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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Matthew 2:1-12 Epiphany

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
'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.'"
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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." 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

A few years ago, Rick Lawrence, the Editor of Group Magazine, a magazine devoted to helping Churches reach the youth of today, repeated an interesting statistic from the National Youth and Religion Study, the largest study of its kind looking at religious issues surrounding youth. It is currently in progress. What the National Youth and Religion Study has found so far, according to Lawrence, is that 90 percent of adults and teenagers report that they are not devoted to God. They might believe in God, but they are not devoted to God. To be devoted to anything implies faithfulness. For example, if we are a devoted fan of the Miami Dolphins (this is just an example mind you) then we would stick with them through thick and thin. One and Fifteen; Ten and Six. It wouldn’t matter. Wannestadt, Saban, Sparano. We’d tough it out no matter what. That’s devotion.

If we are devoted to our spouses, then we are faithful in all aspects of our marriage. We work hard at our marriage. The health of our marriage becomes our number one priority. If other things get in the way of the health of our marriage they are modified accordingly. That’s devotion.

To be devoted to anything implies a certain special faithfulness, and devotion to God is no exception. And if the research is to be believed and there is no reason to doubt it, then most people don’t see themselves as being particularly devoted to God.

No we have to make an assumption here. Are most people so humble that they wouldn’t dare suggest that they are devoted to God when in reality that is what they are? Or is the truth that most people here are being brutally honest. They may want and desire that their relationship with God is one of deep and special devotion, but right now, at this moment in time it is something else, something less.

With this in mind we approach this week’s Gospel, the Gospel for Epiphany, the arrival on the scene of the three wisemen. There they are sitting outside Herod’s palace wondering if they should had invested in one of those turn by turn GPS systems, like we now buy for our cars. A couple of Decembers ago I was driving to Coral Gables at night for a wedding rehearsal and got so lost that I had no clue where I was. In the Gables there are no street signs – they write the street names on small rocks that aren’t lit at night – I guess they do that to keep us out-of-towners away. Anyway, the wedding party called my wife wanting to know where I was and she panicked. And I ended up calling them on my cell having them direct me by pone one turn at a time until I could see a set of waving hands that belonged to the groom who then got into my car and guided me to the church. Needless to say, I received a GPS for my car that Christmas. The Wisemen were not so lucky. There they are at Herod’s Palace looking for the king whose birth the star heralded, wondering if they had the wrong address.

Press the bell. No you press the bell. No YOU press the bell.
We're looking for the king - a new born king - you see we've been following this star...
Ummm, the only king here is Herod and while he might act childish some times I assure you he's a grown man who thinks that he is a star.
Darn, wrong house. Do you know where the new King was born? Where his house might be? We thought this being a palace and all was his...

Who could blame the wisemen/astrologers/kings (most likely astrologers - men who study the stars and would recognize the special star as a sign of the birth of a king)?
It was the palace. The place where kings live.
The star led them there, didn't it?
Stars were thought to be cosmic signs of great importance.

Herod does not send them packing, at least not yet – he doesn’t offer them tea and cookies either. What he wants is information. Herod asks about the date that the star appeared.
No big deal, right? Just another small fact. A minor question. A mere curious detail.
The king asks the wisemen to report on the Messiah's location so that he, too, could pay him homage.
Homage is a sign of "high respect or regard."
We should be catching on when Herod fails to call FTD or logs on to Flowers.com or makes a special trip to the Baby Superstore for some blue footsie Pajamas. .
Plans are in the works. Dreadful plans. Murderous plans.
But they will wait awhile yet.

The wisemen follow the star a bit more and it leads them to a house. The star has stopped. The journey is over. The wait is over. No more false trails that lead to palaces with clueless kings. (We note that Jesus and family have moved out of the stable). As soon as the star stops "they are overwhelmed with joy."

Let me suggest something here.
They are not overwhelmed with joy because their feet are tired and they can now rest their feet or because they were beginning to have doubts about the star's direction finding ability or because they are hungry and there’s a McDonalds next door. All of those things, rest, food, assurance can make us happy or even glad, but joy, well, that's some thing different.

And they didn’t travel all that way, over mountains, through deserts, guided only by a star, just so that they could feel all warm and happy inside.

No. the journey which may have begun as a journey of curiosity finds its completion as a journey of devotion: they kneel before the Messiah.

Let us recall what research tells us – that lots of people believe in God, but over 90% aren’t devoted to God, at least in their own individual thinking. Devotion goes beyond corporate worship to our individual acts or expressions of love for God. Of entering into God’s presence and expressing our love with our whole hearts, with our whole being. Sometimes baking our communion bread is like that for me and sometimes it is just something that I have to do. Sometimes working in the butterfly garden is an act of devotion for me and sometimes it is just work. How about you? Take a pew pencil and take a moment and think about how you might intentionally increase your devotion to God this week. What gift of time with God; what act of love; what deed of joy; what holy moment of commitment might you offer? How will you transform it from something that you do to a act of purest devotion and love for God?

We recall Jesus’ declaration that the greatest commandment is for us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. How will we express that love in this new year? This gift of days given to us?
Take a moment and jot down your thoughts. To write them makes them more real, more possible. How shall we grow our devotion to God this week?

More on Sunday!

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