Weekly Words of Wisdom 12-30-20

Sermon 12-27-20  –  Elder, Peter Lanigan                   

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “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.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘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.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.”  When 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. 10 When they saw that the starhad 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

And the Wise Men came a callin’

Will you pray with me? “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.”

If my memory serves me correctly, and most times it does NOT, it seems like the Sunday after every major celebration in the Christian calendar at First Presbyterian Church, my phone rings and….well, it’s like I’m relaxing in the Bull Pen and now I need to warm up and get ready… I’m going to be out on the mound to do some MOP UP DUTY.  Now, some pitchers (guest ministers), might be upset to get this call.  You know, they’re thinking, “you’re wasting this good arm on a game whose outcome is no longer in doubt.”

Not ME…My belief is…(at least according to this sermon) they are all big games and they’re all big Sundays as well.  I know this Sunday might not the BIGGEST Sunday in all our Christian lives, but it is a Sunday none-the-less, and there are people who need the church, just like the church needs you, and me, and all of us.  I get it that just 48 hours ago we celebrated one of the top 2 Christian holidays – Christmas – and most of us are coming down from that “high”, but this year is different.  I worry about that because of some of the necessary and unnecessary restrictions in place. Some of us are having a hard time finding any cause for celebration; some of us were not even able to travel or visit with loved ones or be together with family or be together for Christmas Eve services.  It has certainly made it more difficult to feel joy, especially at time when a lot of us are used to feeling joy.

On that note, I really worry about the C and E-ers…you know, the Christians who come to church most only on Christmas and Easter.  No judgement – in my young adulthood, I too was one of them, but I can’t recall EVER missing Christmas Eve service and especially gathering with my family for a Christmas celebration at my mom and dad’s house.  Not so this year!  In fact 2020 will be the first time in my history and I’m sure in many of yours, where you were not able to be in the pews to take in the celebration of Jesus’ birth OR his resurrection.  Now, the scripture lesson read by Cat this morning (or whenever you are watching this), taken from Matthew 2 verses 1- 12 is a familiar story… It’s the story of the wisemen traveling to Bethlehem to see, take in, and pay homage to the newborn King…Jesus Christ. King Herod had previously heard the news and he sends these three priestly men…the wisemen…to gather information about this great occurrence.

In my earlier life, I dabbled in the field of acting.  When it came to a particular scene, we would often (the actors and director) break it down.  We would try and discover what the motivation was for saying or acting in a particular way.  I presume this is exactly what Rev Jen does, or any other minister or church leader does as well.  So… let’s break it down… for you and for ME.  

OKAY, so we have 4 people in this scripture along with Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  We have King Herod, we have 3 wisemen, and of course, Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  So lets look at King Herod.  King Herod is an interesting historical figure.  Let me give you the CRIB notes on his life; Herod was given his throne by the Roman Empire to be the King of Judea.  He is credited with many massive  building structures  and aqueduct systems, BUT, he was perceived as a tyrant and one who was always protecting himself by eliminating his real and imagined competition for his beloved throne. The three wisemen?  Well, they happen to have been traveling through Jerusalem, not by coincidence, but by understanding the calculations of the stars and believing that a new king was to be born.  They first went to Jerusalem and then onto Bethlehem to seek out this new king. 

So here’s the story: 

The wisemen are sent by King Herod on this journey to Bethlehem because of their ability to read the stars and because of their gift in interpreting dreams and understanding prophecy.  These men are obviously special.  Before today (albeit this week) I never gave too much thought to this story of the wisemen.  I always just thought that these characters, these wisemen, these Magi, were guys that happened to see a star in the sky; and this star was so bright and so different and so special, that they followed it and found the baby Jesus.  It’s one of those bible stories that ALL of US are familiar with.  We know that the wisemen brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, but is that really the importance of this story?    

After delving a little deeper… I believe NOT. 

I’m going to put this in terms that every New Jerseyian or fan of MOB movies should understand.  The way I see it… Herod is a brat, sure.  He is King!  If he lived in this day and age, he might be the MOB BOSS.  He’s got 10 wives and many children and he’s pretty ruthless.  He’s so evil…in fact… it’s believed that he had one of his wives and 3 of his eldest sons killed, possibly out of jealousy or fear that they might try to seize power.  So the scripture goes on to say that King Herod sends the wisemen to Bethlehem to search out this new king and bring back word about him.  Yea, RIGHT!  Herod wants to pay his respects to the newborn King…I don’t believe it and neither do many bible scholars  (of whom I do not claim to be one).

Herod, the MOB Boss, sends his wise GUYS to do a little this …do a little that .. and scope out the cich…the situation… Yeah, Herod wants his thugs (in this case highly spiritually-in-tune individuals) to rat out Jesus’ location, so Herod can come in and get rid of this threat to his kingdom.  I am sure he wants to kill Jesus before he can fulfill his destiny.  If we were to continue reading in Matthew, in verses 12-18, we would find that the wisemen and Joseph are given a warning, presumably about Herod, in a dream, and so they alter their journey.

Unfortunately for Herod, he sends the wrong guys.  They turn out to be not so loyal to him, a sin in the MOB world.  After finding Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, they are SO TAKEN with awe and speculation that this child is indeed the savior that was prophesied about, that after leaving Bethlehem they take a different road, a safer journey, back to their own country. Joseph, Mary and Jesus also fled to Egypt for their safety.

Herod the thug… the liar…the scoundrel, never gets to inflict his evil on Jesus.  And the wisemen?  Well, they are remembered as quiet heroes …and it’s one time the wise men came a callin’…BUT  they did not get their man… 

May it be so… Amen