2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They 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[d] my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then 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.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The Epiphany of the Lord is one that has been intriguing for centuries. The questions have been asked about who these three wisemen really were since the first appeared. The clues are a little sketchy we know they came from the East, they had gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh. On the way through they stopped in and visited with nasty King Herod and then didn’t follow his requests after the visit and went home by another route. Yet, I think one of the things we tend to miss out on is the fact that in order for these three guys to get to Bethlehem, in the days before GPS, the followed a star. This was no ordinary star, it was one that when it rose upon the horizon was new to these three astronomers. After careful consideration they decided that it was the star to bring the news of the new Jewish King, the Messiah to the world.
Now the funny thing is that no one lese seemed to notice this astronomical event. There were no news reports, no posts on Facebook, no tweets, not even an Instagram picture. It seemed like the only ones to notice what was going on were the three from the east. Even the great King Herod and his court of prophets had not encountered the new star. There seems to be even more importance to this being a star than just a blip in the night.
The only time that stars can be seen are when it is dark out. We all know about darkness. Here in rural Colorado we can see the glory and wonder of the entire Milky Way if we just go out of town a couple miles. It was that kind of dark in the days of Jesus because there was no electricity. Darkness was dangerous. Bad things happened in the darkness, evil lurked around every corner. Yet in the midst of all this darkness a new light began to shine. It was bright enough that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” according to the gospel of John 1:5.
A new light, the birth of a king had ben born into the world and the Wisemen had come to pay their homage to that monarch. Yet the darkness still remained in Bethlehem and all of Judea that was under the control of King Herod. He was afraid of the new king and so was his court. Remember every time the angels came the first thing they said was “Do not be afraid”? Notice how no one comforted Herod in this episode. They allowed the fear to grow and his anxiety continued to increase so much that the Wisemen didn’t return to tell Herod what they had found as they were instructed but instead returned home by a different route.
Joseph also was instructed in a dream to flee to Egypt and not return until he was told it was safe. The darkness loomed over the land and it was the people of the east who brought the hope of a new light to the people of the west. The west was where all the power was located according to the Roman world. Good news of great joy was brought from the east, because the west could not see the light that had appeared. Isaiah foretold all of this in 60:1-3 “1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
The light had truly come into the world, and the Wisemen followed the light to see God’s gift of love. The light was also shared with the people that were not Jewish as far as we can tell. They were Gentiles or people who believed in God but not of the Jewish lineage, or the establishment. Paul said in Ephesians 3:5-6 “5 In former generations this mystery[b] was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This light, promise and hope of salvation was coming to all by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Jill Duffield editor of Presbyterians Today poses these questions in her weekly lectionary blog, “As we begin the new calendar year what revelation does the birth of Jesus bring to us? How do we respond as the earth tilts and nations stream to the light of the Lord and Mary’s Song becomes as familiar as “Silent Night” and “Auld Lang Syne” and the glory of God overwhelms the world? Fear? Homage? Worship? Silent awe? Boisterous proclamation? Selling all we have? Giving back five times what we’ve taken? Forgiving seven times seven? Repentance? Longing for, working for real reconciliation? Listening to the Spirit even when it defies Herod and puts us in danger?”
Too many times we come to the season of Epiphany and we are so worn out from Christmas that we just seem to yawn through the season of revelation, light and new hope and just hold on until Lent. I am so guilty of this in my life, but I want us to try and change that this year. I ran across this idea called “star gifts.” Today I am going to give you a gift. But before you get it you have to listen to the purpose and instructions in using this gift. I taught long enough to know that if I pass them out now you will not hear a word I say because you will have to hold it ad ouch it and talk to your neighbor about it and turn your mind in 500 directions while I am trying to give the directions.
So here goes: A “star gift” is a star shaped piece of paper with a word printed on it. Every person here today will receive one. You are invited to ponder what significance this word might have in your life, and how God might be speaking to you through this word, this simple message. These gifts are going to come to you in the offering plates. This is significant because you are taking a gift from the same plate that you will be invited to give a gift in through our tithes and offerings in just a little bit. We do this in the offering plates as a reminder that in God’s realm we always receive from God first, and then we are invited to respond with our gifts and ourselves. When you receive the plate please take a star and do not look at it or put it back and grab one you think you might like better. Take the star home and put it someplace that you will see it every day. Maybe on the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, next to your computer screen, by the door you go out each day someplace that you spend some time each day. You might want to look up the meaning of your word and reflect upon how God is speaking to you this year through that message. (Pass out the stars)
Sometimes we get so busy doing for God that we forget to be still and to receive God’s gift. This is not because we have done anything to merit such attention, but simply because of God’s abundant generosity. I pray that God’s word will deepen your relationship with God this year. Hopefully you will share with one another not only your word but how it is meaningful to you. May God’s peace be upon you, Amen.