2012 lies before you like a path not taken. This new year brings you new opportunities in your spiritual journey. Today, January 1, is a time for reflection and preparation for a new leg on your spiritual journey.
The sermon scripture for today is Matthew 2:1-12. Listen for God's word to you.
2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2:2 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."
2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;
2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
2:5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
2:6 '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.'"
2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.
2:8 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."
2:9 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.
2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
2:11 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.
2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Here ends the reading.
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Life is a journey. The wise men were on a journey to find Jesus. They were experts in the field of astronomy. They had come perhaps from the royal courts of Persia to visit King Herod in Jerusalem. When they saw a special star or a shining angel above Bethlehem they knew it signaled the birth of the Messiah. They knew this because they knew both astronomy and the holy scriptures that spoke of the birth of a messiah.
The wise men presented baby Jesus with certain gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts have been given many symbolical meanings. Traditional Christianity says the gold symbolizes Jesus' royalty, frankincense his priestly duties, and myrrh points to the prophet's death he would suffer. More important than the gifts was the thought behind the gifts. The magi believed this baby was the Messiah and had come to worship him.
The wise men brought gift to baby Jesus. They brought the newborn king gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Like the wise men, you may have the gift of giving. You may have the gift of giving as expressed in giving money, time or talents in service to Christ. The magi had the gift of encouragement. Their gifts would have encouraged Mary and Joseph. You may have the spiritual gift of encouragement. You notice what other people contribute and thank them for what they do. We need more of that gift in our world today.
The wise men had studied astrology and the sacred texts. They also kept abreast of what was happening in the world. So they noticed the new shining star that appeared in the heavens and knew what it foretold. What signals or signs help you to locate the Christ within? You have the sacred texts, study opportunities, prayer groups, meditation times, and other spiritual disciplines. You know what is going on in the world and all the challenges we face as a species. The first step you need to take today is to decipher where you are in your spiritual journey.
Along the journey we encounter certain road blocks. The wise men encountered an evil ruler who wanted to use them to thwart God's plan. King Herod wanted to kill the Messiah. He wanted to shut up the Truth. He wanted to use the wise men to accomplish his evil purpose. But God reached out to the wise men in a dream and helped them find a way around the road block of King Herod. God warned them in a dream not to return by the same road. God will help you find a way around the road blocks in your life. God will show us the way forward even when we feel trapped. Yet God's purposes cannot be thwarted; God's purposes will prevail. The second step you need to take today is to envision where you want to be and trust God to help you get there.
There is a medieval woodcut that shows the earthly world contained within a great bubble. Outside the bubble lies a celestial realm filled with stars and moons and with the mechanisms that make creation run. In the picture, a man is poking his head through the bubble and gaining a glimpse of that wondrous creative realm that had previously been invisible to him. The wise men were aware of a spiritual realm beyond our five senses. Their heavenly vision was based on a combination of the science of astronomy and a spiritual discipline that connected them with a realm beyond this earth. We too have moments when it is as if our head has momentarily burst through that bubble and we get a taste of a new world spread out before us. [Spangler, David (2008-10-01). Everyday Miracles: the inner art of manifestation (Kindle Location 281). Lorian Press. Kindle Edition.]
The wise men took action on what they knew and believed. Taking action is what you must do as well. When we act on our knowledge and faith God honors our energy and things change for the better. Perhaps today you know what is happening and you see what God wants you to do. Take action now. Get yourself going in a way that is in alignment with God's will for your life. Take action to get where you want to be. That action may be subtle rather than forceful. We do not acquire what we desire, we become it. The smallest change can have a very large effect. This has become known as the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect suggests that something as seemingly tiny and inconsequential as the flutter of a butterfly's wings can set up a chain of cascading consequences, such as a growing interaction of atmospheric disturbances that eventually could result in a tornado or hurricane many thousands of miles away. Any small change we make in moving toward our goal may make a huge difference in our lives and in the world. So let's not feel overwhelmed or underprivileged. Let's not get discouraged with the enormity of the change we desire and say there is no way we can achieve that goal. Let's just take an action, however small, in the direction we want to go. God may multiply our small step way beyond what we had thought possible.
We are not astrologers so we may never see a sign in the heavens such as the night star over Bethlehem. That star led the wise men to Jesus but that is a star we will never see. There is another star that we may see every day. That star may lead us to Jesus birth. That star is the sun. We sit with God in silence in the morning time. We read and meditate upon God's word. And as we pray, there, through the window, we see another star rising. It is a star called the sun. The sun rising, shining through our window in the morning, that is our sign that the Christ wants to be born anew in our heart this day. Let's take that sign of the sun star rising as God's sign to us that this is a new day, a new year, a new era in our lives and in the life of this congregation. As we focus on God's star we find a wise way on life's joyful journey.
There are three steps you must take today: 1. Decipher Where You Are; 2. Envision Where You Want to Be; 3. Take Action to Get There. This is important to you because today, on the first day of 2012, you have the opportunity to turn your life in a more positive direction. God has a claim on your life's journey. You have a purpose in life. The wise men's purpose was to find and worship the Christ. Your life's purpose is to find and connect with the Christ within you.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035 on January 1, 2012, Epiphany Sunday. Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com