by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart. Howard Thurman, “The Work of Christmas”
Searching For Something To Worship
Let me start with Herod. He is usually called Herod the Great, not because he was a great person but because he was so powerful. He controlled Palestine, which included modern day Israel, as well as Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria. What stands out most about Herod is that he was insanely suspicious. If he thought that a person was a threat to his power, Herod would have that person killed. During his life he murdered one of his wives and her mother, three of his sons, and countless other people. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.
When Herod heard about the birth of Jesus he was afraid. The announcement of the birth of a Jewish king was a threat to Herod, so he set out to try to kill Jesus. The story that follows the one I read in Matthew is the story of Herod massacring all of the boys two years old and younger.
I can’t imagine anyone here reacting that way to Jesus. Yet, like Herod, I sense that we are often threatened by Jesus’ claim on our life. Right after the September 11th attack on our country a couple was interviewed on TV. Their daughter had been killed on that terrible day. As the interviewer was wrapping up he said, “Well, I guess you’ll be going to your place of worship this weekend to receive some consolation.” The mother replied, “No! You see, our religion teaches that we ought to forgive our enemies. And we are just not ready for that right now.”
Jesus came into the world not just to forgive us and get us into heaven. He also came to transform our lives. He wants control of our jobs, our relationships, how we use our free time and spend our money, and everything else in our lives. Jesus wants control and we don’t like to give up control. Jesus is a threat to us and we had best not scoff at Herod until we have confronted and rejected the Herod within each of us.
The second group who responds to Jesus is the religious leaders. When Herod asked them about the Messiah they knew exactly where he was going to be born – in Bethlehem. Yet they didn’t go to Bethlehem to see Jesus. Bethlehem is only 5-6 miles from Jerusalem. They could have walked to Bethlehem in the morning, had the lunch special at Bethlehem’s Bob Evans, found Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus, and been home in time to eat dinner while they watched The Price is Right. Yet they didn’t do anything. Their response was indifference and apathy.
One of the greatest problems in the church today, especially in mainline denominations like the Presbyterian Church, is indifference and apathy. One preacher put it this way:
The more comfortable our society is, the more likely we are to be assimilated to it… The danger is not so much that our people will openly defy God. It's that we'll drift comfortably away from the deep call to follow Jesus.
The Christian life was never intended to be convenient and comfortable, something we do on Sunday mornings when there is nothing else to do. For Sharon Church to become the place that we all want it to be, a place of life and energy, a place of love and hope and faith, we all need to be passionately in love with Jesus, seeking his presence and will for our lives. We need to confront the tendency to be apathetic and confess our indifference as we follow Jesus. We are all called to worship, to pray and study God’s Word. We are all called to use our gifts by serving God’s people and sharing God’s love.
The third reaction to Jesus is that of the Wise Men. We don’t really know much about the Wise Men. There were three gifts, but we don’t know that there were three Wise Men. Matthew calls them “magi,” magicians. Sometimes we call them kings, which is an idea that developed in the 4th century as Christians reflected on passages from the Old Testament, like Psalm 72. What we do know is that they left their homes and went on a journey to find Jesus. When they found Jesus their journey was still not finished. Bethlehem was not the final destination. They went home, though a different way.
I believe that one of the best metaphors for the Christian life is a journey. Jesus’ call to the disciples is “follow me.” We are called to follow Jesus, as faithfully as we are able, joining in the journey.
Most of you know that in March I am leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If you are interested in going please let me know. We still have room for more people. After worship and Sunday school today we are having a meeting about our trip. You are welcome to join us. One of the things I will talk about is the difference between a pilgrimage and a vacation, the difference between being a follower of Jesus and a tourist.
Most of us have seen advertisements that offer wonderful experiences; “See Europe in ten days,” or, “England in a week.” There is nothing wrong with those types of trips. You see the beautiful sights of the world, taste a little bit of the food of a region, buy a few souvenirs to take home, and return home essentially the same as you were when you left. On a pilgrimage you will probably do all those tourist activities, but hopefully you will also take the time to get a glimpse of what Jesus is doing. A pilgrimage involves journeying with Jesus, seeing where he is working and experiencing his love, and being transformed by his presence.
There is a second way that the Wise Men are a model for our lives. On their journey they got lost and had to ask for directions. I don’t know why men are usually the ones who get a bad rap for not asking directions. Not admitting we are lost, that might be true. We just drive around, pretending we know where we are, until we recognize something. The Wise Men had no problem admitting that they were lost. They recognized that they needed help from other people.
Getting lost on the journey of faith happens to everyone. Sometimes it happens because we sin and turn away from Christ. Sometimes it happens when a tragedy hits our lives. Sometimes there is no obvious reason that we got lost, it just happens. When it happens, when we get lost, we need to stop and ask for help. Just as the Wise Men needed the help of others for their journey, we need each other to help us on our journey of faith.
Finally, notice what the Wise Men did when they finally saw Jesus. Matthew tells us that when they realized that the star stopped “they were overwhelmed with joy.” They knelt down and worshipped. The gave their gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Wise Men remind us that joyful worship is an essential part of the Christian life.
One of the basic human characteristics is the desire to worship something. We all long for something to worship, something greater than ourselves. We seek something worthy of our adoration. We look for something to fill our empty lives and to satisfy our anxious hearts. I would suggest to you that the longing and emptiness that we experience is created by God for the purpose of getting us to seek God. When we find baby Jesus, when we experience God’s grace, we naturally want to worship.