January 5, 2018 Epiphany- God Runs the Show- Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12, Luke 3:16

wise men

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born…

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  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, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12 (NIV)

Few things drive people to drastic action more than threats to their authority and power. Herod, as we learn later in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2:13-18), had no desire to come and worship the King of Kings.  Herod attempted to eliminate who he perceived as a threat to his reign while He was still vulnerable and easily dispensed with.

How do we deal with perceived threats to our authority or to our egos? It’s human nature to get defensive.  Nobody wants to be upstaged by the new talent at work or one upped by someone younger or less experienced than we are.  Nobody wants their power taken away.  We all naturally defend what we believe to be ours.  Some of us go even further and just take anything we can take by force.

The struggle over authority is as old as time. Pride, the serpent’s temptation in the Garden, convinces us that we are worthy of a position that God never intended for us. Humans will do incredibly inhumane acts in the pursuit of power.

Did Herod realize that his authority wasn’t really his authority at all, but only what God allowed him to have?

One of the most liberating and refreshing epiphanies we can have (the word epiphany means “to shine light on, to reveal”) is to discover for ourselves that God is in control. God decides who plays what role at what time.  It is God who determines the course of His world.  We may not understand how and why- and we might not agree with who He works through and when He does things, but God is the director of this dance.

Herod’s will was for Jesus to die an infant, before He could teach and preach and heal and live as an example for this world. Instead, God made a way to preserve the infant Jesus and keep Him safe until Herod was no more. (Matthew 2:19-23)

The Magi had the right attitude toward the pursuit of wisdom and power and strength. Theirs was one of humility and wonder. They truly did want to worship and adore this great King.

John the Baptist had the right attitude toward the authority and power of Jesus.

“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3:16 (NIV)

 

December 22, 2016- Wise Men and Kings, Matthew 2:1-2, Matthew 2:13-18

wise-men

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NRSV)

Herod wasn’t exactly a nice guy.  Especially when anyone threatened his sovereignty.  Herod saw himself as being In Charge, and anyone who may have been seen as a challenge to that control was seen as a threat to be neutralized. Later, when Herod learned that Jesus was indeed the long foretold King of the Jews, born in Bethlehem, he ordered what was to be known as the Slaughter of the Innocents-

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:16-18 (NRSV)

Historically not much is known about the wise men from the east.  Legend has it that there were three, however, the Bible does not give a number.  There may have been two, or twenty.  The important part of the story is that they followed the star that was put forth as a sign, and they searched after Jesus without even really being aware of what His coming meant for the world and for humanity. They also took heed to the warning given to them in a dream not to return to Herod, allowing time for Jesus’ family to take Him to safety in Egypt during this time. (Matthew 7:13-15)

It is said that “wise men still seek Him.”  But do we really seek God with diligence in everything we do, and in everyone we encounter?

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8 (NRSV)

Wisdom isn’t necessarily found as much in the answers as in asking the right questions.  When we search and knock and ask God we might not get the answers we think we are going to get.  The wise men sought after an earthly king- but they discovered what appeared to be a poor family with a infant that was born in an animal barn.

Did they know that they found the King of Kings?  Are we seeking Him also?

Are we asking the right questions?  Are we listening to the answers, and the warnings that God gives us?

 

 

 

 

December 8, 2016 -Of Heaven and Earth, and Render unto Caesar-Luke 2:1-7, Matthew 22:17-21

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In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.   All went to their own towns to be registered.   Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.   He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.   And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)

The secular requirement made by the Roman governing authorities that all the world go register to be taxed plays a big part in the Christmas story.  Jesus’ parents lived in Nazareth, yet they were required to go back to Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor, David, to complete this registration. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, on this road trip, rather than in his parents’ residence in Nazareth.  As the prophet Micah had foretold:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  Micah 5:2 (NRSV)

Most of the time when we have to pay tax, or have to do some of those not so nice civic responsibilities, we don’t associate them with God’s plan for our lives.

I know I don’t always think terribly Godly thoughts while filling out those nasty complicated tax forms, or when I’m waiting in line at the BMV.  But as Martin Luther pointed out in his teachings regarding the Two Kingdoms, civil government is also there to fulfill God’s purpose and keep order in the physical world, even if we don’t always quite see it.

Jesus had an answer for the Pharisees who thought that the faithful were above participating in or being governed by civil, worldly governments.  The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were ruled by a foreign government who demanded they follow certain rules and pay taxes to their occupiers.  Not too many of them were very happy about that (and who of us pay tax with a smile on our faces) but Jesus pointed out that even if we don’t like it we still need to participate in civil government, and even pay tax, for our own good and the good of the community.

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.  Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” *They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Matthew 22:17-21 (NRSV)

(*They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.- Matthew 22:21 -KJV)

How can we see God at work even through people and situations that don’t seem to be of Him at all?  How can we see that sometimes “rendering unto Caesar” is just another way of that God works out His will and purpose for our lives?