Christmas Sermon: We Have Observed His Star (Matthew 2)


Posted a few weeks late, here’s my Christmas Sermon.

The Birth Announcement

And suddenly, out of nowhere, the Magi see a star in the sky.

Magi – magicians, astrologers, wise-learned men and women, non-Jews from east of Palestine (maybe Arabia, Persia, Babylon?) – these are the people (it doesn’t say anything about three of them and they are surely not kings) who first notice an important baby being born from far off.

These people who study and wait, wait and listen, sit and wait and watch for signs in the skies above, these people who were from another culture, country, religion, are not unlike those already found in the baby Jesus’ genealogy.

Those least likely to get included in a story like this are the main movers and shakers of Jesus birth announcement.

And speaking of birth announcement: there it is, like a fire in the sky it illumines the heavens.
A star! Was it a comet, or something else? Who cares, it’s beautiful, let’s follow it and see where it takes us.

Stars heralded the birth of humans destined for greatness.
So when the magi saw the fire in the sky the took no second guesses.
They packed their bags, wrapped their gifts, and headed to Jerusalem, the city center where any king who was to be born would expect to be found.

But there’s a problem. The baby Jesus is nowhere near the center of power, he is in Bethlehem.

And guess who does not notice the bright shinning birth announcement in the sky?
Notice who is left out of this marvelous event?
Not who is threatened by the birth of a newborn king?

Herod, the king, his own wise-men and learned scholars, and the Jewish religious leaders who are in cahoots with the empire.

All those at the center of power are oblivious to when grace enters the world.

Herod had every reason to feel threatened, he too was born of questionable circumstances, and was not the rightful heir to his throne. His throne was maintained not through grace and peace, but through fear. Now, he wonders, was someone coming to take it back?

There is a parody embedded in this text.

Herod and his personal “wise-men” – the chief priests and scribes, either saw no star, or had no idea what it was all about.

The outsiders, the Magi who have to travel a far way off to see a star, and those who live next door to it who miss it. The Magi are the ones who end up tipping Herod off about what is happening in his backyard. It was an understandable accident, they expected the baby king to be there, but in a few verses we see that this accident leads to fratricide.

There is a lot of struggle, intrigue, and dark elements to this story. Matthew makes it very clear that the Christmas story is not gentle nor is the night silent. The outlandish characters, questionable messengers, and a subtle changing of the guard do not come without a cost. There is nothing sentimental about this story. The birth of God into the world is serious and costly business for all those involved.

And the baby is not where he is supposed to be.

[In fact, this story is a lot like another, much older story. Just like Moses, Jesus was born into an unsafe situation and had to be moved to safety while he was very young. Many young Jewish children again were killed out of the Pharaoh fear for control. And Moses was not where he was supposed to be either, cared for not by his parents by his arch-Nemesis own daughter. This is one reason why Jesus challenges our ideas about who are our enemies. Even God can work with and through people we perceive to be the enemy, outsiders, and foreigners. The comparisons between Jesus and Moses continue all through Matthew. For one of Matthew’s main points in the Gospel is to say that Jesus is the new Moses. Jesus is the new liberator, who will free his people from the bonds of empire. Whenever God breaks into our world there are analogies and signs from the past.]

And then after the powers scheme how they might crush this newborn king, Herod has a secret meeting with the Magi. Secret meetings of the powerful can only spell trouble for the people of God who worship a God who does nothing in secret. Herod thinks that the Magi will now work for him, who knows what words were exchanged, but whatever was said Herod now puts all of his trust on a group of foreigners who do not play by his roles.

The Magi set out again, with the help of the looming star.
They have been given guidance, they now travel to a place they would never have expected to find the baby Jesus.

The birth announcement guides these strangers to be the first to celebrate the little boy’s birth.
Upon arriving, they experience deep joy.
What did they think they saw?
Did they truly understand that this was the Christ child? The Messiah?
The enter the house where the new family is at they fall on the floor and pay honor to him.
Then they lavish gifts upon them.
Gifts that no Jewish family could afford. These were gifts designated for royalty.

Though they would help with the college fund.

How do we respond when we find Jesus in unexpected places?

And finally, they leave. But they have to leave by another road. Just as we, once we encounter the living baby Jesus, have to turn down another road, our lives never again being quite the same.

We Have observed — and they go another way..Their home had to be changed.

One thing I think Matthew is telling us (and there are many things going on here), is that there was one key symbol in the beginning.  One thing to look for, and when you find that, you will find the baby Jesus there.

And this sign can appear in unexpected places and in dark places. The light has shown in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it. And believe me the darkness tries to overcome it.

And another thing about these signs of God is that anybody can recognize them (age, gender, origin of country, economic status, and especially all those who are not “supposed” to recongize it. — last week’s message).

God welcomes everyone, even Magi from the East, to join in the Christ Child’s story.

[Not all the other signs and symbols of Christmas]

We have observed his star.

Something so bright, so unexpected, that once you noticed it, you were changed.
Maybe upon seeing it your route was changed, and you had to return home another way.

What about us?
What stars have we observed this year that brought us to the baby Jesus?
What were the signs and the symbols that spoke to you, surprised you, opened you up to another way.

Have we observed his star this year?

Open Worship/ Silent Communion

Query: What did you see this last year that led you to the baby Jesus?

Let’s watch for his star in the coming year.

Closing Prayer:
Each winter as the year grows older
we each grow older, too.
The chill sets in a little colder;
the verities we knew seem shaken and untrue.
When race and class cry out for treason,
when sirens call for war,
they over shout the voice of reason
and scream til we ignore all we held dear before.
Yet I believe beyond believing
that life can spring from death,
that growth can flower from our grieving,
that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith.
So even as the sun is turning
to journey to the north,
the living flame, in secret burning,
can kindle on the earth and bring God’s love to birth.
O Child of ecstasy and sorrows,
O Prince of peace and pain,
brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s,
renew our lives again; Lord Jesus come and reign!

(from Jay Bakker – Alternative Worship)

Flickr image from ohadby.