Sunday, November 23, 2014
So let me tell you about these wise men who came to see Jesus. They were also called Magi, as you recall. If we talk about one of them we call him a Magus, and if we talk about two or more of them we call them Magi. These Magi were well-educated, well trained, well respected men in Middle Eastern society about the time of Jesus. They were the scholars of the day, the scientists of the day, and they specialized in knowing about the natural world – the stars and the planets and everything about the earth. Their vast knowledge of many things made them wise, and they were highly respected and sought out for their knowledge. Magi were often consulted by kings and governors all over the region for their education and their wisdom. Pretty much every king had his own magus or his own group of magi whom he relied on for their knowledge and their good advice, and they all hung around at the palace. That’s the good Magi.
There were also bad Magi. These so called “bad Magi” were people who specialized in incantations and magic spells and sorcery, and did magic tricks. They were charming and crafty and devious and they also maneuvered their way into king’s palaces and positions of leadership to make trouble. They were also well known in Jesus’s time and in the years of the early church. You might remember how Paul and Barnabas had an encounter with one of these magicians at a place called Paphos. He made trouble for Paul and Barnabas and Paul called him the “enemy of everything that is good.”
But these are good Magi. We don’t know where they lived or much else about them. They may have lived in what is now Iraq or in what’s now Saudi Arabia. One evening, these good scientists, these scholars, astronomers, these students of the stars saw an unusual star in the sky and they surmised that the new star must signal the birth of a new king. And they followed that brand new star as it moved its way across the sky. It would have meant a journey of five or six hundred miles through the dessert. For several months or maybe even years they traveled, depending on where they lived, to search for the new king and bring him appropriate gifts: Gold and Incense and myrrh. They followed that star into the future of the world. They couldn’t have known, of course, but that little baby would bring about the kingdom of God, a kingdom of love and justice and knowing God and living in companionship with God and serving God. That little boy would bring a new era in human history and his loyal citizens would live all over the world and speak every language in every culture. He was a new king, for sure. He brought a brand new time in human history, for sure. These Magi were the educated ones in their society and they had the best scientific knowledge available at the time. But they couldn’t have known what that little boy would do for the world. But they brought their lavish royal gifts. They honored him with their presence. And they went back home, unaware of how the world would change with his coming.
That’s the story of what happened in a place called Bethlehem about two thousand years ago now and the scholars who came looking for Jesus. It’s the story of searching, and finding and following and bringing gifts.
And today we are also searching and finding and following and bringing gifts. But we know who that baby was, and we know how he has changed our lives and we know what his coming has meant for our sorry world.
I would guess that everybody in this room today has stood up, at one time or another, in this church or some other church. We have declared that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and we have made a commitment to follow him. We are part of that vast, uncountable multitude of people over two thousand years and in every country and every continent and every language who have given our lives to him. We are a part of that magnificent kingdom of his and we long for the love and justice and peace that he promises and we experience the life with God that he offers. We know God and we have the companionship with God that he offers and we have given our lives in service to him to bring about that kingdom of justice and love and peace and life with God.
Two weeks from today we will be returning our pledges to this church – our indications of our intentions to financially support the ministry of this church for the year 2015. So these next two weeks are times of soul-searching for us – times of looking deep into ourselves and re-examining that commitment we made. Maybe this will be the year that you look at that very long list of blessings that I’ve been asking you to draw up and maybe this year you’ll decide not to write the same old check you’ve been writing to this church for a very long time. Maybe this will be the year that you decide to be lavish with God because God has been unbelievably lavish with you.
Maybe this will be the year that you will take a long look and notice that money and other gifts are flowing from this congregation in Rockford, Michigan to God’s other children all over the world. (We talked about that last week.) And you will decide that you want to add your support to the love that flows from this church to God’s children in places all over the globe – including right here. Maybe you will want to join in that loving outreach with the others here. Because your heart and soul longs to offer the peace and joy and beauty of the Magi’s baby to our very sorry and suffering world. And maybe your gift will be more heart-felt than ever before, and maybe it will be larger.
And maybe you will look into your soul and see things you haven’t seen before – or notice them in a new way. This is the time for a new future for North Kent Presbyterian Church and new ideas and new direction and a new vision. These are the days when we will be asking “what’s the next almost impossible thing that North Kent Church will be doing for God.” Maybe there’s an idea floating around in the back of your mind – so far back that it’s barely formed and you’ve never mentioned it to anybody. Or maybe you’ll call up experiences you’ve had and skills that you’ve sharpened over years in your professional life. And you’ll offer them to God for this moment at this church. Maybe you’ll be willing to sit with others and ask questions that have no immediate answers. And dream dreams you never dared to dream before. Maybe you’ll ponder possibilities that would have seemed impossible before. Maybe you’ll find yourself collaborating in ways that amaze you. Maybe you will find yourself praying in ways that astonish you. And maybe in this coming year all that sitting and asking and dreaming and collaborating and pondering and praying will help to forge a new identity for North Kent Presbyterian Church and a new vision for its future.
There is that beautiful picture of the brand new Christian Church just a few years after Jesus died. We read about that in our first lesson for this morning from the book of Acts. Those early Christians were of one heart and soul. They ate together and prayed together and read Scripture together and they lived together in a bubble of blessing and shared what they had. You heard how some of them actually sold their homes and land and gave the money to the apostles to be shared among those who had needs. Now they didn’t do that for very long apparently and I have to say that that kind of living together may not be very practical in our day. But do you see that all that praying together and eating together and reading scripture together and all that overflowing generosity had this result – that they were of one heart and one mind and that they lived together in a bubble of blessing.
And that’s a beautiful picture for North Kent Presbyterian Church in 2015.