn’t mean that you gave your best either. God wants you to give to him as he has given to you.
With a new year starting this is a good time to reevaluate how much you will give to the Lord. Perhaps you just received a raise, or a bonus; why not thankfully reflect that in the offering that you bring? Remember, you don’t have to be wealthy or have a full time job before you start honoring God with your possessions. If you earn any money from babysitting, shoveling sidewalks, or simply receive an allowance then God has blessed you with money that you can bring to him as part of your worship. Therefore Sunday School students, and especially those of you who have been confirmed, make use of the offering envelopes that have been provided for you. They are there to help you give your best to the Christ-child. And as you give remember that God promises to bless you as you put him first.
After the Magi presented Jesus with their gifts they headed home. Did the star lead them back? We’re not told but I doubt it, for they knew where they were going. And just like that, the Magi and the star fade from Matthew’s gospel.
It would be fun to know more about the star and the Magi but it’s not important. It’s not important because they aren’t the stars of Epiphany. They’re not even co-stars. Like everyone else they play a supporting role to the star of the Bible – Jesus Christ. The star and the Magi reveal how glorious the Christ-child is. For he is the Saviour of the world, the God-man whom stars serve and wise men still worship. Amen.