The Second Sunday After Christmas January 4, 2009
126(1-4), 136, 510, 126(1, 5)
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Dear fellow-redeemed, seekers of the King of Kings:
The wise men followed a “rising star” in their day and it led them to the Christ. Nowadays, people will go on journeys just to see a “star,” but by that we usually mean a celebrity. Oh, what people won’t do for the sake of seeing a celebrity! It’s not uncommon in any “civilized” part of the world to hear about mobs crowding arenas and stadiums just to see a rock star, great performers, or even religious leaders. This world has never lacked for stars of some sort that people can follow, admire, or fawn over. In fact, the media is downright crowded with all the celebrities people create.
The question is: “Who needs just one more rising star in this world?” Where does Jesus Christ fit in? The fact is, He just may not fit in, the way most people think. But you can be sure that the world has never seen anything like Him. We’d like you to become acquainted, or reacquainted. We introduce to you: a Star like nothing the world has ever seen! I. A rising star for somebody else, II. Men who are wise in the wisdom of God, and III. A King with the instincts of a Shepherd.
The stars of the heavens have fascinated men since time began. In fact, right there we find two reasons for their existence: they assist man in keeping track of times and seasons; and they fascinate, or more accurately, humble man with the majesty of the Creator who spread them out in an orderly and limitless universe. Both aspects were important to the wise men, or “magi” who came to Jerusalem from the East.
The Magi were a class of men in the Middle East who occupied themselves with the fields of religion and science. They watched God’s heavens because they were fascinating and because they belonged to God.
The whole concept of a star had other meanings to people in those days, too. Even the Bible often used the term star to refer to an important person. The occasional prophecies that spoke of stars falling from the sky often signified the death or downfall of mighty world figures.
Just like the celestial stars, all of these earthly luminaries sooner or later burn out, and fade from prominence. The world sees such stars come and go, no matter how gloriously they shine for a time.
The star that attracted the wise men’s attention was different. They noted it as it rose in the sky and its brilliance made them sure that they were looking at the messenger of a King. After the wise men visited Jerusalem and began their way to Bethlehem the star reappeared and led them to the place where the Child was, to the very end of their journey.
This was the end of the star. Its purpose was done. This was a star pointing to its Creator, giving glory to the One who commanded it into existence. It was no matter that He was found in a lowly house in a little town, a helpless baby. The Bethlehem star had no greater purpose and calling than to give glory to Him who is more vast and more marvelous than the whole universe. Oh, that the world would see more “stars” like this one. But it is the evil nature of all people, celebrities included, to honor themselves, not their Creator.
The magi aren’t the only “wise men” in today’s account. Unfortunately, they are the only ones with real wisdom. Think about it—when the magi arrived in Jerusalem, the city was filled with men who were wise in the scriptures—scribes who had copied and studied the Old Testament. When Herod gathered them together and asked them where the Christ was to be born, they must have breathed a sigh of relief, “Oh, that’s an easy one, Your Majesty. The Christ is to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.” They knew the factual answer, but their hearts were far from the One who had been born for them.
The world has seen lots of wise men come and go: brilliant scientists who can splice genes and split atoms, men who have landed on the moon and seek to explore planets. But few and far between are those who share the wisdom of these magi. More often than not you will find such wisdom among the humble, the poor, the children. That is because true wisdom comes from God, who seeks to put to shame the “wisdom” of the wise. The magi were apparent fools to drop everything in order to come and worship this King because He wasn’t the sort of king that would sponsor their studies with a research grant. He wasn’t the sort of king they could influence with their advice. Their love for Him wouldn’t gain much respect for them among colleagues and lords in their home country.
The world doesn’t often see wisdom like this—wisdom that is held captive by something higher, by pure and simple faith. True wisdom is held captive by faith that looks away from its own virtues and qualities and looks only to God and His promises of help—promises that must have been passed on for generations in the lands of the magi, promises that they understood would take shape in the rising of a King and Deliverer among the Jews who would bring rest for all who labor under the curse of sin: not only the Judean shepherd, but the Ethiopian prince, the Roman soldier, and the Persian sage as well.
It was divine wisdom that led a few learned, intelligent men to follow a star, to worship at a baby’s cradle, and leave behind gifts fit for a king.
The wise men came to find a King, and they found one, but not one like the world had ever seen before. This King stands in contrast to the Herod in our story. A greater contrast is hard to imagine. Herod’s rule was characterized by monumental cruelty, suspicion, conniving, and murder. This king saw his rule as a chance to satisfy his ego and glorify himself in the eyes of the world. He jealously guarded his fragile claim to the throne. This is the reason for his nervousness upon hearing that a king had been born, and also became the reason for Jerusalem’s dread (cf. v.3). There was no joy at the rumor that the Christ may have been born, only fear and trepidation, wondering what Herod would do next.
The world has seen too many Herods—some ruling superpowers, others ruling only households. So it goes with this world.
No doubt the wise men shook their heads sadly as they discussed the warning they received not to return to Herod and headed on their way back home. But they took with them the joy of having a true King; a shepherd King who came to lead His people into the safe fold of His grace. This King came into the world to gather God’s people as His Israel—His holy nation and special people. He came in innocence, not playing the games people so often play for power. His strength did not lie in a disregard for good, but in a holy desire to be faithful to His Father. He drew the Magi to Himself, but not with the promise of riches that would rust, or fade, or be stolen. He drew them with the promise of divine rest, forgiveness, and the assurance of being among God’s chosen. He is a King who never needs to demand our homage for those who find Him to be their Savior cannot help but worship and praise Him. He is a King who need never tax for those who possess His kingdom give as freely as the unsolicited offerings of the magi. To this day the wealth of nations flows to Him from the hearts and hands of believers everywhere.
To this day, all too few in our world have come to kneel in trust and love beside the cradle of this King. Even we who do know Him need daily to reacquaint ourselves with Him and His purpose in coming. But as we do, we will be filled with the joy of knowing that He is, indeed, a Lord and a Savior the likes of which the world has never seen before. May we ever hold fast to Him in faith, may we ever be ready to proclaim Him King to those who long to see the “rising star” that the world still seems to lack. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.