Read Matthew 2:1-12, Isaiah 60:1-6 here.
Listen to the sermon here:
Watch the entire worship service here:
Do you have 2020 vision? When you look forward into the coming year, what do you see? What do you hope to see? What would give you joy?
When the magi saw that the star had stopped, they were overjoyed. They had indescribable, uncontainable, exceedingly great joy. They had found what they were looking for, the Christ child. They had come to worship him, and that’s what they did. They bowed down before him, and gave him offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They had come to Jerusalem from Persia because they wanted to see Jesus. They were overwhelmed with joy because they found him and they DID see. We too find joy when we see Jesus.
But seeing Jesus isn’t just about seeing physically with our eyes, so it’s not always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s quite difficult, but God has given us help, and in the story of the magi we find them using that same help.
God helps us through people.
The magi heard about God and the prophecies about the messiah from people. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Babylonians had invaded Jerusalem and carried many of the people off to Babylon where they lived for seventy years before a new king allowed them to return to Jerusalem. Some returned, but some stayed in what had then become Persia. We see in the stories in the books of Daniel and Esther that the people from Israel continued to worship God in Persia, and that they had conversations with the people there about their faith. So it’s not surprising that although they lived far away from Israel, the magi knew Israel’s God.
God still helps us through people. The first time we heard about God and Jesus was probably because someone told us. Who first told you about God and Jesus? For me, it was my parents. My faith grew through people at church teaching Sunday school, preaching, and leading worship. Some of my greatest growth has come through conversations with people in small groups, which is why we are asking all of you to take the survey about small groups that’s in your bulletin this morning and online. (If you’re watching online, message us and we’ll get info to you.) If you haven’t filled that out yet, please do that today!
When the magi got to Jerusalem, they again got help from talking to people. They said, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” (Matt. 2:2) This got people talking, and when Herod heard, he got the priests working to find the answer. Herod’s motivation was not helpful. He only wanted to eliminate any threat to his power. But he was the one to give the priests the answer to their question. And sometimes God speaks to us through unlikely people, too, sometimes even through people who have no idea that they are helping us hear from God.
God helps us through the Bible
The magi knew that there would be a messiah because of the words of the prophets. Our reading from Isaiah 60 this morning may have helped the magi know to follow the star to Jerusalem:
“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.”
That sounds a lot like a bright star in the night sky. It’s even more clear if we go back a few verses to Isaiah 59:20.
“The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins,” says the Lord.
Then when the magi got to Jerusalem, it was another prophecy that narrowed their search to Bethlehem, and that scripture from Micah is included in our reading from Matthew:
“And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.” (Matthew 2:6, Micah 5:2)
God helps us through the Bible, but reading the Bible is not easy. It’s a big book, but we can get through it by reading a bit each day. There’s a lot in there. Some of it is vague. Some of it is challenging. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3 that all scripture is useful. He says:
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NLT)
It’s not just like sitting down to read a novel. It helps to pray before, during and after you read from it. It helps to have a Bible that has footnotes and commentary. I use the Life Application Bible for much of my personal reading. There are lots of good websites that help us. One of the reasons we encourage small groups is so that we can help each other with our reading and understanding what God is saying to us in the Bible.
When we get our word on a paper star today, I will ask God about my word, and then I will search the Bible for that word. This past year, I had two star words. The one I got last January was “aspire.” In September, when I preached for the college chapel, I got the word “newness.” Searching the Bible using the word “newness” brings up scriptures about the new life we have through faith in Jesus Christ, and about the ways God transforms us through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. There’s also a verse that we see quite a bit this time of year from Isaiah 43 where God is reminding Israel of all the ways that he has rescued them in the past, and then he says,
“But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19 NLT)
God did something new by sending us Jesus, and God continues to help us see Jesus anew through people, in the words of the Bible, and God helps us see with our hearts.
This is the most important part, and yet the part that’s hardest to nail down. We see it in the story of the magi in their indescribable, uncontainable, exceedingly great joy. Their eyes saw the star stop, but they saw the meaning of the star with their hearts and they felt joy. They worshipped Jesus with their hearts.
God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah,
“When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
It’s been one of our memory verses, and it’s a verse I keep coming back to as an encouragement to keep seeking God, and especially to seek to let God work in my heart. When I’m working on a sermon, I know I haven’t quite accomplished it until I have seen what God is saying in my heart.
My husband Rob and I have been watching the Netflix series called “The Crown.” It’s about the queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II. The series is based on her life, but it’s a fictionalized story. The first two seasons begin with her childhood and continue on into her life as a young adult. The third season, the one that was just recently released, picks up the story in the 1960s when she is a bit older. Several of the episodes focus on members of her family, particularly her husband Prince Phillip. In one of those episodes, Phillip is complaining about going to church. He says it’s boring and pointless. In the Church of England, the queen is the head of the church, so she asks that a different, younger priest be assigned to their parish, and the new priest makes a particular effort to connect with Prince Phillip.
At this same time the big thing happening in history is that the United States is sending Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins to the moon. All the world was watching via television, including the royal family, and especially Prince Phillip, who is himself a pilot, and who longs to do more with his life than to be simply the husband of the queen. He doesn’t even get the title of king, and in one of the earlier episodes he mentions his frustration about that.
Knowing that Phillip is struggling to find meaning in his life, the new priest invites Phillip to meet with a group of priests who are frustrated about the state of the church. Phillip doesn’t want to hear what they have to say, and he tells them that their problem is that they need to get out and do something like the astronauts are doing. He insists that the Apollo 11 astronauts are “at one with the world” because they’ve achieved something “spectacular.” Phillip is certain that these astronauts are “at one with God — and happy.”
But later on when Phillip gets the opportunity to meet privately with these astronauts that he’s idolized as gods, hoping to gain insight from them about the meaning of what they have done, he finds that they themselves were so busy with the checklists and mechanics of flying the rocket that they had little or no time to stop and look around and appreciate its meaning. We know from interviews and books they’ve written since that over time they did think more deeply about what they accomplished, but in the moment, while they were there, they had little time for that.
In our reading from Isaiah, we are encouraged to take the time to see with our hearts.
Lift up your eyes and look around. (Isaiah 60:4)
Watch and listen and see and appreciate what God is doing in us, in the people around us, in the world. We can be busy doing and saying all sorts of good things, but what gives our words and actions meaning is love. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, without love, we’re just a noisy gong. (1 Cor. 13:1-3) Love opens our eyes to the wonders and beauty around us. It’s why Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:18 is for the eyes of our hearts to be opened, because it’s with our hearts that we’re able to see the amazing hope and inheritance we have in Jesus. Love helps us see in new ways. Poets and songwriters tell us about this. In the musical The Music Man by Meredith Wilson there’s a song about this. “There were bells on the hill, but I never heard them ringing, no I never heard them at all, til there was you…”
When King Solomon asks God for wisdom, God gives him a listening heart (1 Kings 3:9). As we come to the table this morning and receive our star words, and as we look forward to the coming year, let’s ask God to give us listening hearts so we can see and hear and know how God is leading us to love God more, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice. (Isaiah 60:5)
May we see with our hearts, give thanks to God, and worship God all our hearts.
 Borrowing the adjectives used in the Phillips version, the Message version, and the literal translation.
 Dick Lange in his commentary on Working Preacher encourages us to read the previous chapters of Isaiah to see more of the context for today’s reading. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4352
 Season 3, Episode 7 “Moondust” The Crown, a Netfllix Original (2000)
 The Beatles’ version: https://youtu.be/pJe_xwAtzew Till There Was You lyrics © Sony, Frank Music Corp. And Meredith Willson Music, FRANK MUSIC CORP, FRANK-MEREDITH WILLSON MUSIC, MEREDITH WILLSON MUSIC LLC