Wise People Still Seek Him

Wise People Still Seek Him
A Message on Matthew 2:1-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 2, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

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.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.” 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. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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Happy Epiphany! Well, it’s not quite yet Epiphany because that happens on this coming Thursday, Jan. 6, but we are going to jump the gun a little bit and celebrate today as Epiphany Sunday.

How many of your are familiar with the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? What you may not know is that the song means the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany, the 12 days after Christmas. So if you are keeping score today’s gift on the ninth day of Christmas the gift is nine ladies dancing. So now we are going to have nine ladies from our altar guild come forward and perform a liturgical dance to “We Three Kings.”

(Not really.)

Epiphany is the day that commemorates the wise men visiting the baby Jesus. We get the word from the Greek word that means manifestation or appearance.

Now there are some important things to note about Epiphany. One of the things that is important to know has to do with timing.

When we see manger scenes depicted at Christmas we often see three wise men depicted with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the common assortment of barn animals. Well it probably didn’t happen that way.

Most scholars believe the wise men didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until a couple of years after Jesus was born. The reason behind this belief is found in the scripture that we find later on in the second chapter of Matthew. It reads, “ 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.”

Because Herrod had put the age of 2-years-old and under for what became known as the “Massacre of the Infants” and based that age range on the time the wise men had appeared. So it is thought it could have been as long as two years after Jesus was born.

Another thing that we don’t know for sure is the number of wise men. Now we sing about three wise men and represent them in the manger scenes that way, but we really don’t know how many there were. We have assigned the number 3 to them based on the gifts brought to the Christ child: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Three gifts, three wise men.

But the Bible never really says how many they are. It’s doubtful that it was just three as they probably had an entire group of people that traveled with them. But the number three stuck, and that’s why we sing “We Three Kings.”

One more thing: the star over Bethlehem was probably a comet. Most comets appear in the eastern sky in the evenings and then each day appears to move toward the west. This correlates with the scripture we read today in verse 2 where the wise men say “we observed his star at its rising.”

Epiphany is important for more reasons other than the wise men’s visit. It is important because it is when God is revealed to the Gentiles. The wise men, coming from the East, were more than likely not Jewish. The scripture tells us they asked, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”

They wanted to pay him homage, which means to pay tribute to him. It does not mean worship. And yet these people who were Gentiles, which means not Jewish, show up to pay homage to the baby born king of the Jews.

This is deep with symbolism. Because Jesus, being the messiah, IS God, it means God is revealed to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. This is huge. The Jewish people believed they were the chosen people of God, and basically they had an exclusive with God. By the wise men, Gentiles, showing up to pay homage to the messiah, the Gentiles experience a theophany, an experience where God appears to humans. (Think the burning bush with Moses.)

Here’s what I want you to remember today from the scripture we read: the wise men went to great lengths to see the baby born King of the Jews. We don’t know exactly how far they traveled, only that they came from the east. Some scholars believe it was Persia, while others think it could have been India or even China. So the distance could have been as long as 800 miles.

They left everything behind in order to seek out Jesus. They didn’t wait to hear from others but went on a physical and spiritual journey to find out more about the baby boy in Bethlehem.

We should do the same. There is a saying that “Wise men still seek him.” I think that is true in our world today that wise people still seek him.

So how can we do that? Well, we can travel to seek him. Travel to church every Sunday morning to attend Sunday School and worship. It’s not a very long trip for most of us. We will drive long distances for sporting events, concerts, and for vacations, and those are fine, but we also need to make those consistent short trips to worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior.

Another way we can seek him is through practicing the spiritual disciplines. Daily Bible readings, Bible study, prayer, fasting (check with your doctor first, though), giving of our time, talents, and money are all ways of seeking Jesus through the practice of spiritual disciplines.

And we can seek him through service to others. The best way for others to come to Jesus is to see us live our lives in such a way that others can see and say to themselves, “I want some of whatever they are having.”

Another way to seek Jesus is to pray the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer every day. I have us recite this prayer as a congregation each year on the first Sunday of the year to help us focus on the things that are truly important in the coming year. But it also makes a great prayer to recite daily.

I invite you now to stand as you are able and to recite this prayer together:

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote this prayer and I think it’s a great one to recite every day.

So my challenge for you today, on this first Sunday of 2022, is to be wise and seek Jesus. Wise people still seek him. Seek him daily in your life in what you read, what you hear, and especially in what you do.

Wise people still seek him.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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