Sermon notes 01-05-20 Being Resolved… Pastor David King

Isaiah 60:1-6 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,[a]
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 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 bring good news, the praises of the Lord.

Psalm 72:10-11
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!
11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!

Matthew 2:1-12 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, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

We are now all of five days into 2020, so I wonder, how is everybody doing so far with your new year’s resolutions? … You don’t have to answer. The new year is a time when we customarily resolve to do something different, which could mean that we intend to do more of something, or less of something in the new year. On the “more” side, we might resolve to exercise more or read our Bibles more or attend worship more. On the “less” side we might resolve to eat less or worry less or spend less time on social media. Either way, our resolutions are a response to the fact that it is a new year, and we aspire or resolve to do things “more or less” differently this year than we did them last year.

I will tell you that my resolution for 2020 is to work toward recycling less in 2021 … let me explain that. For a number of years now, I have not accomplished what I resolved to do the previous new year, so, rather than coming up with new resolutions each new year, I have simply recycled my uncompleted resolutions from the previous year. My resolution this year is to actually complete some of what I have resolved to do so that I will have less recycling of resolutions in 2021.

Today we are wrapping up the season of celebration that began in the church back on December 1st on the first Sunday in Advent. The Christmas season ends today with Epiphany Sunday, when we remember the Wise Men’s visitation to the baby Jesus. Epiphany is a word that means manifestation or appearance, and there are several appearances in the story surrounding the birth of Jesus and the visitation of the wise men: God appears in human form as a baby in Bethlehem, the star appears in the sky, the wise men following the star appear in Jerusalem before ultimately finding the Christ-child in Bethlehem, later an angel appears to Joseph. All those appearances or epiphanies are why we call this Epiphany Sunday or the Epiphany of the Lord.

As we consider this story together, I thought we might begin by acknowledging some facts about the visitation of the wise men that might make us a little uncomfortable. We probably do not present an accurate picture in most nativity scenes.

• The wise men did not come on the night Jesus was born, or to the manger (v. 11 tells us they came to the “house”). Naturally the Holy Family did not stay in the manger once there was available room in a house.
• Jesus may no longer have been a newborn; could have been as old as 2 years, based on Herod’s decree to kill baby boys two years of age and younger.
• But since Joseph and Mary and Jesus were still in Bethlehem, it would seem that the visitation of the wise men was not long after Jesus’ birth. Maybe they had remained in Bethlehem waiting for Mary to be strong enough to travel.
• We don’t know that there were three wise men; the number three comes from the gifts listed (gold, frankincense and myrrh).

So now that I’ve placed some doubt about the accuracy of most nativity scenes and some Christmas carols, let me tell you why we should still like the image that nativity scenes portray: They portray the fact that worshiping the Christ child is the privilege of the entire world. Christ came not just for the Jews, not just for a certain ethnic group or class of people, but for everyone, Jews and Gentiles, shepherds and kings, all of creation is represented and depicted in the act of worshiping the newborn king.

The Epiphany of the Lord is an even more ancient celebration among Christians than Christmas, and in some parts of the world, particularly in Latin American countries, this day is the highlight of the Christmas celebration. In their church services today, our Latino sisters and brothers are celebrating with plays and songs about the coming of the kings and their gifts for the Christ child. In their homes, instead of leaving cookies and milk and hanging stockings by the chimney, the children are told to place boxes filled with hay under their beds so that the camels will eat the hay and the kings leave presents for the children. It’s their version of Santa Claus with a whole lot more biblical basis, I think, but that is just a side note.

The point I really want to make this morning is that the Epiphany of the Lord is likely to generate, in those who learn of it, one of three responses. The biblical commentator William Barclay has made the observation that no sooner was Jesus born than people seemed to settle into one of three groups in which people are still to be found in regard to their response to Jesus Christ. We see in the story from Matthew’s Gospel three basic types of responses exhibited by those who learn of the birth of the King. There is the response of Herod, the response of the chief priests and scribes, and the response of the wise men. And I think we can see ourselves in their responses; in other words we are likely to respond in one of the ways that they responded. All who have encountered Emmanuel, or even considered the notion that God came to be one of us, will have one of these three responses. Our response to God becoming man, and what that means for our lives, will be either to be hostile toward him, to be indifferent to him, or to joyfully worship him.
So let’s look first at the response of Herod. Herod was known for doing some great things, such as building the Temple in Jerusalem, and in fact his title was Herod the Great. But he was also known for being insanely jealous of anyone whom he regarded as a threat to his power, and he was quick to eliminate any potential rivals, even to the point of murdering his own wife and sons.

Knowing this about Herod’s character, we could have predicted how Herod would react to the news that a child was born who was destined to be king. Matthew tells us that Herod was “troubled,” and all Jerusalem with him. We know Herod was troubled by this news because he would have regarded it as a threat to his power, and we can guess that all Jerusalem was troubled because the people of Jerusalem feared Herod, and they feared what his reaction to this news would be. Their fears proved to be legitimate, because Matthew tells us that after Herod realized he was tricked by the wise men, he furiously responded by ordering the slaughter of all male children under two years old in that region.

Herod’s response to the appearance of the newborn King was one of absolute hostility. We might think that the hostile response of Herod to Christ is nothing like the response to Christ that any sane person today would have; it is certainly not like any of us, or like anyone we know, would respond. But think about this: Herod responded the way he did out of fear that this little child would interfere with his life, with his position of power, with his plans; and so his reaction was to want to eliminate him.

And are there not persons today who virtually want to do the same thing, for much the same reasons? People still want to wish Christ away, to eliminate him from their lives by refusing to acknowledge his existence, because they see in him one who interferes with their lives, who challenges their lifestyle choices, and whose teachings will not permit them to do whatever they want to do. Those who honor Christ are those who have committed their lives to doing as Christ likes, not as they like. But those whose desire is to do whatever they like often respond to Emmanuel with hostility or even hatred. That is one response.

There is a second response to Emmanuel that we see in our story from Matthew’s Gospel, and that is the response of the chief priests and scribes. Their response was largely one of indifference. It is remarkable to realize just how indifferent they were. These priests and scribes were the experts in the Jewish laws and in the biblical writings and prophecies. They were the very ones Herod consulted to find out where the Christ was to be born, and they were able to tell him precisely: in Bethlehem of Judea. They would have been thoroughly familiar with the Scripture Donna read for us earlier from Isaiah, who prophesied about kings coming from other nations on camels, bringing gifts of gold and frankincense. The chief priests and scribes would have also known by heart the passage from Psalm 72 describing kings coming from Sheba and Seba bearing gifts and falling down to worship the true King. But when the chief priests and scribes observed these Scriptures being fulfilled before their very eyes, all indications are that they responded with utter indifference.

You would think that these guys would have been at least as interested as the wise men, and that they too would have followed the star, or made some effort to find the Christ child. Yet we don’t see any chief priests or scribes in nativity scenes. We find no mention in the Scriptures of chief priests or scribes being present with the shepherds or the wise men who came to see the newborn King, nor is there any other indication that they sought him out. Even after informing Herod that the Christ child would be born in Bethlehem, they evidently made no effort to go there to see him themselves. They seemed resolved not to respond with any level of interest whatsoever in the birth of the King. They were apparently too wrapped up in their own priestly and scribal affairs to be interested in Emmanuel. And are there not still many today who are so wrapped up in their own affairs that they have no interest in Christ?

So in Herod we see the response of hostility, in the chief priests and scribes we see the response of indifference, and in the wise men we see the third type of response to Emmanuel, and that is the response of joyful adoration and worship. I love the line from Matthew’s Gospel about the reaction of the wise men when they saw that the star came to rest over the place where the child was. Matthew tells us, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Friends, that is about as joyful as you can get! Then when they entered the house, Matthew tells us that the wise men fell down and worshiped him, and opening their treasures, presented him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. These earthly kings (as we call them) offered the Christ child the very best they had to offer, gifts fit for a king. And friends, we know you don’t have to be royalty to respond appropriately to Emmanuel, the King of kings. Anyone who realizes the love of God made manifest in the gift of his Son will respond with adoration, worship, and offering the very best we have to him.

So, as we begin a new year together, this is a good time to reflect on our response to Emmanuel. How will you resolve to respond? Are we resolved to respond to the gift of our Savior with offering him our best in joyful adoration and worship? Or will we instead respond with indifference, or even hostility to the claim he makes on our lives?

I want to commend you all for being here in worship on this first Sunday of the new year. It is the right way to start the year, worshiping the One who came to be one of us in order that we might be one with him and with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever. Our church is offering numerous opportunities for deepening our relationship with Christ in 2020. Be on the lookout in the coming days and weeks for studies we will offer in this New Year to help us grow more fully into God’s purposes for our lives.

My prayer for each of you, for each of us in 2020, is that we will resolve to offer our best to Christ by fully submitting our lives to him and to his will; and that, being so resolved, we will have cause to rejoice exceedingly with great joy as we grow ever closer to him and to the fulfillment of his purposes for us.

Let us now continue worshiping our King as we celebrate the Great Thanksgiving.