Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Happy New Year! For most people, Christmas was well over by January 2nd. But let me remind you that for the Church, Christmas season ends today, at Epiphany, which marks the visit of the Magi, the Wise Men. There are many legends about this story, one of which is that they were “three kings.”
Probably, they were not kings. Matthew calls them “wise men from the East” – MAGOI in the Greek (which is where we get our term MAGI) – means astrologers which explains why they would have noticed and then been so excited about coming across something unusual in the sky. Today, I want to look at the story of the magi, and think about wisdom that we can receive from the wise men – a wisdom that is available to us as we begin the New Year.
First, we discover in the story that the wise men sought for truth and
wisdom. The magi knew that the star that they followed was no ordinary
star. These three had apparently been searching the heavens for years for signs of something unique and significant occurring in their world. They were open to new wisdom and truth. More than this, they searched for it. So, when they saw a new star in the heavens, they sensed in their hearts that it was a sign from God.
The bible tells us that if we seek, we will find, if we knock, the door shall be opened to us, if we ask, we will receive. But how often do we actually seek for wisdom? For truth? For guidance?
When my kids were younger, they received many gifts during Christmas season. And most of them were toys, and some needed to be assembled. Both Jonathan and Elizabeth were so excited to play with them that I decided to assemble the toys without bothering to read the instructions. I said to myself, “Oh, this is a piece of cake. I don’t need to read the instruction.” But, I didn’t have much luck; after many tries of trying to put them together on my own, I finally resorted to reading the instructions. How many people actually looked at the instructions before beginning to assemble them? How many tried to put something together relying on the knowledge they already had – only to find that it was not good enough?
The wise men gained their wisdom because they were seekers – they
were looking for new things, new insights, new signs. They read their manuals, they searched the heavens for signs and wonders. And so can we.
Second, the Wise men set forth in faith to find what the star pointed
to. Faith by definition involves the idea of making a journey – of venturing forth – of risking one’s very self in a new activity. The living God cannot be found by proxy. That was Herod’s mistake – he wanted the magi to go in his place and search for the Christ child. By contrast the magi had to travel from a foreign land in search of wisdom and truth. They did not know where the star would lead them, how long it would take, or what the end result would be for them.
They only knew that it was important for them to follow that star to wherever it led. It was a personal quest and the result was an opportunity to worship the one who would be king of kings and Lord of Lords. Faith journey is personal one. No one can do it for you.
This may well be the most important truth for us in the Epiphany story. A story of faith with Jesus has to be a personal story, a personal quest. It is not enough to know all kinds of facts about Jesus Christ. One must encounter the wonder of God’s grace and then make a personal decision to receive him into his/her heart as Lord. One must decide to follow him and then do so. No one else can do that for you. Faith is not inherited, nor can it come from simply knowing what others have said about it.
The next wisdom we can learn from the wise men is that they sought help from other people as they tried to find the king. We try to live our lives without making any demands on others. We try to be independent, to stand alone, to make it by ourselves…, maybe because we do not want to burden others, or we are afraid of looking weak or foolish.
Nowadays, thanks to GPS, I am hardly lost on the road. But, when I didn’t have a GPS, I got lost pretty often. The problem is that because I am so determine to find the way by myself, or sometimes I am so stubborn and even stuck-up, I do not want to ask for help. Most of the time, I got even more lost, because I don’t bother to ask for the directions.
When the magi arrived in Jerusalem it seems that they lost sight of the star. They knew they were in the right area, but they were not yet at the right site. They didn’t hesitate to ask someone else for help. The Bible says they consulted with the people in Jerusalem. Because they ask…, they receive. Their question is answered by people who are familiar with the scriptures and prophecies concerning the birth of the Messiah. And they take that answer and set forth with it – and when they do so, once again they see the star going ahead of them… until it takes them to Jesus.
There are many people who can help us on our journey of faith…, if we are wise enough to ask them. The question is: are we willing to ask for help when we need it? When we are in the right neighborhood, but can’t quite find our way to our destination, will we stop and ask for directions as did the magi?
Now, the last wisdom that I can think of is simply this: the wise men accepted what God lead them to and believed in it. They set forth looking for a king – a king of kings in fact. After a long and hard journey they end up at a simple home in Bethlehem and there they find a carpenter and his wife and a child. There are no costly treasures in the house, no purple robes, no gold rings, nothing in fact to show that they are in the presence of person destined to be a great king. Only the star stood overhead to indicate that anything special at all was going on.
And they accept this. Although all the outward signs, save one, are telling them that they are in the wrong place, they accept that single sign – the sign of God that they have been following for so long and ignore the rest.
So many of us have a hard time accepting what God has given in the form that he gives it. Because we are waiting for a gift from God, we look for great miracles, instant healings, signs and wonders, trumpet calls and 21 gun salutes or something like that.
We have this idea fixed in our minds that God does not, or should
not, appear to us in the ordinary aspects of our life. We do not expect God to show up while we are at work in our office, or driving in your car, or doing dishes at the kitchen sink.
We have a hard time too considering that God’s answers to our
questions can be found in a 2000 year old book, or a simple advice of our colleagues or our friends is, in fact, a message from God.
The wisdom of the wise men was and is simply this: 1) they sought wisdom, 2) they were willing to journey in faith to personally discover what God was doing, 3) they didn’t hesitate to ask for help, and finally 4) they accepted what they found and believed in it.
Simple, isn’t it? Simple, indeed. Are you disappointed because it is so simple. Did you expect something more deep and profound? Well, let us remember that wisdom normally is simple stuff. Simple…, but when used, as the wise men used it, it leads us to God. May God bless us all with this kind of wisdom in the New Year. Amen!