Sermon:         Threat or Joy? Scripture:       Matthew 2:1-12 Preacher:       Rev. Michael Bodger Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand Date:               January 07, 2018   On this first Sunday of 2018 we reflect upon a text, which poses a number of questions with respect to our relationship with Jesus Christ. It relates to the theme of the twelfth day of Christmas, which we came to yesterday. Society has done a marvelous job of robbing us of the true meaning of the twelve days of Christmas by turning it into a countdown clock related to when the last moment is that you can make a purchase and still get your package delivered by Christmas Eve or retailers offer enticing ‘bargains’ each day of the twelve days before Christmas. The reality is, that the twelve days of Christmas come after Christmas Day and it affords us a time of reflection when we extol the advent of Jesus, the in breaking into the world of the messianic Savior. [1]The Letter to Titus tells us, for “the grace of God has appeared (the Greek word here is epephaneo), bringing salvation to all, . . . the manifestation (the epiphaneia) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11, 13). An epiphany, lower case e, is something that has become clear, become visible, The Epiphany, capital E, relates specifically to God becoming visible in Jesus Christ.   On Epiphany, the incarnational “coming down” of the Savior is manifested to the whole world. We celebrate during Christmas the entrance of the true Light into the world, and on Epiphany the showing forth of the true Light to the world. Jesus is the light to all nations, races, classes, all peoples, the whole world……At Epiphany, Christ is revealed to the “Gentile world”; God’s covenant with Israel is now open to people of every place and time. Epiphany, not only discloses the Savior to the world, but also calls the world to show forth Christ, to be witnesses to God’s true Light. We are both recipients of Epiphany, and givers of Epiphany to others.   It presents humanity, presents us with a choice. Our free will comes into play and our text today indicates to us as to whether we see this incarnation, the Word made flesh, made known to all the world, as a threat to how we want to go about living life, or a joy in what we experience.   Listen then to our scripture reading today from the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12, listen to what the Spirit is telling the church this day.   We are presented today with two distinct groups, first we have the wise men from the east, which is often translated as the magi or madji – depending upon your pronunciation of the correct English of course, and then the other group in Jerusalem, headed up by King Herod.   These wise men from the east have come searching for the child who has been born king of the Jews. We are given no information about how they knew about this child, other than that they observed his star at its rising. Much has been written about them. Our text does not say they are or were kings, our text doesn’t even tell us there were only three of them.   It tells us they came, and they had insight from whatever sources they had and their sources told them that the child was significant enough for them, that once they observed his star they came looking for him in order to pay him homage.   Who did they understand this child to be? Why were they even looking for signs that this child was born? What did the child mean to them, these wise men from the east. There is much we can surmise, but that does not give us any unequivocal answers. Like many others since, why did they, why do we, why do others, look for the one born king of the Jews?   A story told in [2]Our Daily Bread in 2004 tells that, The young woman’s quest for God began when she was 11 years old, living under atheistic communism in the former Soviet Union. That’s when she saw some artwork that depicted the baby Jesus. When she heard that this represented what authorities called a “myth” about God sending His Son to earth, she began to seek the truth. She also heard that God had written a book of His truth, and she searched for a copy. It wasn’t until she was almost 30 that she finally found a Bible she was permitted to read. At last she had the information she needed to trust Jesus as Savior. From 1971 to 1989, this young woman risked her own safety to search for the truth of God’s Word. Today she is a lawyer who works to protect her fellow Russian citizens from religious persecution. The message of God’s love in Christ is spreading because this one woman was a truth seeker.   The young woman searched for truth, the wise men did likewise.   Irrespective of why, the wise men came knowing that the child had entered the world and they came to worship this child. They clearly understood that this child was special, they observed his star at its rising. He was special enough that they would journey from a long way away and not only that, but when they got close, would go to the courts of King Herod and enquire from him the whereabouts of the child. Did they expect the child to be there? In the court of kings?   If they dud, then the response from King Herod must have caused them some confusion. No one knew! Not only that, but the very question caused consternation in the King’s court and throughout all Jerusalem.   3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.   Not only did no one know, but fear spread throughout Jerusalem as a result. The response to the enquiry was not joy, but fear as to what impact this would have on the status quo. The resident king, hears about the birth of one born king of the Jews and it was not his offspring. Notice, however how the question changes, when Herod inquired of all the chief priests and scribes of the people where the Messiah was to be born.   The one who has been born king of the Jews, is the Messiah, in Herod’s mind and the minds of all the chief priests and scribes of the people. Before Herod got his answer he had already assumed it was the Messiah.   How ironic then, when we come to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, as related in Matthew’s Gospel that Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”   What’s confusing is why weren’t the Jews looking and searching as diligently as those wise men from the east. With all the scrolls of scriptures and the prophecies they had and understood. How did they not know until the wise men came and asked? Then, why no rejoicing from all the chief priests and scribes of the people, at the words that were shared? The Messiah was to be the comforter of Jerusalem and the people of Israel.   Have they not been waiting for generations for the Messiah to come? Was he not the answer to all their woes and was not the Messiah to restore the glory of Israel? Yes, in their minds he was. You would have thought that they would have flown out of the courts to try and find this Messiah for themselves and been ecstatic with the news, but no!   The Messiah’s arrival brought only fear and it was seemingly inconvenient for them. Even though they found and read the text from the prophet Micah,   ‘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.’ Why Bethlehem, because it was the same town that David was anointed as king back in 1 Samuel 16. All the chief priests and scribes should have known.   It pinpointed the very town that the Messiah would be born in, but the leaders of the people still paid no heed to the question from the wise men, where is the child who has been born king of the Jews. They didn’t put two and two together. The wise men on the other hand, came we know not why, but they finished their journey informed by scripture as to why they had come.   Meanwhile, King Herod, well he took great notice. He received the news of this child as a potential threat to his very existence, a threat to how he lived life and those who would come after him.   How many people do the same thing when presented with making Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives today. When they are convicted by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, but then recoil at what they think that means to their lives. To follow Jesus, is perceived as a threat to how they live life, how we live life. As we live into the claim that Christ has upon our lives, do we see it as an inconvenient intrusion, a threat to how we go about living?   Herod did, so did the chief priests and scribes. Herod, seemingly not wanting to alert the Jewish leaders to his concerns, gathered as much information as he could and secretly called for the wise men. Then under the umbrella of wishing to do that which the wise men had come to do, which was to pay homage, he sent them as unwitting spies to find the whereabouts of the child.   Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then 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.   You can almost here the sinister music playing in the background as the words were spoken.   The wise men then left, continuing their search, leaving the stench of fear behind them in Jerusalem.   Then we read what they experienced,   10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On 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.   These wise men, these Gentiles were overwhelmed with joy. When the star stopped, they knew they were on the threshold of seeing the Messiah, the one sent by God.   Yet what might they have thought? A small insignificant town, a nondescript house, young parents in Mary and Joseph – surely not the trappings of the would be ‘king of the Jews’ and yet the didn’t hesitate – they knew despite what they saw whose presence they were in.   They entered the house, and they saw the Messiah, they knelt and worshipped him, and they poured out the gifts of their lives before him, that which they had brought with them. These wise men from the east understood they were in the presence of the Messiah.   We read in John’s Gospel,10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.   His own people rejected him, Jerusalem succumbed to fear and saw his arrival as a threat to their daily lives, but the Gentiles from the east, those wise men, embraced Jesus for who he was and experienced an overwhelming joy.   Then, having found Jesus, paid homage, the wise men were spoken to in a dream and we are told they left for their own country by another road.   Isn’t it that way for all who embrace the Lord. When we come to know the Lord, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, our country is a heavenly kingdom, we are citizens of that kingdom and despite the fact that we are still in this world, we go about living by another road. Everything changes, we are no longer bound by the ways of this world, we don’t owe our allegiance to the King Herod’s of this world, but we live as children of the most high God. Epiphany not only discloses the Savior to the world, but also calls to those in the world to show forth Christ, to be witnesses to God’s true Light.   Is Jesus a threat to how you, how I, how we live life, or are we overwhelmed with joy by being in His presence. Gathered as a community of Christ followers, let us with overwhelming JOY, live in this world by taking another road, living out our calling by the one whom we call King, our Messiah, Jesus Christ.   And with JOY, all of God’s people said, Amen.   This morning we come to the table. Let us take a moment of preparation as we sing together – We Come as Guests Invited.   Michael D. Bodger, M.Div. Pastor & Teaching Elder First Presbyterian Church 724 North Woodland Blvd. DeLand, Florida 32720  © 2018 Michael D. Bodger. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.   [1] Book of Common Worship Companion. P 93/94 John Knox Press. © 2003 Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [2]