Was it a big mistake?    Matthew 2.13-23

A Sermon by Lay reader, Ian Lawrie    29 December 2013

Good morning. I hope that you all enjoyed celebrating Christmas, and singing carols to celebrate the birth of Jesus. A group of singers drawn from the churches in Liss sang carols at the various care homes that we have in Liss, and it suddenly struck me that not all our carols lead to a happy ending. And our gospel reading this morning tells us of a consequence of actions taken to celebrate Jesus birth; all with the best intentions. Two carols spring to mind, ‘The first Nowell’ and ‘We three kings’.  Now you may be wondering what I am getting at. So let me explain as we examine the story of the three kings or wise men, for there is a message for each one of us as we look at what they did.

The three kings, or wise men, Magi, were highly educated and studied the movement of the stars in the heavens. As astronomers, they were familiar with the movement of the planets and the patterns of the stars. They had come to believe that these movements were in some way linked with events on earth, and certain configurations had particular meanings. God used this understanding which they had, to guide them to Jesus and the place of his birth. For them it was a star, and for us according to astronomers it was possibly a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, but either way God used a natural phenomenon to guide them. This was just one of the many ways in which God seeks to guide us in our lives, whether by words spoken, words read or unusual events.  Now somehow they got the timing a bit wrong. Whether it was the time they took to prepare for the journey or, the journey itself or, that same natural human tendency to turn up late, we do not know, but it was the child Jesus that they met possibly 2 years old. That was the good news and God was patient to lead them all the way. Moreover that was why King Herod identified children of two years and younger.

The sad bit of the story was that they did not follow the star all the time. Unfortunately, when they got close, human wisdom rather than God’s guidance took over. You expect royal babies to be born in palaces not stables, don’t you? You expect them to be born in important cities like Jerusalem not little town like Bethlehem, don’t you? Or perhaps, as important people, they thought that, out of respect, they should make their presence known to Herod. Whatever the reason was, they followed their wisdom and visited Herod, and this resulted in the consequences that followed. They received the information which they needed, but the star was still there to guide them. They found Jesus and were able to present their expensive gifts to the Christ child; gold, frankincense and myrrh.  God then put plan B into action, and through an angel guided them to return home another way. However, the damage was done and the sad consequences followed.

It is a simple story of God’s guidance, men’s wisdom, God’s patience as they deviated from the path, and the need to follow through with the guidance that God gives. It is a story, which is brought to our remembrance every Christmas, and its message is as true today as it was some 2000 years ago. Many people follow a star today. It may be a famous footballer, a film star, a pop star or even a saintly person.  God may possibly use their example to help us draw closer to himself, but none of these is the one true star God calls us to follow. The world provides many seemingly attractive destinations for our journey through life; wealth, property, prosperity, happiness, and many other things. However none of these is a  lasting destination that fulfils the destiny that God intends for us. It was not for nothing that Jesus said ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.’ So, as we look forward to a new year, stop and ponder for a moment the joy, which you see on the faces of those who worship God on other continents. Compared with most of us they have comparatively nothing, except that joy which they have and which shines from their faces. That joy does not stem from riches or possessions. It stems from that deep inner knowledge of God’s love and the presence of Jesus in their lives. They are daily following the STAR.

It was the shepherds, who responded to the incredible sight and the sound they heard in the heavens and were directed to the stable by an angel. They were obedient to the instruction and responded with joy. Shepherds were the lowest of the low in society. They were poor, smelly, slept outside with the sheep and lived with danger. Perhaps circumstances helped them to get their priorities right Jesus did identify himself as the ‘Good Shepherd!’ Perhaps that is why Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to see the kingdom of heaven. The three kings or, wise men, did eventually get to meet Jesus, not because of their wisdom, or their riches or even their gifts. They persevered and it was their presence, not their presents, which was most important. – their homage in acknowledging Jesus as the Christ sent by God. In doing so, in a stable, they acknowledged that their riches and wisdom counted for nothing so in a way they joined the poor man in the carol ‘What can I give him, poor as I am, give my heart!  May that be a thought to run through our minds this coming year and follow Jesus as our STAR.