2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
On December 3, 1992, a 22 year-old British engineer named Neil Papworth used his computer to send a message to the Vodafone network and the phone of Richard Jarvis. The message read, “Merry Christmas.”
Now, 20 years later, you don’t need to be a brainy engineer, a fancy computer program, nor a specialized network. You just need a cell phone and you can send one of the 6 billion text messages that go out every day in America. Some of the texts we send are important, some are not…at all. Some are clear and some are so abbreviated and emojied that it’s a wonder anyone can read or understand.
We are here today for the Epiphany festival. It’s a celebration of God sending a “Merry Christmas” message. But he didn’t use a text message. He didn’t make a phone call. Social media wasn’t big enough. Local news media couldn’t handle this story. Those are all far too small for the eternal God. No! When God wanted to tell the world that Jesus was born, he put something in the sky. He made a celestial body that was maybe 1.4 million km across, 1.9 million plus another 23 zeros kg, burning with the power of nuclear fusion, able to be seen not just on this planet but across galaxies. God didn’t do something small to announce the birth of the Savior like an email or text. God put a star in the sky.
King Herod didn’t notice that light. Even though it was shining for the whole world to see, Herod was one of the millions who was too wrapped up in his own life to spot it. The “king of the Jews” has other things to worry about, like taking care of his throne. See, Herod was not a Jew; he was placed as the puppet-king for the Roman government. He had to try and keep the peace with a nation that wasn’t thrilled with outsiders. Let’s just say maintaining his position as “king of the Jews” consumed him.
And for all his hard work, his many advancements and public projects, history calls him, Herod the Great. However, God does not. You see, Herod didn’t care about what God had to say. He didn’t listen to the prophecies in the OT Scriptures and he didn’t notice the star in the sky. All he cared was his throne. With a crazed paranoia about threats to his reign, Herod killed his wife, 3 sons, his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and hundreds more. He was a ruthless tyrant who did anything to keep his position. But that’s what powerful people do when they get nervous; they take matters into their own hands.
No wonder Matthew tells us King Herod was disturbed when the news from the Magi reached him. He had done some unthinkable things to keep his throne and was not going to give it up. That’s why all the people of Jerusalem were unsettled with him. They didn’t know what he would do with the news from the Magi that there was another “king of the Jews.”
Isn’t it interesting that when Herod needed answers, who did he turn to? He didn’t go looking for the political analysts of the region. He didn’t ask his Roman superiors. He went to the Jewish people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, to people who knew God’s prophecies and promises. Even though they had been in his kingdom the whole time, it wasn’t until his throne came into question that he called the religious leaders together for answers.
These were the men who knew the Scripture, chapter and verse. They knew it backwards and forwards. And yet it seems like these religious leaders where in the same boat as Herod. They didn’t even notice the bright light shining in the darkness, did they? God’s promised newborn king was born in Bethlehem, just as they had learned from all their reading, and they missed it. Only shepherds found him wrapped up and lying in a manger. When those foreigners showed up and said that the new king was born, the religious leaders didn’t react like they cared too much. They answered Herod’s request by repeating the prophecy about his birth place, but that was it. They didn’t even ask to go along with the Magi. These religious men knew what God had said and were actually waiting for God’s promise to come true, but what they were looking for it to be huge, not with some insignificant, barnyard birth. They figured if anyone would know when God’s Savior had come that they would be the first to tell the people.
We know about religion and the Bible, too, don’t we? We love the Christmas narrative. We enjoy hearing those prophecies and promises. But even though we know what Matthew, Luke, and Isaiah say about Christ’s birth, turns out just knowing God’s Word doesn’t mean it has a home in your heart.
The religious leaders knew God’s prophecies really well, they were the experts, but they still missed his star and didn’t seem to care. Sometimes we miss it, too. Knowing about God’s Word or knowing the right things to say during a worship service doesn’t mean that you always notice the bright light shining in darkness of sin. Just showing up for worship here and there or having your name in a church directory doesn’t mean you are good to go with God.
Sometimes we can even be as bad as Herod. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting you in the category of someone who wants to wipe Jesus off the map. I’m not saying you don’t have time for Jesus; you are in church today. But sometimes we might sound a little like King Herod when we fake it just a little bit, when our lips move but our hearts aren’t interested. Remember what Herod said the Magi, Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.
Our attitude is similar sometimes, isn’t it? We say things like: Jesus, I’m with you on Sunday morning, but you’re not coming with me to work. That isn’t the place for you. Jesus, I will be on your side when I pray, but you’re not coming with me on my date Friday night. You won’t be happy. Jesus, I love you most of the time, but I’m really really busy right now. Jesus, I am so thankful for you, but not when you keep asking to be the highest priority in my life. Jesus, I will give you my gifts, but I won’t be generous or happy about it.
For us, sometimes we miss the light like Herod and those religious leaders. We can be too consumed with our own lives to be aware of what God is doing. You see, God wants to have all of you, your whole life. God doesn’t want his Word to visit your heart every once in a while, he wants his Word to live and grow in your hearts. He wants to change the way you live. Getting your attention off of earthly pleasures, he wants you to have lasting comfort and hope. God takes the confusion and selfishness away. He stops the suffering and the pain. God doesn’t want to give you rules, but freedom. He doesn’t want to keep you in darkness, but open your eyes to the light of life. Herod was too selfish. The religious leaders were too conceited.
But the Magi, those foreigners from the east, they didn’t miss God’s light shining in the darkness. We don’t know if there were 2 or 3 or 23. I don’t think 3 men would pack up their camels and make the trek across hundreds of miles of scorching desert by themselves. People tend to think of 3 because there were 3 gifts. But we do know that they weren’t Jewish or living in a Jewish land. They were probably from Babylon, more than 600 hundred miles east from Jerusalem. In fact, out of all the people Matthew tells us about today, these guys knew the least about Jews and Jewish kings. And yet, the star was beckoning them to find out more.
Why? What would possess them to make a long journey across a huge desert? God did. God’s message intervened. They wouldn’t have known that the new King of the Jews was born unless God had put the star in the sky. They wouldn’t have known to go to Bethlehem unless God had told the prophets to write the place down generations beforehand. They wouldn’t have found him unless God made that star go on ahead of them until it stopped over house where toddler Jesus was. They would not have brought their best gifts, if God had not brought his King to our world.
The foreign Magi were overjoyed to see God’s light. They had to go. They had to worship the king. That’s the natural response to God’s love and this amazing gift. They didn’t miss the chance to worship their king because God hadn’t kept him hidden. God gave his word, put the plan into action, set the star in the sky and brought them to Bethlehem.
Friends, God has done the same for you. God found a way to make the light of Christ shine for you. He found a way to give lawless people like us the kind of ruler we needed. Not a king who makes rules, but a king who gives freedom. Not a king of hidden secrets, but a king of unveiled truth. Jesus is the one who came here, not just for some Jewish shepherds or Gentile Magi, but for all people. He is the one who lived in the bright light of perfection to save us from our darkest enemies. He is the King who opened the gates to a kingdom that lasts forever. God then found a way to put this message in your ears. He found a way to shatter the darkness in your heart with the brilliant light of his gospel.
So if God treated us like the Magi, giving us the light shining in the darkness, doesn’t that mean we can respond like the Magi? Don’t get me wrong. God’s message today is the same as it was for the Magi. The Savior is here for all people everywhere. Doesn’t that also mean that God wants us be like the Magi, as well? Can’t we open our lips with consistent worship and thanksgiving? Can’t Jesus’ light get us off our butts the same way it moved the Magi? Can’t we bring our best gifts to the King?
Of course! God’s message brought us into the same light as the Magi. And if it’s true that light and darkness have nothing in common, then we can live in the light. But maybe you’re thinking, “It’s not that simple.” Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What can I do? What can I do if I don’t feel welcome because I don’t have the right name? What if I don’t talk or act like everyone else? What can I do if I don’t fit in with all the other people? Don’t I need a certain kind of ”
Well, take another look at the Magi. They weren’t Jewish. They didn’t look like anyone in Jerusalem. They didn’t sound the same or act the same. They did not have the right names. They didn’t fit in at all, but it didn’t stop them. Because when God puts the light of Christ in your life, when God brings you into his family, you don’t need excuses. You don’t worry about what people might think of you at work. You don’t try to find ways to hide the light. God’s message gets rid of our selfishness, our pride, and our excuses. The light that Jesus shines makes us like the Magi. We look for opportunities to worship. We look for ways to serve and obey. We joyously bring gifts to honor him. We search for dark spots where we can shine God’s light.
Friends, don’t miss the light today. Your Savior King is here. He’s yours yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. Nothing can change that. Jesus’ light shines on you for the good days or forgives you on the bad days. Jesus empowers you when you’re strong and builds you up when you’re weak. So don’t miss your opportunities to shine the light that he put in your heart. Don’t miss your chances to marvel like the Magi.