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Advent 2015 - Worship Message - "Believe"

Believe

2015 Advent Message #4 !!

Throughout the Advent season, we have thought about many of the people and some
angels involved with the birth of Jesus. We have thought about Mary and Joseph, the
angel Gabriel who gave Mary the message of her role in the coming of Jesus, and the
angel who talked Joseph into staying with Mary, despite the fact Mary’s baby was not
his. We have thought about the shepherds, the angel who told them the Savior had been
born, and the multitude of the Heavenly host who joined the angel in praising God and
celebrating Jesus’ birth. !
We have of course also talked about Jesus, but today, we are going to think about one
more group important to Christmas. That group were the Wise Men, who are told about
in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. !
We will get to Matthew 2 in just a moment, but first, let’s think about who the Wise Men
were. !
The Wise Men lived in what was at that time the Persian Empire, which is Iran today. !
The Wise Men’s heritage was not Persian, but Median. Sometime in the past, the
Persians had conquered the Medes. So those people - the Medes - were part of the
Persian Empire. !
Sometime after the conquering, the Medes, not wanting to be controlled by the Persians,
rebelled. !
The rebellion failed, and usually throughout history and even today, those who rebel, if
they fail, have been or are killed. So it would have been expected that Persia would have
annihilated all the Medes following the rebellion. But for some reason, that did not
happen. !
That was a strange twist. Another twist was that the Medes did not try a second
rebellion. Instead, they turned their attention to scholarly and religious pursuits. !
The Medians - the men anyway - studied a wide variety of subjects, including
philosophy, medicine, natural science, and astronomy and religion. The study by some
of the Median men was so intense and included so many subjects, they became known
as Wise Men.
The Wise Men were so educated - so learned - they became teachers of others, especially
those who were the children of the Persian rulers.
Concerning religion, the Wise Men became so devoted - so religious - they were
accepted as priests. So much so that it came to be the practice, if not the law, that no
religious sacrifices were allowed anywhere in the Persian Empire unless a Wise Man was
present. !
Again, the Wise Men studied many, many subjects, but as we get to Matthew 2, it was
the subjects of astronomy and religion that have the most relevance because one night,
the Wise Men saw a star in the sky they had never seen before. !
Because of their study of astronomy, the Wise Men looked at the sky every night, so
something different would have caught their attention. That night, what they saw was
brighter than any other star they had ever seen in the sky. And where was the star? It
was off to the west, seemingly hanging right over Palestine, which especially attracted
the attention of the Wise Men because there was, at that time, an expectation among the
Jewish people that a new king was about to come to save them. An expectation the Wise
Men knew about because of their study of religion. All religions, including the Jewish
faith. !
The Wise Men, knowing the religious expectations of the Jewish people and that night
seeing a new, very bright star in the sky off toward Palestine, which was the homeland of
the Jewish people, put two and two together and came up with the conclusion that
maybe the new king had arrived. That the star was the sign of that arrival. That the star
was God’s announcement He had sent the Savior to His people. !
How did the Wise Men react to the new sight? They could have treated the star as just
an interesting phenomenon to write about in their journals. They could have had only
an intellectual curiosity about what they saw. Instead, they decided to go check out the
one the star announced. They decided to travel to where the object was shining. !
That was their decision, despite the sacrifices that would be involved with that decision.
It was almost a thousand miles from where they were in Persian Empire to Palestine,
which would make it a long, time-consuming journey there and back. Additional time
would be necessary to get ready to travel. There would be considerable expense with
such a long journey. They would have to leave family and friends. They would have to
take a leave of absence from the work they did in the Empire.
Sacrifices would be required, but the decision was to go see about the king they assumed
the new object in the sky announced. !
I do not think all the Wise Men in the Persian Empire made the trip. Some had to stay in
Persia to continue to study and teach and oversee religious ceremonies. But some did
go. Some Wise Men made the sacrifices needed to travel from the Persian Empire to
Palestine. !
When the arrived in the land of the Jewish people, the Wise Men went to Jerusalem, the
capital city of the Jewish people.
!
That was the logical place to go to meet a new king, but when the Wise Men arrived, they
found no celebrations. So they had to ask about the new king. They asked, “Where is He
who has been born king of the Jews. For we saw His star when we were back east in
Persia. We have come to worship Him, but we need to know where He is. Does anyone
know?” !
Apparently no one knew. That must have been the case because the Wise Men asked so
many people so many times that eventually King Herod - the Roman ruler of the area -
heard about the question being asked by visitors to the city. !
When Herod the king heard about the question about a new king, he was troubled. !
Of course, many rulers worry about rivals to their power. That is eased in this country
because of our electoral system. Our change overs of authority have always been
peaceful. But many other places, including in the case of King Herod, there was and is
the possibility of leadership being overthrown. !
Because of that, many rulers, including King Herod, made a practice of getting rid of
those even suspected of being dangerous. During his reign, King Herod had already
killed five family members he did not trust. There were other cases when he had
potential rivals outside his family rounded up and disposed of. That is how jealous
Herod was. !
So it was that Herod was troubled. So it was that everyone else in Jerusalem got
troubled. When the Wise Men’s question reached Herod, the people knew he would
become jealous. The people of Jerusalem knew very well how violently Herod reacted
when he was jealous. The people braced themselves for Herod’s violent response. !
However, Herod’s response was not violent. Instead, it was inquisitive. At least that is
how it appeared to be. !
Herod assembled the chief priests and the scribes of the Jewish people - the religious
leaders of the Jews. He inquired of them where the Christ - where the one about whom
the Wise Men asked - was, according to Jewish Scripture, to be born. !
The religious leaders told Herod the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem.
As often as I read that answer, I am amazed. !
Remember on the night Jesus was born, the glory of the Lord shone around some
shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem, which was just five or six miles south of
Jerusalem. People in Jerusalem, perhaps even some of those religious leaders, must
have seen the light that night. At least it would have been reported, so they would at
least have heard about it. !
And remember the shepherds, after having gone to see Jesus, had excitedly told others
about Him. They were excited enough to have made quite a ruckus, which also must
have been reported in Jerusalem, especially since the sheep those shepherds tended
were probably eventually taken to Jerusalem for Temple sacrifices, perhaps by the
shepherds themselves, who would still have been talking about meeting Jesus. !
The point is that those Jewish leaders also knew the expectation of a new king coming,
They knew the new king was to be born in Bethlehem. They had to have seen or at least
heard about what happened in and near Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. !
All that, and they were still in Jerusalem, rather than in Bethlehem worshiping the new
king they themselves hoped for and wanted. !
I am amazed at the lack of action on the part of the Jewish leaders, but that is the way it
was. !
After the meeting between Herod and the Jewish leaders, Herod called the Wise Men to
a meeting. He said to them he understood they were looking for a new king of the Jews.
He told them he had asked around and found out such a king was to be born in
Bethlehem. He hinted they should check there. !
Before dismissing the Wise Men, Herod said three more things. He asked them when
they had seen the star. He invited them to go to Bethlehem and search for the new king -
the one who had recently been born to become the new king. He then asked the Wise
Men, after they had found the new king, to return to Jerusalem and tell him where the
new king was. Herod, still on his good behavior, said he wanted that information so he,
too, could go and worship the new king. !
When they were dismissed, the Wise Men left for Bethlehem. Interestingly, they went by
themselves, which is interesting for two reasons. !
First, the Wise Men were foreign visitors. Proper protocol would have been for Herod to
send envoys with the Wise Men. That would have been the politically correct thing to do,
but Herod did not send envoys with them. !
Second, remember Herod was known for his jealousy, which should have caused him to
at least send spies to follow the Wise Men to see where they went, to check up on them,
and to make sure they obeyed the request - the instruction - to report back to Herod
later. !
The Wise Men should have been accompanied or at least followed, but they traveled
alone. !
On the way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, an amazing thing happened. The star the
Wise Men had seen when they had been back in the Persian Empire - the object that had
attracted their attention - appeared again.
!
And this time, it did not just appear and hang in place. It moved. It went before the Wise
Men until it came to rest over the place Jesus was. No longer a barn or a cave, but a
house. That is where the star stopped. !
Think how important the star was. !
Do you suppose the Wise Men got discouraged as they traveled to Palestine? Again, it
was a long journey. It was an expensive journey. It certainly changed their normal
routine. Do you suppose they at least occasionally wondered if the time and expense
were worth it? Indeed the star had been important in the first place? !
If they had been discouraged, that negative feeling must have grown when they arrived
in Jerusalem and found no knowledge - not even any interest - in anything about a new
king. Maybe their journey was pointless. !
And then being sent to Bethlehem, which was away from the capital city. That must have
been confusing. !
But the star reappeared. What a wonderful sight it must have been. What an
encouragement to the Wise Men that their trip was not a lark. !
Plus, the movement of the star kept them from having to search for the one they sought.
They were led right to where He was. What a miracle the heavenly object was. A miracle
by which the Wise Men found Jesus. !
When the Wise Men entered the house Jesus was in, they worshiped Him. !
Think of that. The Wise Men were educated. They were important. They were rich,
which their gifts were about to display. They were obviously a lot older than Jesus. But
they worshiped the child - the new king. They worshiped Him because they knew the
one who had been born had come to save God’s people. !
And yes, they did give Jesus gifts. Gifts they had brought with them on their nearly
thousand mile journey. !
One of the Wise Men gave Jesus some gold, which means they knew he was a king. !
Another Wise Man gave Jesus some frankincense. That was a gift appropriate for a
priest, which meant they knew Jesus would be a priest - the one needed to take people’s
cares, concerns, and prayers to God. !
A third Wise Man gave Jesus some myrrh, which was a spice used back then to anoint
the body of a person who had died. Isn’t that gift interesting? The Wise Men knew, even
though they were from another culture and another religious background, that to save
God’s people, the new king was going to die. That that kind of a sacrifice was going to be
required. !
The Wise Men worshiped Jesus. They gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After
which they left, which we are going to think about in a moment or two. Before that, here
is today’s Christmas story, which is related to giving gifts. One particular gift. A gift we
can all give Jesus, even if we are not rich enough to give gold, frankincense, or myrrh. !
Mike was a 10-year-old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter, middle-aged woman
greatly annoyed with the burden of having to care for her dead sister's son. She never
failed to remind young Mike that if it was not for her generosity, he would be a vagrant,
homeless waif. Still, with all the scolding and demeaning at home, he was a sweet and
gentle child. !
Mike’s teacher in school admits she had not noticed him much until he began staying
after school each day. As the teacher found out later, Mike staying after school risked
arousing his aunt's anger, but he stayed anyway to help the teacher straighten up the
room. !
Mike and his teacher did not speak much during the after-school times, but each seemed
to enjoy the solitude of that time. When they did talk, Mike spoke mostly of his mother.
Though he was quite young when she had died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving
woman who always spent time with him. !
As Christmas drew near, there was a change. Mike stopped staying after school. The
teacher had come to look forward to his staying, so when the days passed and he
continued to leave the room in a hurry, one day she stopped him and asked him why he
no longer helped her in the room. The teacher told Mike she missed him. !
Mike’s large brown eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, “Did you really miss me?” !
The teacher said, “Yes,” and explained how he had been her best helper. !
“I was making you a surprise,” Mike whispered confidentially. “It's for Christmas.” With
that, he became embarrassed and ran from the room. He did not stay after school any
more after that. Finally came the last school day before Christmas. Mike crept slowly
into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back.
“I have your present,” he said timidly when the teacher looked up. “I hope you like
it.” He held out his hands, and there lying in his small palms was a tiny box made of
scraps of wood. !
“It's beautiful, Mike,” the teacher said. “Is there something in it?” she asked, opening the
top to look inside. !
“Oh, you can't see what's in it,” Mike replied. “And you can't touch it or taste it or feel it,
but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights and safe
when you're all alone.” !
The teacher gazed into the box, which was empty. “What is it, Mike,” she asked gently,
‘“that will make me feel so good?” !
“It's love,” he whispered softly, “and mother always said it's best when you give it away.” !
Mike turned and quietly left the room. From then, at least to the time of the story, the
teacher kept the small box made of scraps of wood on the piano in her living room. She
smiles whenever inquiring friends raise quizzical eyebrows. She then explains to them
there is love in it. !
Why did the Wise Men give Jesus gifts? Because they knew who He was. They believed
who He was, “believing’ being the key word for today. They gave Him gifts because they
loved Him for who He was. Who He still is. !
And again, we may not be rich enough to give Jesus precious metals or valuable incense
or expensive perfume, but we can give Him love, which, as Mike’s mother had explained
to him, makes the recipient - in this case, Jesus - feel good. !
* * * * * !
Remember the Wise Men had been instructed by Herod to return to Jerusalem and tell
him where the new king was. !
I am sure the Wise Men intended to do that. After all, it was someone with authority
who had asked them to do that. And Herod had been on good behavior. He had asked
nicely. And he had said he wanted to worship the new king. That was a good thing. !
I am sure the Wise Men intended to return to Jerusalem, but shortly after leaving Jesus,
they each had a dream, in which they were warned to not return to Herod. !
The Wise Men obeyed the warning. Instead of going straight north to Jerusalem, they
veered to the northeast, leaving for the Persian Empire that way. !
Eventually Herod figured out the Wise Men had disobeyed him. The result was a very
violent murder spree in which many baby boys in and around Bethlehem were killed. !
We are going to at least touch on that in a couple weeks, but for now, let me ask some
questions. !
First, will we believe in Jesus enough to go out of our way to meet Him like the Wise
Men went out of their way? Even if doing so causes us to have to make some sacrifices,
will we go out of our way for Jesus? If you are not a Christian, going out of your way
means to accept Him as the Savior He came to earth to be. The Savior you need. For
those of us who are Christians, going out of our way might mean to look for continued
opportunities to serve Him or study about Him or tell others about Him.
Second, will we believe in Jesus enough to worship Him like the Wise Men did? Even if
you are smart and rich, important or older, or not any of those things, will you worship
Him? He is worthy of our worship. Will we worship Him? Will we keep worshiping
Him? !
Third, will we believe in Jesus enough to be like the Wise Men and give Him gifts?
Maybe not gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but again, if you are not a Christian, the gift
of your heart. Will you give Him the gift of accepting Him as your Savior? And then the
gifts of time and attention and study? And yes, some sharing of monetary resources for
His work to continue? !
May all of that show - may all of that be evidence of - the greatest gift of all, which is
your love. The story of Mike ends with these words. “Christmas is a time for gaiety,
mirth, song, and good and wondrous gifts, but mostly, Christmas is for love.” !
May we know Jesus’ love. In return, may we love Him and others. !
today’s closing carol is a summary of today’s passage. It is As with Gladness Men of Old.
As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold;
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright;
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee. !
As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed,
There to bend the knee before
Him who Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat. !
As they offered gifts most rare
At the manger rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our Heavenly King. !
Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need to star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide. !
Isaiah 60. “Arise, shine. For your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen
upon you.” !
That light is Jesus. May we believe in Him. May we show that belief in all we do. In all
we give Him, including our love for Him and for others, this season and beyond. Amen. !

 

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