Sermon January 6, 2019

I live in a part of Mesa where the number of street lights are limited in order to allow us to see the skies at night. And I enjoy looking up and seeing stars shining above. But my view of stars is limited because there is too much ambient light in the area.

While we don’t see many stars with the naked eye, we still have been blessed to see beautiful sights from the heavens. Just this week we got to see this picture of Ultima Thule, a small icy object some 6.5 billion miles from earth. Some say the picture of the object looks like a snowman. It took six hours for any information to be transmitted from the spacecraft New Horizons. It took days for the detailed picture to arrive on earth. 

The Hubble telescope was placed in earth orbit in 1990 and has given us incredible pictures like this one of the Twin Jet Nebula. Planetary nebulae are the glowing shells of gas given off by dying stars. Since the Twin Jet Nebula is a bipolar nebula, there are two stars at its core. Its butterfly-like “wings” are caused by the interaction of the two central stars which are similar in mass to our sun and circle one another every 100 years. 

There are some scientists who don’t believe in God but prefer to believe that the universe was created by a natural phenomenon. I, on the other hand, find it to be an amazing indication of the work of God. It gives me a sense of the awesome power of God when I look at these pictures.

During the time of Jesus, people could see many more stars in the heavens than we do. The wise men who came to visit Jesus were the astronomers of their day. Something that they saw in the stars caused them to conclude that an important person had been born, a new king possibly. They probably knew the predictions about the coming of a Messiah in the Jewish Bible. They decided to come and offer their homage. 

Many people in today’s world have tried to recreate the star of Bethlehem. They want to have a natural explanation for what the wise men saw. So if you go online, you can read about stars and planets that may have created this image. Matthew’s gospel indicates that the star rose from the east which suggests that it may have been a planet. I am unsure of exactly what happened or exactly when. My favorite is this one. It was created by drawing lines from the location of each planet in the solar system to other planets around the time of the birth of Jesus. The funny thing is it includes the planets Uranus and Neptune which were first identified about 300 years ago.  

For me, what is more important is the work of God. God wanted to make a big deal of the fact that Jesus came to earth. And God wanted everyone to know about the coming of Jesus.  Our stories tell us about how God communicated. An angel came to tell Mary that she was going to have the baby Jesus. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell him about the coming of Jesus. Angels appeared to the shepherds when Jesus was born. In today’s lessons, we hear about the star of Bethlehem appearing to the wise men. The wise men were not Jewish and they came from a distant land. Some experts have said that they were pagans. Yet they came to see Jesus because God sent them a message.

I offer this quote from a website discussing Epiphany messages, “First, God went to some trouble (by providing the star) to announce Jesus' birth to people of another race and country. In other words, God loves all people everywhere. Jesus came to all people. Thus, as Jesus' followers, we are to be one family with all people everywhere. We are to exclude no one from God's church or from our family. Although this inclusiveness is to be extended to people in our own school and community, Matthew's account of the wise men focuses on God's insistence on racial, national, and cultural inclusiveness.” 

I don’t know whether God created something special in the stars that caused the wise men to be attuned to the coming of Jesus or if it was just part of God’s original plan that the stars appeared. I do believe that God reached out to humans to tell of the birth of Jesus.

We are influenced greatly by the customs that have been created to celebrate our Christian feasts. So, we have a manger scene with wise men on camels who come to visit the baby Jesus. We don’t know how many wise men there were, tradition suggests it was three. Around 700 AD we decided to give these three wise men names. We don’t know if they came to visit Jesus on camels either. I was in a restaurant last Sunday and we were talking about Epiphany as the waiter came to our table. He quickly said, “Did you know that it took about two years for the three Kings to show up in Bethlehem?” Apparently, this young man had just learned that the visit of the wise men probably came some two years after Jesus was born. Our image of the wise men had left him with the impression they came when he was a baby. There is so much that we don’t know about the star of Bethlehem. But we do know that God was reaching out to share the good news with everyone.   

I believe that God has never stopped reaching out to humans. So, I ask you, “How might God be reaching out to share the wonders of Jesus with you today?” We often call Jesus the light of the world. How might you see the light of Jesus in your life today? Do you see the light of Jesus in a sunrise or a sunset? Do you see the light of Jesus in the smile on a child’s face? Do you see the light of Jesus in the face of someone in need when they receive help? Or perhaps you see the light of Jesus in a candle on the altar and the glow of light that shines on the little baby in the manger.

Our reading from Isaiah refers to the coming of Christ as well. We hear, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” It is another way that God informs us about the Messiah. We look forward to the coming of Jesus just as the Israelites did so long ago. The good news for us is that Jesus is already here.

The apostle Paul continued this message. He was selected by God, changed by God’s actions from one who persecuted the followers of Jesus to one who proclaimed the good news of Jesus. Paul was chosen to bring the good news to the Gentiles. Paul wrote about how “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” 

Paul wrote that he was, “to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

We also experience that revelation of Jesus through God’s presence in our lives and through our own revelation. God’s secret plan, Paul wrote, is that we are all co-heirs of God’s glory in Jesus. That same message is meant for us. And yet, in the light sent by God and in the light of Jesus, we find fear and jealousy.   King Herod was not happy. He thought Jesus was a threat to his kingdom. Herod set a trap for the baby, trying to get the help of the wise men. But God was ready for that threat to Jesus. God communicated with the wise men in a dream and they must leave Bethlehem in another way. Herod must have been furious but God protected his son. Sometimes God protects the weak and the innocent. Sometimes God deals with fear and jealousy.

I find that God is present and active in our lives. God shares the good news of Jesus with us. God is there for every person regardless of where they come from. Let us join the three wise men and offer our homage to the Son of God. They brought gold and frankincense and myrrh. What might you bring? Let us rejoice for the glory of God. Let us look to see how the Light of Christ may change us in wonderful ways. Amen.

 

Last modified on Friday, 11 January 2019 21:52

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  • Philippians 1:29
    “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,”