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01.05.14 Whose Star Guides Our Lives Matthew 2.1-12 Sermon Summary

by on January 6, 2014

What do the Magi have to teach us about following God today?

Summary Points

  • The Magi vs. the Chief Priests and Scribes
  • The Magi vs. King Herod
  • The question this passage asks us
  • The one stable thing in life
  • God’s light shining today
  • Questions for Discussion and Reflection

The Magi are among those “one scene” actors in the Bible that suddenly appear and then are gone. All we know about them is that they were “from the East” and that they “went home by another way.” But their short stint on the biblical stage is a powerful one, for they represent the contrast to other characters whom we come to know much better.

Take for example the Chief Priests and Scribes. King Herod summons them to his chambers after the Magi inquire about the birthplace of the new king. They consult the Bible and the traditions and conclude that the Messiah comes from Bethlehem.

Here you have the religious authorities full of knowledge about the scripture and tradition, but apparently not full of wisdom. For they keep looking back at the Bible and tradition, and not forward to what God is doing today. Ignoring the testimony of the Magi, those foreign star-gazers, the Chief Priests and Scribes stay in Jerusalem.

By contrast you have the Magi. They are astrologers and dreamers, which means they are open to new things, new revelations. They are open even to leaving their own countries and religions and inquiring about Jesus. They obviously respect the scripture and tradition, for they go to Jerusalem in their search. They hear a key text about Bethlehem from the religious authorities, but they are also guided by a star and a dream.

God doesn’t just use the Bible or the tradition to guide us. The wise among us are open to God’s guidance in other ways and in other directions also.

King Herod provides another contrast to the Magi. Herod is a schemer. Last week we talked about his murderous power grabbing ambitions. Herod uses religion to bolster his political position. It doesn’t matter if it’s Judaism or the religion of the Magi, if he can gain from it politically he’ll do so.

Herod wants the Magi to report back to him when they find the child Jesus. He isn’t committed enough either to the Chief Priests and Scribes or to the testimony of the Magi to go see himself. He sends delegates to go and report back to him. His motive, we find out later, is not to worship the new king, but to kill him.

By contrast, the Magi are seeking the new king in order to “pay him homage.” Even though they are not Jews, they act like Abraham, the father of the Jews, who left his home country and went to the land God would show him. They bring him symbolic gifts—gold representing personal wealth, frankincense representing worship, and myrrh representing self-sacrifice. But before they offer Jesus these gifts, they bow down and worship. For in Jesus Christ, the Magi recognized the presence of God.

Whose star guides your life? We are all followers of something. All of us look for guidance. There is a star, or perhaps a constellation of stars, leading each of our lives. God has designed us this way. It is in our nature to follow a star.

Our star might be our profession—everything else is oriented around that. Our star might be a social circle or a constellation of friends we’re trying to impress. Our star might amusing ourselves with entertainment or adventure. It might be our hobbies. Like the Chief Priests and Scribes, our star might be our religion. Like Herod, our star might be a particular political ideology.

All of us are following a star, a king, a kingdom. The question the Magi pose to us is, Are they worthy of our following? Are the stars we follow worthy of our gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Are they worthy of our hard-earned rewards, our devotion, and self-sacrifice?

This passage is full of movement. The Magi’s journey, Herod’s convening the meeting, the prophecy beginning to be realized. Some people are filled with awe and desire to worship, others are filled with fear and anxiety. The star appears, disappears, moves, and rests. The Magi run for their lives.

At the center of all this movement is the Christ Child. All the religious journeying, the scripture searching, the political maneuvering, the fear and anxiety—it all eventually comes to rest in one place—in worship before Christ. The stories of our lives pause here, in worship.

It’s why every Sunday we take a break from our journeys to pay homage to Christ. We turn over our gold, we offer ourselves in worship, then we give of ourselves for another week.

The result is that God’s light still shines today. Through us, the people of God, the light of Jesus shines. That’s why Isaiah says, “Arise! You shine! For your light has come!” When we, the people of God, live more like the kingdom of Christ rather than the kingdom of Herod, the light shines today.

And it is by the shining of this light that others will come to find their peace in Jesus Christ also. A shining light is winsome, not forceful. It is inviting, not demanding. It is attractive, it draws others. The Magi followed a star, they didn’t follow military might or political promises of prosperity. They followed a shining light.

We are that light when we walk in that light. We walk in that light when we worship in that light, when we follow that same star to Jesus Christ, when we trade in our earthly kings and kingdoms for the heavenly one.

All of us can be wise, when we do like the Magi did, and let the light of Christ be the star that guides our lives.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What are the stars in your life, the guiding lights around which you orient your decisions? Besides those listed in the sermon, what about convenience, low cost, conflict avoidance, bad habits, tradition, . . .
  • Hard question: how might the Bible and tradition be keeping you from recognizing and following God’s revelation in your life?
  • How are you offering to Jesus: gold (adding something of value to your church); frankincense (your emotional devotion); and myrrh (your self-giving, even self-sacrificing for others)?
  • How active is your life? How chaotic? Is there a place and a time during which you can return to the stable center and remember Christ, Emmanuel, God with you?
  • In what ways is Christ’s light still shining in your life? How do you reflect the presence of God through Christ in your every day?



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