Isaiah 60:1-6 Psalm 72: 1-7,10-14 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12
For those of you who took the Christmas Story Quiz at Pub Theology, and those of you who hope to one day take and pass the quiz, I want to call your attention to our gospel reading for today. Christmas pageants and carols take great liberty and have resulted in many of us having the image of three kings from the east arriving at the manger when, in fact, they were not kings nor did they arrive at the manger. They were wise men from the east and the scripture does not say there were three of them, only that they brought three gifts. And, it says they found the child in a house. The Greek word used for child might better be translated as toddler.
One explanation I just heard at Pub Theology for it taking the wise men so long to find Jesus, was simply they were men, and men don’t ask for directions. I challenged this by pointing out that they did ask King Herod, only to be told, “Yes, but when they finally did ask for directions, they asked another man.” What more could I say?
They did, however, find Jesus by following the light of a star which stopped over the house were Jesus was with his mother. We speak of Jesus as bringing light into the darkness of this world. In our passage from Isaiah, it begins by saying, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah continues with his prophesy:
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
The prophets and the gospels use images of light and darkness to represent, knowledge & truth, ignorance & deceit, good & evil.
I enjoy the image of Jesus lying is a manger in a stable with shepherds and sheep, wise men and camels, and the star above the stable – but we do miss a valuable lesson when the wise men arrive too early. The light of Christ is represented by the star which appears when he is born. It is not how the shepherds find him, they are told where to find him by an angel. The star first appears at his birth and the wise men are drawn to its light, much like Isaiah says, “Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
The star is in the sky for months, years even, and it represents Jerusalem is a “light to lighten the Gentiles,” as the prophet Simeon says in Luke according many translations. Other translations use the word “nations,” rather than Gentiles. The point is the wise men are not Jewish, yet they are drawn to the light. Matthew is making it clear that Jesus did not come as a savior for the Jews, but for all people – Jews and Gentiles alike. The light of Christ is such that the wise men travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to see and pay homage to the Christ Child.
Isaiah gives us more to think about. I made reference to the light of Christ when I quoted the verse which says that nations will come to your light. Isaiah, however, is speaking to his people, the people of Israel when he says, “your light.” There are different ways we can interpret this. We can say that Jesus is born a Jew, so he is the light Isaiah is referring to – after all this passage is speaking about what is to come. I would not argue with this interpretation, but I would point out that the scriptures are open to many interpretations and I believe a second interpretation here is important.
Consider first that those are called “the chosen people” are called to be light to all nations. They have been chosen to bring others to God. To shine the light of God’s love upon everyone – not just the members of their tribe, their nation, and others who have been chosen. They are to be the light that brings nations into the kingdom of God. Then consider that we are among those drawn to the light.
The prophesy of Isaiah continues with him speaking of the coming together of people of all walks of life, “Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you.” Then Isaiah speaks of the reunification of families, “your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.” Finally, in this passage Isaiah says, “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”
Matthew’s account of the wise men’s arrival as the fulfillment of this prophesy, furthers our understanding that Jesus is both the savior the Jews have been waiting for, and our savior. A light to enlighten all nations. Jesus is that light, he is our light. Once drawn to him, the wise men returned to their homes. The scriptures don’t say what happens next, but I know because I know what happened to me when I was drawn to the light of Christ.
The wise men were changed. When they left the Christ Child, his light was in them and whereas they went from there, the light of Christ was shining from within them, drawing others to the love of God. The star they followed is still shining and if we follow it, we too will find we will be changed. We, too, can shine Christ’s light into the darkness to show others the way to true life and peace.
Let us pray.
Loving God, open our eyes in the darkness that cover the earth that we might see and follow your star that leads us to experience a new life in Christ Jesus our Savior. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.