FPC Sermon January 8, 2017 Matthew 2: 1-12
Stars! Stars! Get knocked out, and you’ll see stars, right!
Or maybe it’s a signal.
Why else does Matthew give this star so much attention?
We can focus on so many aspects of this scripture. At the outset is the star itself. What kind of star was this that the visitors had seen it at its rising.
Then, we have the visitors who saw it. They must have been dreamers, for they have seen the star and attributed meaning to it. They’ve set out on a journey to an unknown place. They’re the strangers from the East.
We have the homage paid to Jesus by the visitors – that’s the first thing they do, they knell.
We have the gifts brought by the visitors – a treasure-chest of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We have Herod and his chief priests and scribes. These latter are the experts who are supposed to know all about the expected Messiah. The Messiah, by the way, is the last person Herod wants to see. Perhaps that’s why he calls the experts together in secret and doesn’t send them to check out the reports of the Messiah’s arrival.
And then, we have places: Bethlehem where the star stopped, the house, not stable, in which Jesus is living, Jerusalem where Herod was residing at the time, the whole land of Judah, and the unknown place in the East from where the visitors came.
Finally, we have the reason for this story, the constant in it, Jesus and his mother.
We know that this story starts with Jesus.
But would this particular episode of the life of Jesus be in Matthew’s gospel if not for the star?
What exactly did the magi see? Scholars have poured over astronomical records seeking to find some unusual activity that happened around the time of Jesus’ birth, which is assumed to have happened around 6 B.C. Herod died around 4 B.C. so suppositions about 3 or 2 B.C. seem out of place.
Was it a conjunction of planets such as Saturn and Jupiter? Last July, Jupiter and Venus were so close together that they looked like a single star, the brightest object in the sky. Something like that happened, apparently, but after Herod’s death.
Did a star explode suddenly, and these folks saw it? Halley’s comet passed by in 12 B.C., but perhaps that was too far before the birth of Jesus to have been the star seen by the foreign magi.
We just don’t know for sure.
Whatever it was, the foreigners were Starstruck.
Think about all the people who have heard about our country. Who head for it without really knowing what it’s like. Perhaps in the old days, they thought our streets were paved with gold. That’s hardly likely anymore, but people still look to us as the land of the free and home of the brave. And they’d better be brave if they come over here because not everyone is happy to see them.
Starstruck. These magi in some land to the East, and that could be just about anywhere east of the Holy Land: Arabia, Transjordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, India, saw a star. Not just any star but a particular star that signified to them the birth of a king.
To them, it was so important that they had to come and see. A difficult journey to an unknown destination with an unknown number of people. For all we know, the delegation could have included both men and women. Just because the text refers to men doesn’t mean there were no women. Having traveled in the desert in that region, I would guess these folks came in a well-supplied caravan.
Imagine them traversing the Syrian or Arabian desert, full of hope and anticipation.
Here in the second chapter of his Gospel, Matthew is introducing foreigners, gentiles, as a kind of stamp of approval for the birth of the Messiah.
By including this story, and let’s face it, Matthew is the only gospel writer who does, Matthew is signaling that the birth of the Messiah is for Jews and Gentiles alike. This is important, considering that everything about Matthew’s Gospel seeks to verify that Jesus is the Messiah promised by Hebrew Scriptures. It’s clearly directed at Jews.
A long journey for these Gentiles. Finally, the group reaches Jerusalem, and they still don’t know where they’re going. So, they ask for directions. But they ask the absolutely wrong person. The current King. The one who would be most threatened by the birth of a new king.
There’s a paradox here. The visitors who have seen the sign and need to consult the Jewish religious experts in order to find the king, and the experts who know where the king is supposed to be born but can’t recognize the sign and therefore, miss it completely.
You and I are often like that. We know what our Savior expects of us but can’t seem to fulfill it. By contrast, we see others who don’t know Jesus but do his will nevertheless.
We may find ourselves flailing away when the sign is constantly before us: Jesus calling us to discipleship.
Our first call is to worship Him, to worship him in Spirit and in truth. Our second call is to go into the world to share the good news. That’s the structure of Matthew’s gospel – it’s what is called a chiasm.
Foreigners come to proclaim the good news at the outset. At the end, Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations.
We don’t know what happened to the star after it fulfilled its purpose. And it doesn’t matter how it happened. What matters is that Christ has come to surround us with love, and no evil planning by a long-deceased king can change that. The visitors figured it out and left for home by another route, never to be heard from again. They had fulfilled their purpose.
As you and I break the bread and drink the cup together this morning, let’s approach the table of our Lord with love and humility. Let’s remember the sacrifice of foreigners who came to worship him. Their time, their gifts, their love. Let’s be starstruck, too! For the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is amazing and eternal. The whole world needs to know about it, and we’re the ones charged with making sure it happens. Spread the good news! Jesus has come, and Jesus is risen from the dead, and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit. World without end. Amen.