Sunday, January 7, 2018

Revelation and Resistance: Matthew 2:1-12 - Epiphany of Our Lord

1In 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. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
  are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
 for from you shall come a ruler
  who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

  are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;  for from you shall come a ruler   who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (NRSV)
Morning on Haleakala by Ken Schwarz.  Creative commons image on flickr

They’re calling it “the Bomb Cyclone;” perhaps a less-alarmist term to describe the weather phenomenon known as bombogenesis.  A rapid and dramatic drop in atmospheric pressure creates what is essentially a hurricane with snow.  It brought Florida its first recorded snowfall in 28 years, and later wrought absolute havoc on the entire Eastern seaboard with significant snowfall, high wind gusts, and bitter cold temperatures the likes of which we’ve been dealing with for over a week now.

It’s dangerous and deadly.

I mention this because it compares fittingly to the kind of danger the Magi journeyed into on their way to the infant Jesus.

They traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles on camelback, with pricey treasures in tow—making them a perfect target for bandits and robbers.  When they arrive in the Holy Land, they go directly to the one holding the title King of the Jews: King Herod.  Little did they know just how dangerous this man was…  He was a brilliant politician and effective ruler—but he was madly paranoid; killing members of his own family and anyone else whom he remotely suspected of threatening his power

Herod initially speaks of going to pay homage to the newborn king.  But when the Magi do not return to show him who this newborn king was, Herod executes all the baby boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding villages aged two and under…

In its raw form, the story of the Magi is as perplexing as it is disturbing.  Why would God lead a bunch of eastern pagan astrologers to Jesus?  Why would God permit such a violent ruler to destroy so many innocent lives?

But what these events ultimately highlight is God’s determination to reveal Christ to a world crying out for his just and merciful rule.

It’s just like our God to bring the Magi to Jesus, precisely because they don’t belong; because they’re foreign; because they’re pagan!  God put a star in the sky and these stargazers followed it.  They journey was long and dangerous, but they go. When they meet Jesus, they bow down in worship.  Let this Gospel settle the question of whether or not God is drawing you to Jesus.  God absolutely is.  But are you paying attention?  And what would God need to do to get your attention?

It goes without saying that we’re living in an age of distraction.  Our attention spans are constantly consumed by 24-hour cable news; a constant barrage of advertising messages; electronic devices; days packed full of activity from morning until night…

God got the Magi’s attention as they were doing what they did all day long: staring at stars

God certainly got Herod’s attention when the Magi show up.  But Herod isn’t celebrating or searching for a fit gift to present he messiah. Instead, he’s afraid.  Jesus threatens his power and dominance.

This is the point where God’s revelation meets human resistance.  When Jesus shows up, things change.  You change.  The world changes.  But people don’t want change. 

Instead of change, I’d love to go back to a time when everything made sense.  So many long for the time in when this country was a Christian nation and everybody went to church because that’s what you did.  There were no school shootings, abandoned steel mills, opioid overdoses, and bomb cyclones.  Yet Jesus’ mission field is this dark and dangerous world we’re living in.  His promise for today and tomorrow is that you will see him—and you will not be the same.

You’re turned inside-out, to love others as yourself—looking out not merely for your interests but the interests of others.  Jesus will teach you self-giving love and its power to transform.

Jesus will make neighbors out of people you’ve gone to great lengths to avoid.  Jesus will call you forward into a journey for which you can’t see the way or the final destination.  He will lead you into situations where you’re not in control; to be the student instead of expert; to be the servant and the slave instead of the “big cheese.”  Doing what is right will not necessarily make you popular.

Ultimately, Jesus invites you to come and die with him—because new life is always born out of death.

Fact is, God is too great to be confined in the boundaries of what’s comfortable, familiar, and easy.  God is too great to be confined your private life, personal knowledge, and present circumstances.  God is too great to be confined to our church or to glory days gone by.

God is revealing Jesus to the world.  This is what we celebrate at Epiphany.  The promise is that all the nations will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

So don’t let a single day pass when you aren’t pondering what God is up to—because no matter what is going on or even what isn’t going on, God is bringing Jesus into it for you.  Whether you’re staring at the stars, a computer screen, a schoolbook, or even the walls, be ready for God to capture your attention, draw you into his mission, and move you forward into God’s coming kingdom.

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