So yesterday was my last day at the Christmas Tree Shop. And it just so happens that yesterday everyone was buying these cute little mugs. They’re white, with various little words and pictures all over them. As I picked one up to scan it I thought, ‘oh, that’s nice’, and then my eye fell on the writing and pictures. They were little astrological mugs—you could get your sign on a mug, with all the characteristics that go with it. Now, I’ll admit to being ignorant. I don’t even know what my ‘sign’ is or what its supposed to mean and what kind of person it makes me. I don’t look in the paper or online to find out what’s supposed to happen to me that day, and when people ask me, ‘what’s your sign’, I’m usually baffled and don’t ever have a good answer, like, Jesus is my sign, or something.
Now of course, sensible people read and look at horoscopes and go on through the day, probably not being materially affected by them in the short term, but others really do cast their fate upon the stars, and look and read and hope for a sign from somewhere to tell them what to do next and what’s going to happen. Because, this is a lost and seeking generation, a land full of people who don’t know where to go or who will look after them or what to believe in, a nation of people who look at the stars, or break open a cookie, or measure out coincidences, looking for some direction or sign that there’s a way to go. This seeking and hunting for a sign is not Necessarily a wise way to live, a life of wisdom and understanding. But it’s not new either.
At the time of Jesus, astrology was alive and well. People interested in creation, in the vastness of the earth and the infinite scope of heaven, looked at the stars and mapped them out and watched, and waited for something to happen. These people sought wisdom, wanted understanding, they saw the dark night sky and looked for light. Some translations of the Bible call them ‘Wisemen’, but the Greek word really means something more like ‘magician’.
We don’t know very much about them. Traditionally, the church has fixed on three, from different places, but there could have been many more, and more likely all from one place, most likely from Persia. You remember Judah was taken captive, to Babylon, and amongst those taken were Daniel and his friends—the cream of the crop of Jerusalem. After being captured, they weren’t sent to work in the fields, they were sent to the palace and their wisdom was renowned. Daniel, having lived an exemplary life And having had many visions of future times, wrote them all down and left them, and other works, for the Babylonians and later the Persians who conquered the Babylonians to peruse at their leisure. In other words, if you were sitting around in Mesopotamia at the time of Jesus, looking at the stars and wondering where is the meaning in it all, you could roll open a scroll and learn about God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth and all the amazing things he had coming up.
So, when one such wise man walks out onto his roof in the evening, as the stars are beginning to pierce through the blue night sky, and sees something so bright its insane, and closes his eyes and looks again, and finds its still there, hanging suspended, and so bright, well, what is a wise man to do? But go and find his friends. They climb on the roof again and look at it and are stirred. It’s that bright. Other people see it too, but they don’t know where all the stars normally are. They’ve got washing to do, and a baby crying, and the neighbor won’t stop complaining about their loud donkey. The wise men dig in the royal archives looking for anything to tell them about this star, and they land on some stuff left by the foreign Daniel including the prophet Isaiah, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come…Nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning’. The star is so bright they can’t even help it. They pack up their stuff and head for Israel.
Meanwhile, Mary and Joseph are quietly living in Bethlehem, remember, only about 7 miles from Jerusalem. That’s like, what, driving to Endicott? That’s a long way. They have a little house now, by no means rich. They’re enjoying their baby Jesus. He’s starting to get to the really cute baby walking stage—between one and two years, before the awful teeth and the awful attitude, well, Jesus didn’t have the attitude. He’s running around the little house and yard with his chest out and his arms back, the King of all Creation.
The wise men travel and travel and arrive, worn and weary, in Jerusalem. They figure if something big is happening, they should go to the center of Israel, to Jerusalem, because probably everybody will be talking about it. They’ll be sure to get their answers there. But basically nobody knows what they’re talking about. In the market people are short and irritated. There hasn’t been a star. What’s your problem? Look, go ask King Herod, old King Herod, who’s corrupt and good at playing various sides against each other. That’s what you have to do if you want to be king a long time, manipulate everybody, be everybody’s friend and enemy. Herod, no surprise, hasn’t been reading his Bible, he hasn’t been looking at the sky or the page. When the wise men get in to see him, he is greatly troubled. You bet he’s troubled. These guys are looking for a King, but it’s clearly not him they’re looking for. They don’t lay out their gifts, they don’t settle in to congratulate him on all his fine kingly accomplishments. They’re looking for the ‘king of the Jews’. You’d be unsettled too if you thought you were the king of the Jews, sitting in your own living room, on your own fine chair, with all your own fine people, and someone came in looking for the king of the Jews but not for you. Troubled is right. Herod gets his ‘wise men’ to dig around in the archives.
The magicians are right, they say, the Messiah is due to arrive about now, in Bethlehem. Amazingly, Herod doesn’t order a comfy little chariot to drive him the 7 miles to Bethlehem to check things out himself. He tries to double cross the foreigners. ‘You go’ he says, ‘go see how it is, but then come back and tell me because I’m definitely going to get up and make the astonishing effort to go worship him myself.’ No wonder the wise men, being warned to go home a different way, don’t object or question the dream. Herod isn’t the picture of someone full of curiosity, wonder and longing for the truth about God. It doesn’t take magic to see that.
They pack up their stuff and head out, wondering how they’re going to find this king, probably discouraged. They’ve come all this way to see something amazing, and worn their feet out in a town of people who couldn’t care less. What a let down. But, as they head out of town, in the dark cold breathless quiet of early early early morning, the star appears. The sky is pierced by its brightness. They pick up their feet and go, the miles slip by and before they even can breathe, they are there, the house, plainer than plain, the door, the baby.
They go into the house and lay down their gifts—gold, tribute owed a king; frankincense, the sweet smell of prayer wending up to heaven; myrrh, embalming spice, the shadow of death—and they worship him. They lay themselves down before him. They put their whole bodies, souls, minds and hearts into submission, honor, respect, adoration, love, obedience—they worship him.
Who knows where they stayed that night. Maybe Mary made up extra beds and they all got to hold Jesus and play that really great fun pounding game where everyone knows how to bang on the table, and they ate dinner and sat around talking way into the night. Or maybe they stayed in an inn. Who knows? But while they were sleeping, the shadow of death and warning was given to them. They didn’t go back to Herod. When they set off they took the opposite road out of town, away from Jerusalem, quietly, without a fuss. A lot of people didn’t even know they had been. And later, but not much later, Joseph also gets a warning dream and within hours he and Mary have packed up the small plain house, closed the door, and are crossing the boarder quietly into Egypt before anyone has noticed.
Where are you this morning? Are you on your rooftop, gazing at the stars, looking at the wonder of creation and seeking for a sign? Do you need direction and hope and love?
Are you on the streets of Jerusalem, busy, unconcerned, not curious about where God is or what he is doing? Have you become distracted by many things and lost your focus?
Or are you here, before the king, having given the gift of your whole self to him in worship, putting your whole body, soul, mind, heart down at his feet in obedience and wonder?
Where ever you are, the signs are in your favor.
You don’t have to look in the paper to find out what is going to happen next. You don’t have to crack open that next cookie looking for advice and encouragement. You don’t have to despair that there is no direction, no place to go, nothing to hope in. God, the Lord of heaven and earth came all the way down here, took on flesh, a body, the fat baby legs of life, put a star in the sky to show you where he is, gave you this book to help you know what’s going on and who’s organizing everything, picked you to bring you here this morning to hear about him, to meet him, to grow in him and to worship him.
But now the ball is in your court. If you’re looking for God, he is here this morning looking for you. Open the door of your heart and ask Jesus to come in and forgive your sins and make you whole. Trust in him. If you aren’t looking, if you’ve closed the door and are piling stuff in front of it, don’t be hard this morning. Push all that stuff away and seek after God. Don’t let many things be more important to you than Jesus. And if you’re here this morning to worship, then lay your whole self down, don’t hold anything back.
Arise up, this morning, and shine, for your light has come, Jesus, to love you, save you, and guide you. Worship him. Worship Jesus Christ the King. Amen.