New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Visit of the Wise Men
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men 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, 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 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 my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men 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, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had 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.
I’m not always proud of my behavior. I strive to live out God’s plan for me every day and fall WAYYYYY short most days. On my best days, I work to remember that everything is not about me and that my job is to further God’s work in the world where I live. In some of my worst moments, I get caught up in feeling sorry for myself, gossiping about others, passing judgement and being pretty selfish. It certainly isn’t pretty and when I reflect on those memories I am not proud one little bit.
But some of my worst behavior has happened when I feel threatened. In high school, the cliques of high school girls didn’t bring out the best in me. I may or may not have behaved like a spoiled child in the face of the girl drama. As a parent, the threat of something terrible happening to my family has kept me from being rational in decision making and too protective when I needed to let go. In my job as a school principal, parents sometimes come to my office to scream, yell and make threats toward me and our staff. My default when threatened typically isn’t to respond with love and understanding. King Herod most certainly felt threatened by strangers coming to Bethlehem to pay homage to a new king; sounds like it was news to him and not welcome news at that.
Herod’s response makes him seem pretty insecure (somewhat understandably in the face of the loss of his power, status and livelihood) and then he gets a bit sneaky. Go find this king so that I can worship him too, he says. Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of malarkey in light of a few verses down the page in Matthew 2:16-18 when Herod’s insecurities leads him to make a pretty nasty decision to kill ALL the kids who meet the age criteria of this suspected king. Talk about acting irrationally in the face of a perceived threat!
And that is exactly what it was – a perceived threat. Not a real threat. Jesus was born to save the world, not to rule over a small group of people. But in the face of the threat to his identity, Herod did what seems unthinkable – certainly a drastic response to the situation. He acts out of fear of the unknown – and we are guilty of the same over reactions in our perceived threats today.
For me, I am fortunate to be able to live a life free of too many real threats to my safety and security. So when I feel threatened, it is typically to my reputation, my beliefs, my lifestyle or my ability to be the winner is some competition. But in most cases, the threat isn’t really about me. Jesus coming into the world as a baby was no more a threat to Herod than one of the cool high school girls was to my happiness back in the day. The threat wasn’t real, but based on a misplaced sense of self importance and our need to hold on to those things which we deem important to ourselves, rather than on the real threat of loss, pain and suffering.
This story tells of Epiphany, a feast day in the church where the manifestation of Christ is celebrated along with his baptism. The symbolism of light in the form of a star leading the way to three strangers coming to honor a king beyond the scope of their understanding, the fulfilling of prophecy (Micah 5:2) from ancient teachings and the fact that the revelation of God sending his Son to live among the people as one of them – they certainly qualify as an epiphany where we come to understand something in a new and different way. The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas – January 6, 2014 this year, to be exact. We are still singing Christmas carols in church (give us a break – we focused on Advent every week since Thanksgiving!) and now we find ourselves with the first of a long line of threats to the life of Jesus Christ, even as he is still a very young child living with his parents in a small town in relative obscurity. The threat to the life of Jesus was real – yet he didn’t respond in anger, defensiveness or with malice. He offered his other cheek, his love to the persecuted and downtrodden and his heart and salvation to all who follow him – personal status being irrelevant. Striving to live with that unconditional love for others is what we are called to do and fall short of as humans. But we must keep trying every day to keep perspective and discern the real threats: the very real threat of a life without Christ at the center of all we do, in all we meet and in our every day work, actions and relationships.
I haven’t killed anyone when I have felt threatened (whew!!!), but I have made others feel things other than love from me. That’s on me, and my lesson from this reading is to stop, listen and react with love, even when it feels unnatural and contrived at first. I know I’ll get better at it the more I do it.
Light of the world, help me to view others through the eyes of your love. When I am confronted with fear, help me to see that in you, my life is secure. Show me the way to live every day with you as the center. To you are the power and the glory. AMEN.
Psalm 30 Page 621, BCP
Exaltabo te, Domine
- I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
- O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
- You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
- Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
- For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.
- Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.
- While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed. *
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
- Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.
- I cried to you, O LORD; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
- “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
- Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; *
O LORD, be my helper.”
- You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
- Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
- You know those love letters that folks find in the attic, all bundled together, telling a tale of love across the miles and filled with longing and appreciation for memories created tied to the hope of being together again? I’m a sucker for reading those. I am really a bit jealous when someone shares their stash of letters written by a grandfather at war to a betrothed young woman that will be his wife when he returns from saving the world in some faraway land. We don’t save those things in our family, probably because there isn’t anything to save – not big on letter writing among our relatives. And now that we are moving away from snail mail all together, these relics become even more cherished and they describe the feelings that two people have for each other in times of separation, hanging on to the hope of the future and the gratefulness for the foundation of that love.
- King David wrote Psalm 30 in dedication of the Temple, speaking directly to God in this form of a love letter. Each line is filled with thankfulness to God: for being saved from enemies, healing, grace and mercy, strength and joy. David’s life was full of ups and downs, or promise and heartbreak and as a sinful person like the rest of us, he sought to live a life in God’s call while having some pretty obvious errors in judgement (anyone remember Bathsheba??). But the temple of God was a legacy he intended to leave for the generations to worship the Lord and through all of his trials he returned his focus back to God. The last line of the psalm says, “Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.” In my opinion, one of the greatest ends to a love letter I’ve every read.
- Being in a relationship requires work, especially if you are not physically present to do the little love things that each of you need. With God, even though He is with us every step of the way, we humans can feel distant from him when we don’t put in the effort to talk with him and listen to him in our quiet times. In thinking about David’s psalm of thanksgiving, I think about all that I am grateful for in my life that God has had a hand in providing for me. I’m not one of those people who thinks God gives gifts and takes them away or worse still, causes pain and loss in our lives. But rather that these things happen in our lives when we follow him and he is with us, even and especially when we need him the most. Being a Christian guarantees no protection from heartache and sorry, but those things become unmanageable without his love and care for us.
- My prayer for today and the days to come is that I remember to give thanksgiving to God first and foremost before I head down the path of just putting in my requests. In my marriage, I have to show love and appreciation to my husband in at least equal measure to the amount of hurt and pain I can surely cause to the ones I love the most. It’s like making deposits in the emotional bank account of our marriage. Fortunately for us, God’s grace and mercy don’t require us to be thankful in equal measure to “earn” any of it all – it is a free gift that God gives us. I say the least we can do is tell God “THANK YOU!”
- Dear Lord, we aren’t worthy to receive the many blessings and gifts that you have bestowed upon us. Your will for us is greater than our wildest dreams and we fall short of giving you the love and appreciation deserving of your greatness. Thank you for standing firm in grace and mercy, showing us love and compassion at every success and challenge we reach. We love you, we worship you and we praise your holy name. AMEN.