Okay friends, here is an older one.
Part of it is just notes, so fill in with your imagination where needed.
Epiphany 2008, 1/06/2008
First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, Chicago
We pick up today, in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 2, starting with the story of the so-called “wise men,” or more appropriately magi, of which many of us have been singing throughout the holidays.
I’m going to add to the readings today, however, just a few verses to give us some context as to where we are in the story. Some of it will be repeated from the last couple of weeks (so don’t freak out. It’s okay).
The Gospel According to St…
Matthew 1:18 - 2:12 18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah1 took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;1 and he named him Jesus. NRS Matthew 2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men1 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,1 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 Messiah1 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 shepherd1 my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men1 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,1 until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,1 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. Matthew 2:13-23 13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 Then Joseph1 got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,1 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.2 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "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." 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." 21 Then Joseph1 got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."
The Gospel of our Lord….
Please pray with me…
** ** ** ** ** ** **
Review of the Gospel…
Chapter 1:1-17 = Genealogy of Jesus…
We are introduced to an engaged couple: Mary and Joseph
Like any good story, there is a twist:
Mary, Joseph’s bride to be, it turns out is PREGNANT—only, the child is not Joseph’s kid.
In an act of mercy toward his fiancé, whom he certainly still loves, Joseph does not call Maury or the Jerry Springer show.
Rather, the scripture says Joseph, is “a righteous man,”
And though he can’t deal with such a drama-filled situation, he at least plans to “dismiss Mary quietly.”—a quiet breaking off of the engagement.
(Here is a person from whom we could all learn a bit about relationships).
So, while he’s about to go break it off,
to tell Mary they should “just be friends,”
An angel appears!
The angel informs Joseph that he is not to break off the engagement, but rather to carry on with the plans for marriage.
And more than that, this child was not conceived by an act of infidelity.
Rather this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
In addition, says the angel, this child will save people from sins (strange)
And the people will call him Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
Well, like anyone who sees and hears from angels, I suppose,
The two get married.
And they have no “marital relations” until after Christmas.
…and that brings us to TODAY (Epiphany)!
Christmas—which according to our text today happened in “the time of King Herod…”
Herod ruled at the end of the first century BCE (37-4 BCE),
And Herod was notorious for being tyrannical, uncompromising, and cruel.
A man who abused his position of power simply because he could—there was no one to stop him.
Herod’s title, by the way, among the four rulers of the Roman Empire, was “Herod, king of the Jews.”
(This brings us to our “wise men.”)
The wise-men (more appropriately translated “magi” or “astronomers”) come from the East—(from places known in our time as Iran and Iraq).
The magi come because they’ve seen a peculiar star.
ASIDE: (It was the understanding in the ancient world that significant astrological events (example?) would accompany the births or deaths of great political figures).
Also, in some first century Jewish texts, it was written that a star was expected to accompany the coming of the Messiah (the Messiah being a political figure…)
So then, it is no surprise that when these “magi” from the East come asking:
“Where is the child who has been born—the King of the Jews? For we have observed his star at its rising and we have come to honor/pay homage/bow down to him,”
That is, it is no surprise that when the magi said “we have come not to honor you, Herod King of the Jews,
But another, an infant!
Not a king instituted by Rome—viewed as the oppressive and tyrannical super-power of the Western World,
But to one from the lower class, one from the oppressed people, in Bethlehem
(The hometown of King David—Israel’s King before the Roman occupation),
It is no surprise that when he heard this (says verse three),
“Herod was frightened”
(and all Jerusalem with him).
Herod was frightened, scared, full-of-fear.
Because Herod had power.
Herod was king…
Herod was “King of the Jews,”
Tetrarch of the Roman Superpower,
One of the four most powerful men in the Western World…
Herod, it seemed, had no use for a real “god,” unless that god’s religion helped him control the masses.
No…Herod’s god…seemed to be:
Power… Control… Prestige
And, as any of us who put our faith in such things
(as often—dare I say—most of us do),
The result is that we have not the God of Love and Freedom (whom we gather to worship today),
Because—when our god, or hope in life, is Domination and Power,
Our god becomes FEAR (quote the cure, ‘English band’???)
Herod, says our scripture…
HEROD WAS AFRAID.
But back to the magi.
The magi (who were a different religion than Joseph or Mary or Jesus, by the way),
The magi did not worship power or control.
Regardless of religion, the magi did not have a God of fear.
And so when they arrive at the place where the star rested,
(because their religion told them to follow stars)
When they arrived, says verse 10,
They were overwhelmed with Joy,
Ecstasy, happiness, dancing…
And then, the magi do what they had set out to do:
They “pay homage” to this small child who they believe would in some way be significant,
And would somehow serve as a different kind of ruler, a different “king” for the people,
That is (1) A king whose rule would not result in the abuse of power or political control,
(as was the case with Herod),
And (2) a king whose “Way” would not exclude those with differing worldviews, beliefs, dogmas, or understandings,
(such as is symbolized and demonstrated by the Magi in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel today).
A king who would not exclude them.
The Magi finish their “paying homage,”
They give him their respective gifts,
(and you miss this if you don’t pay close attention),
They honor the child in an even more radical way:
In an act of religious faith and civil disobedience, the magi did not return to King Herod
(as they were obliged to by Roman law),
But, says verse 12, “they left for their own country by another road.”
The result, of course:
Herod (once again) is ticked off.
He’s been fooled.
And in typical fashion for one whose god has become Fear, he acts—he reacts irrationally.
And, as is also often the case,
The worship of the god of fear in place of the Living God—that is, the God of freedom,
Leads to the oppression of various peoples,
And (in the case of Herod), to death of people—the death of children.
The death of innocent folks at the hand of one person or one group of people who are afraid and unwilling to compromise their own comfort, power, or control, for the sake of other human beings or for anything else.
Well, we’ve read the rest.
After some running around to avoid persecution, the Christmas story officially ends with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus settling down in Nazareth,
And we don’t hear about Jesus again (in Matt’s Gospel) until he’s all grown up—probably about 30-years-old—and ready to be baptized (in Chapter 3).
What does this all mean?...
All these crazy stories about unwed mothers, tyrannical rulers, magician-astrologers, angels, prophecies, dreams…
What might these stories mean to us, living with one another, today?
I think we’ve picked up on some of those themes already.
For me, the answer is not really an answer, but a bunch of questions:
Is the god I imagine, when I imagine God…
Is that god a god who speaks to people in a language they can understand?
Is that god bigger than my own religious understandings and boundaries?
Can that god love and call other people, different from me in geographic location… in social location…in hair-cut, in sexual orientation… in faith?
Can that god speak to a Jewish man through an angel?
Can that god speak to a magician in the east through the Stars?
Might that god plant in us dreams that allow us to resist corrupt leaders,
(To resist the abuse of power, by power?)
Does that god remind me that I, too, often worship a god of Fear, because I want to be in control and I want others to love me and listen to me before they listen to or love anybody else?
Does that god love me, despite my shortcomings and failure to love others and God?
Does that God promise that when two
Or 4 or 5
Or 20 or three-hundred
are gathered in hope, in faith, and in love, (in God’s name),
following dreams, angels, stars, and so-on, that there:
where they gather…
There (says our scripture)…
Where all these come together,
THERE a child is born.
“And this child shall be called Emmanuel, Which means ‘God with us’…”
The child, born here shall be called Emmanuel, Which means “God with us…”
If this is the god that we imagine,
I think that that god is the God of the Jesus.
And That God is the God of the Bible.