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What are You Seeking?

Thomas J Parlette

“What Are You Seeking?”

Matthew 2:1-12

1/3/16, Epiphany

 

What is it that you are seeking?

It’s a good question to ponder at the cusp of a new year.

It’s the question behind any New Year’s resolution we might consider. What are you searching for? What are you seeking?

Maybe it’s better health in 2016:

–         lose some weight,

–         exercise more,

–         lower your stress level.

Maybe it’s a better financial situation:

–         saving more money,

–         paying off bills,

–         finding a new job.

Or maybe you’re seeking something more on the spiritual side:

–         a closer connection to God,

–         a feeling of inner peace,

–         a clear sense of God’s presence and purpose for your life.

What are you searching for in this New Year? What is that you seek?

That’s the question at the heart of this story this morning. Some curious seekers from the East arrive in Jerusalem. They are searching for the child born “King of the Jews.”

We usually think of them as “Kings”, although Matthew calls them “magi”. But since our passage from Isaiah calls them kings, their title has transformed in our tradition over the years.

We usually picture them as a trio – 3 kings from the Orient., in part thanks to the monk and scholar, the Venerable Bede, who first named and described the kings as Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar around the year 700.(1) And of course, the song “We Three Kings of Orient Are”, written in 1857, helped cement our image of the magi. Other ancient sources say there 2 magi, others say 4, and some put the number as high as 12. They weren’t really from the Orient as we think of it today, but more likely Persia or Babylon – modern day Iran or Iraq.

These magi were astrologers, more like astronomers – scientists who studied the stars looking for clues as to what the Gods might be doing. When they saw this new star rise in the night sky – they knew something extraordinary was happening. God was up to something, and the magi wanted to be a part of it. So they packed up the camels, and they set out to follow the star.

After a long journey, they arrive in Jerusalem – the center of the Jewish world, they very home of God. They get a meeting with Herod, the self-proclaimed King of the Jews, and they lay out what they are seeking.

“We have come searching for the child who has been born king of the Jews. We saw his star at its rising. We have come to pay him homage.”

Now obviously the magi hadn’t heard much about Herod. Frankly, they were lucky to have survived this meeting. Herod was a brutal, paranoid, vicious and unpredictable ruler. He didn’t just kill any one who opposed him – he killed anyone he suspected MIGHT get in his way, including members of his own family.

But instead of killing the magi on the spot for suggesting he wasn’t the true king of the Jews – Herod calls in the chief priests and the scribes and he asks for more details. Herod is nervous, he is suspicious, and he is frightened. And that’s not good for anyone. All Jerusalem was afraid of what Herod might do.

So it probably was with shaky voices and sweaty palms that the priests and scribes quoted the scripture identifying Bethlehem as the place where the ruler of Israel would come from.

Herod shares this with the magi, and sends them on their way with the ominous caveat – “… when you find him, bring we word, so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

Everyone is seeking something in this story. Herod is seeking to preserve his power and position, by any means necessary. All he needs is the chance. The priests and the scribes, they are seeking to preserve the status quo. They just want to preserve the peace – appease Herod, but try not to upset him and send him into a murderous rage. And the magi – they seek to honor this new king, born under a star.

When the magi get to Bethlehem, they are overwhelmed with joy. They kneel and they worship. They offer their gifts. In these gifts, Matthew takes the opportunity to foreshadow the roles that Jesus would play. Gold – a gift for a King. Frankincense – used by the priests as incense in the Temple. And Myrrh – a spice used to prepare the dead for burial. Jesus will be King, he will be the great High Priest, and he will give his life to save us.

Then the story closes as it began. With a dream. God spoke to Joseph in a dream to put this whole story into motion, and now God speaks to the magi in a dream as well – “Don’t go back to Herod.”

Everyone is seeking something in this story. Herod is seeking power. The priests and scribes are seeking stability. The magi are seeking to worship. Herod fails. The priests and scribes do not get their wish either because Herod takes out his rage on the newborn children of Bethlehem. Only the magi succeed. They found the baby born to king. They worshipped. They paid him homage. For Matthew, this is the point of the story –  that people from everywhere will come to worship Christ, the newborn King.

So what are you seeking in this New Year. Hopefully you will want to stand with the magi, share their sense of wonder and awe, join in their worship and pay homage to the baby born to be the light of the world.

This season of Epiphany, which we are about to enter, is a season of light for that very reason. Epiphany is both a journey to the manger, and a journey from the manger. Over the last number of weeks, we have traveled from darkness to light, following the star of Bethlehem, preparing the way of the Lord. We have followed Mary and Joseph on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We have stood in amazement beside the shepherds as they angels sang their hymns of Glory. And now we stand shoulder to shoulder with wise men from the East and pay homage to the child born to save. Epiphany is the day that signals the recognition and worship of the Christ Child by people from all parts of the world, representing the universal claim of God on all people, whoever and wherever they are.(2)

Epiphany is also a journey away from the manger, as we return to our own country by another road, just as the magi did. How might we share the light of Christ in our part of the world?

–         Through Interfaith Hospitality Network?

–          Through interfaith dialogue opportunities?

–         Through Channel One, Community Food Response, or Friendship Place?

–         Through alternative giving, or the Ronald McDonald House?

–          Or maybe by getting involved in the “In the Shadow of Growth” movement by attending a focus group meeting.

This is a good time of year to ponder the question – what am I seeking? How might I share the light of Christ in my corner of the world?

As we come to the table this morning, let us enter the new year seeking to live in ways that embody the all-embracing love of Christ whose name we proclaim, and whose light we follow into an often dark world.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.                           William J Danaher Jr. Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, p212.

2.                           Vernon Broyles III, “In the name of Christianity,” Jan/Feb 2016 Presbyterians Today, p60.