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Advent #7 - Wise Men

The Wise Men and JOY

Advent Message #7 of 7 - 2018-2019

Mary, chosen by God to be the mother of the Savior of the world.

Joseph, chosen by God to help Mary raise the Savior of the world. 

An innkeeper and his wife, chosen by God to be the ones to give a place for the birth of the Savior of the world.

Shepherds in a field, chosen by God to be the first to hear about the birth of and then visit the Savior of the world.

An angel and the Heavenly host, chosen by God to announce to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds the good news of the arrival of the Savior of the world.

The first four Sundays in December, and on Christmas Eve, we had the privilege of thinking about all those people and angels, each one important in the report of the birth of Jesus. Each one obedient to the role God had for them in His plan to bring the offer of salvation to the world.

Last Sunday, we had the privilege of thinking about Simeon and Anna, chosen by God to have the honor of meeting the Savior of the world, that happening when Jesus was about six weeks old. Simeon had some unsettling words about Jesus, predicting He would suffer, which, Simeon added, would cause Mary to suffer, but he recognized Jesus as the Savior of the world. Anna told others that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

Today, one more group important in the report of the birth of Jesus. A group that traveled many, many miles to meet Him. The group known as the Wise Men.

A few questions concerning the Wise Men.

How many miles did the Wise Men travel to meet the Savior of the world? About a thousand miles. All the way from the Persian Empire, to the east of Israel. The Persian Empire is now the nation of Iran.

Why did the Wise Men make that thousand-mile journey? One night, they noticed something in the sky. For them, the western sky. Something none of them had ever seen before. A new star.

Why did they notice the star? They studied the sky all the time. It was one of the things they did as highly educated people. The Wise Men of the Persian Empire studied lots of other things, too, including philosophy and medicine. Such studying was critical to the Empire because the wise men were the teachers of Persian rulers and their families. 

This, too, is important. The Wise Men of Persia also studied various religions. Including the Jewish faith.

It was their study of the Jewish faith that let the Wise Men know there was, at that time in history, a feeling among the Jews that a Savior was about to come. I was their study of the Jewish faith that let them know Heavenly phenomena are sometimes how God announces things. It was their study of astronomy that let them know about a new star. A star off to the west they had never before seen. A star not recorded as ever appearing throughout recorded history.

One night, Wise Men in the Persian Empire saw a new star, interpreted to be a miracle of God, shining over where the land of Israel was located. They took that to mean that the hoped-for Savior of the Jews - a new King for them - had arrived.

Remember when we talked about the shepherds who heard the first announcement of Jesus’ birth? The point was made that they could have let the excitement of the announcement of an angel given to them and the praising of the multitude of the Heavenly host quickly die. The same can be said concerning the Wise Men. The star was exciting. The meaning of the star was amazing. The Wise Men could have just recorded what they saw and their interpretation of it and let it go at that.

However, just as the shepherds did something - they made the decision to go and meet the one announced to them - so the Wise Men did something. They made the decision to go and meet the one the new star announced.

For the shepherds, it was a six-mile journey. For the Wise Men, it was much longer. As mentioned, the distance between Persia and Israel was about a thousand miles.

It is likely not all the Wise Men in the Persian Empire made the journey. I assume some stayed behind to continue their teaching assignments and their studies.

But some Wise Men - the Bible does not say how many, though it is tradition that says the number was three - did travel from the Persian Empire to Israel. Again, a distance of about 1000 miles.

It no doubt took some time for the Wise Men to make arrangements for the journey. They had to plan for substitute teachers. They had their camels to get ready. They had to pack - clothes, food, and water, not only for the 1000 miles to Israel, but also the 1000 miles back. They had to say their goodbyes to their families and friends.

In addition, 2000 years ago, it took quite a while to travel a thousand miles. All that to say it is at least implied it was at least close to two years after the birth of Jesus before the Wise Men arrived in Israel.

Once there, they went to Jerusalem, which makes sense. The Wise Men interpreted the star as being an announcement of the arrival of the Savior of the Jews, referred to as a King. Where else would they expect to find such a one other than in Jerusalem, which was the capital city of the Jewish nation?

The Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem, expecting much excitement in the city. However, there was no excitement. There was just the normal day-to-day-type mood.

So the Wise Men began asking a question. They asked  individuals and crowds of people, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? We know He is around here somewhere for we have seen His star. We want to find Him because we have come to worship Him.”

The Wise Men asked that question over and over again. Over and over, the Jews in Jerusalem had no answer. They knew nothing about a new king. They knew no king but Herod, the ruler who had been put in place many years earlier by the emperor of the Roman Empire.

Eventually it was reported to King Herod what the Wise Men were asking. With that report, the mood in Jerusalem changed. It changed to a troubled mood because Herod became troubled. Herod became troubled because he was the king and had no plans to stop being the king.

Herod had a history of violence when he was troubled, so it was that in the city of Jerusalem, when news of the Wise Men’s question reached the king, the mood was one of being troubled.

Like the people, Herod knew nothing about a new king, but he wanted to know. So he called many of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to a meeting. Since the one he wanted to know about had been identified as a new king of the Jews, who better to ask than Jewish leaders? He called together the chief priests and scribes.

Herod asked those Jewish leaders where “the Christ was to be born.” Do we hear that?Herod asked about “the Christ.” Did he know - did he at least sense - that the new king was the Christ, which means the one anointed by God to be the Messiah? The Savior of the world? 

“Where,” Herod asked, “was the Christ was to be born.”

The answer? According to Old Testament Scripture, He was to be born in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was and still is just 5 or 6 miles south of Jerusalem. That is where Scripture predicted the Christ was to be born. That was the answer the Jewish leaders gave Herod, who then called the Wise Men to a meeting, at which Herod told the Wise Men that Bethlehem was be be the birth place of the Christ.

Herod then asked the Wise Men when they had seen the star that had prompted their journey. The Wise Men gave the answer that it had been two years since they had seen the star. 

With that, Herod invited the Wise Men to go to Bethlehem. To go and search for the boy until they found Him. Herod also invited them to report back to him to tell him where the boy was. Herod said he needed the information because he, too, wanted to worship the new king.

The Wise Men left Jerusalem, bound for Bethlehem. As they went, something very spectacular happened. The star which they had seen two years earlier - the star they had seen when they had been in the Persian Empire hat had prompted their thousand-mile journey to Israel - suddenly shone again.

This time, it did not just appear. It moved. It led them right to the place - to the house - where Jesus was.

Remember Herod had instructed the Wise Men to search for the one they sought. The wording was to search “diligently.” The Wise Men did not have to search at all. The star led them to the very house where Jesus was.

When the Wise Men saw the star, they rejoiced. They did so exceedingly with great joy because it proved their journey had been worthwhile.

They then entered the house where Jesus was. In the house, they saw Jesus with Mary. Before Jesus, they fell down and worshiped.

They worshiped. How amazing is that? The Wise Men were important in the Persian Empire. Their studies and their teaching made them important. But they fell down and worshiped Jesus.

Interestingly, they had not done that for Herod, who had been king for a very long time. The Wise Men fell down and worshiped Jesus, thereby proving they knew Jesus was the Christ.

Then, as was the custom in the culture from where they had come, the Wise Men presented gifts to the young Savior. Gifts they had brought with them on their journey.

One gift was gold, which is a gift fit for a king.

Another gift was frankincense, which is a gift fit for a priest. Frankincense was used by priests in religious ceremonies. The smell of the incense was believed to be so pleasing to God He would more likely answer prayers.

A third gift was myrrh, which was a gift fit for someone about to die. Myrrh was a spice used in preparing bodies for burial.

The gifts are important because each one proclaimed something about who Jesus is. Jesus is a king. Jesus is a priest. Jesus was going to die as the sacrifice for sins.

I wonder how long the Wise Men visited Jesus and Mary. Joseph was around, too. They may have stayed a while to justify their long journey, but eventually it was time for them to head back home.

Remember what Herod had told them. He had invited the Wise Men to return to him after finding Jesus, to report to him where the child was.

Because of what Herod had said, the Wise Men most certainly planned to visit Jerusalem on their thousand-mile journey back home. However, one night, each of the Wise Men had a dream. The same dream, in which they were told to not return to Herod.

To disobey Herod would at the least be discourteous. At worst, disobedience would be dangerous. But the Wise Men chose to do what they had been told in the dream. So they departed for home - they left for the Persian Empire - by another way, thereby avoiding the follow up meeting with Herod.

That is the report about the Wise Men who visited Jesus. Jesus, no longer a baby, but a young boy. A boy no longer living in a barn, but in a house.

However, there is a very tragic thing that happened sometime after that visit.

Eventually, Herod picked up on the fact the Wise Men were not going to return to him, which caused his troubled spirit to go ballistic. So much so that he ordered the deaths of all the young boys two years of age and younger, which coincided with when the Wise Men had seen the star, in Bethlehem, which is where, Herod had learned, the new king was supposed to have been born.

Herod did not know which young boy in Bethlehem was to be the new king. He could not single out that one. So he ordered that all the young boys in that town be killed. He added young boys in the area around Bethlehem in case the family had moved to the country.

The order was carried out. How many were killed, we do not know. Remember Bethlehem was a little town. The surrounding area could not have been very populated either. So the number of deaths might have been small. But even one death was sad.

As we know, Jesus was not one of the young boys killed. Before the murdering began, Joseph was told in a dream to take Jesus and Mary away. To take them to Egypt. Which he did. So Jesus survived. But what a violent reaction Herod had toward Jesus.

It seems important to note that reactions to Jesus even today are sometimes violent. At least negative. 

That is not a universal reaction. There are many of us who believe in Jesus as the Savior He was born to become. More and more accept Him, including worldwide, all the time. 

It is good to know that. It is good to be among those who are dedicated to knowing and obeying the Lord.

Yet there are others who fight against Jesus.At least some of them seek t0 do harm to those who believe in Jesus.The New Testament writer James knew that, but listen to what he wrote in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 1 of James, which was not gloom and doom, but rather a challenge.

“Count it all joy when you meet various trials.”

Really? Trials are difficult. “Various” trials reminds us those opposed to Jesus can attack us in a number of ways. Joy? What is joyful about suffering?

Yes, “count it all joy when you meet various trials.” Why?” For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Unwavering loyalty, in our case to Jesus. 

The Wise Men had steadfastness, seen in their decision to avoid Herod after meeting Jesus.

Anna and Simeon had steadfastness, seen in their willingness to announce that Jesus is the Savior. 

An angel and the Heavenly host had steadfastness, seen in their willingness to interrupt a dark night with the joyous announcement of Jesus’ birth.

The shepherds had steadfastness, seen in their willingness to leave their sheep for as long as was needed to meet Jesus, despite the risk that some might have wondered who they thought they were to even pretend to know about the Savior.

An innkeeper and his wife had steadfastness, seen in their willingness to let Mary and Joseph have shelter the night Jesus was born.

Joseph had steadfastness, which was critical. Otherwise, he would not have been able to withstand the grief he faced when he decided to obey God and stay with Mary. The grief of being falsely accused of immorality and/or laughed at for staying with a woman pregnant with someone else’s baby.

Mary had steadfastness, which she needed in order to obey God’s plan for her to be the mother of the Savior of the world.

Will we be steadfast, individually and as a congregation? Will we allow that quality to grow in us if and when we suffer at the hands of those who do not understand or disagree with our faith? We do not have to like problems, any more than Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and the Wise Men liked the negatives they faced. But, like them, let’s be willing to know and obey God’s plan. To Him be glory and honor, now and forevermore. 

Today’s closing song is Come, All Christians, Be Committed. We will sing verses 1, 2, and 4.

Come, all Christians, be committed

To the service of the Lord.

Make your lives for Him more fitted,

Tune your hearts with one accord.

Come into His courts with gladness,

Each His sacred vows renew,

Turn away from sin and sadness,

Be transformed with life anew.

Of your time and talents give ye,

They are gifts from God above,

To be used by Christians freely

To proclaim His wondrous love.

Come again to serve the Savior,

Tithes and offerings with you bring.

In your work, with Him find favor,

And with joy His praises sing.

Come in praise and adoration,

All who on Christ’s name believe.

Worship Him with consecration,

Grace and love will you receive.

For His grace give Him the glory,

For the Spirit and the Word,

And repeat the Gospel story

Until all His name have heard.

Mary and Joseph, an innkeeper and his wife, shepherds, angels, and the Heaven host, Simeon and Anna, the Wise Men. Each of them put Jesus first. Each of them helped Jesus to come and be known by others. Thereby, each of them had the privilege of being steadfast.

Jesus first, others second, yourself last. That spells JOY. May our JOY continue all through this new year. Amen.

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