January 9, 2019
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
Matthew 2:1-2 NRSV
Few of us stop to consider the impact of the full story of the birth of Jesus. The total of the images we carry in our minds, and our hearts, at Christmas time is a mishmash of distinct stories composed and recorded for specific purposes in the ancient church by those who told the stories and then recorded them. You and I have the major benefit of knowing the entire story, literally “cradle to grave,” or manger to empty tomb, as we say in the language of the church. This is part of our mental makeup for those of us who have grown up with the gospel message. But, we need reminding that each Gospel was composed for a specific audience. And fortunately, they are preserved for us in our New Testament as they continually offer witness to us of these events of 2000 years ago.
In this scripture selection, the Magi encounter the infant Jesus in Bethlehem in a story that has echoes of the prophet Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 60:1-6. These learned men traveled a great distance to encounter the newborn Messiah. The tale of King Herod as the perpetrator of evil tidings in the birth narrative weaves us into a story of travel and flight from danger for the Holy Family: Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus. The target audience is Jewish, and the echoes of Pharaoh, Moses, and God’s intervention are intentional (Exodus 2-3). This newborn Jesus is worthy of praise, even for the meany people outside the Jewish faith! As the Messiah, he will lead the Jewish faithful as no one has since the time of Moses. As the King of Kings, he will lead the Gentiles, as well.
The Christmas season in our church calendar extends to January 6th, the Day of Epiphany: the day the Magi come before the new King, Jesus. Often, this is termed the Adoration of the Magi. Here is this celebration of the birth of Jesus by Gentiles outside the Jewish faith. And, it reminds us that the story of Christ and the Gospel extend far beyond the busy time of Christmas. Preserving the insights of the early church leaders, the writer of the Matthew wants us to remember the whole story of Christmas: of a child born in order to humble the rich and privileged, and who raises up the meek and lowly: all through Christ’s saving death and resurrection.
In this New Year, let us each look to God: the unending source of New Life, as we begin this time of service together- in Christ.