So about those wise ones…
Regardless if you do Facebook or Twitter or use the Internet much at all – haven’t you ever wondered what the Christmas story would look like on a modern canvas? How would the communication happen? How would the word spread? It’s amazing, simply amazing, that this many years later – the word is still spreading…still changing lives…still changing the world…still turning worldviews upside-down. I just had to share this video with you. Because even though camels were cars and the only GPS available was a bright and shining star…. something pretty amazing happened. And here we are today, on YouTube and in church, to tell the story again.
There’s a whole lot packed into these 12 short verses. First there is the curious wonder and the journey of the wise men from the east; bringing their gifts to the recently born Son of God. And then there is the fear and the evil intentions of King Herod. This unruly ruler wanted no one to threaten his power or his throne. Following these verses, we see his rage lived out in the slaughter of every male child under 2 years old. We see the terrified flight of Mary & Joseph to Egypt to protect young Jesus. And so, not only do we hear today a story of complete wonder and humbling beauty, but also a story of fear, of violence, and of darkness.
What can we learn from it? What does this story tell us about the God we worship…and the world in which we live? It tells us a lot. More than I can squeeze into a Morning Watch meditation! More than we can squeeze into our human brains, really! For one, Matthew’s story of Jesus’ eastern visitors reminds us of the vast inclusion of God’s message. Where in the world did these wise ones even hear of the Son of God being born? They came from a completely different part of the world! They risked their lives and broke all their commitments to make a journey that was foreign to them from the start. They were faithful to a God they did not know. And when they got to the home of Mary & Joseph, they knelt down, they worshipped, and they gave their gifts. And so the obvious questions here are – 1. Who does God not include in the hopeful promise of Jesus Christ? Anyone? (Matthew shows us radical inclusion as opposed to exclusion.) And 2. – What do we bring to our Lord? What are our gifts? How is our life like a journey to find the Babe of Bethlehem? Are we praying? Are we engaging scripture on a regular basis? Are we sharing the love God has placed in our hearts with all we meet? Take just a few moments now…to think about your life and who God created you to be. What can you give…what do you give…as you live out your faith?
After taking a close, very personal look at this wondrous story of the star and the wise men and the gifts…we have to zoom out. If we don’t zoom out then we miss 95% of the message God wants us so badly to hear. Zoom out from a personal perspective to a communal, worldly perspective of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Look at the situation to which God came. After Jesus – the Son of God – was born, King Herod ordered the deaths of numerous baby boys. The holy parents had to flee for their lives and for the life of their son. And when Jesus grew up and lived out his ministry, he was persecuted, put on trail, and executed. Look at the world in which the Gospels were written. The Temple – the centerpiece of the Jewish faith – had been attacked and destroyed and God’s people were left hopeless; picking up the pieces of their religion and questioning how to move forward. Zoom out and see the darkness of the world in the days of Jesus….in the centuries that followed….and even today, in the world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and GPS Navigation Systems. Zoom out and look at the world God came to…. and the world God continues to come.
One commentator I read tells us that there’s a reason we read the Luke version of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve. He says, “Matthew’s nativity moves quickly from the glad moment of the adoration and gifts of the ‘wise men’ to a darker, more ambivalent world of political intrigue, deception, and fear-induced violence.” He goes on to say, “If Matthew’s account is more sober, it is also realistic. We live in a world riddled by fear, a world of devastating super-storms and elementary school massacres, a world where innocents die everyday to preventable illness and hunger….Matthew renders an accurate if also difficult picture of the world. And that is what is at the heart of Matthew’s darker, more adult-oriented story of Jesus’ birth: the promise that it is precisely this world that God came to, this people so mastered by fear that we often do the unthinkable to each other and ourselves that God loves; this gaping need that we have and bear that God remedies. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, the living, breathing, and vulnerable promise that God chose to come live and die for us, as we are, so that in Christ’s resurrection, we, too, might experience newness of life.”
Newness of life. Today we celebrate a new year…. while in the same breath we speak to the promise of God’s light in a dark world. Where do we find newness in our personal and public lives? Look for it. It is different for each person; and yet, because we are a community of faith, we take part in a communal life of discipleship. It is because we have seen the light…because we have been guided by the star…we’ve followed our GPS and we’ve followed God’s call to this very moment…it is because of this that we can honestly say “yes, there is more to this life than fear and darkness and violence.” “There is more to God’s story than me, & yet I am a critical part of it.” Because God chose to come to this world in the form a tiny, crying baby, there is another way…there is love in a powerful and intimate way. And because of that bright and shining star…because of those wise ones…we can sit here today, in the social media world of 2013, and humbly claim our role in the bigger-than-life, awesome, and inclusive story of the God we worship. The light is shining, friends, and the darkness does not overcome it. Let us live this promise everyday. Thanks be to God. Amen.