Let Us Listen

January 6, 2019 (Epiphany)

Service for the Lord’s Day with Holy Communion

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Matthew 2:1-12

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:1-6, NRSV)

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 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.”  3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”  7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:1-12, NRSV)

Let us pray: O God of light and peace, whose glory, shining in the child of Bethlehem, still draws the nations to yourself: dispel the darkness that shrouds our path, that we may come to kneel before Christ in true worship, offer him our hearts and souls, and return from his presence to live as he has taught. Amen.

It is hard getting back to reality after the Christmas season this year.   Not that any year is easy to come back to reality following the highs of Christmas, but this year seems much harder!  I wanted to hold on to the excitement and the hope and the joy of, yet another beautiful Christmas Eve this year with four beautiful services followed by the wonder of Christmas morning.  I wanted to stay in the comfort of my family.  Of course, none of that can last.  Family time can get old when we stay too long.  The excitement and hope of Christmas morning cannot be sustained much past noon.  And I certainly cannot continue to eat like I did for the last few weeks.  Reality has come back and come back way to fast!  Listening is important in life and in faith and it helps to listen to the familiar story of the three wisemen to ease the harshness of reality. 

It is story for all the senses.  You can see this story in your mind, you can feel this story, but one of the most often overlooked parts of this story is the listening.  I want us to notice that the wisemen listened and it is something to pay very close attention too.  Listening is important in life and in faith.

Many centuries ago, these wise men living in the Eastern lands of the ancient world, probably from Persia, which is modern day Iran.   Were fascinated by an amazing sight in the night sky, the rising of a new star, or maybe it was a comet blazing brightly across dark winter sky.  They knew this brilliant light was no normal star, it had to be a sign that something momentous had happened.

We won’t sing it today but the Christmas carol “We three kings of Orient are…” is technically incorrect because they weren’t kings.  More than likely they were philosophers and astrologers, some scholars believe they were Zoroastrian priests.  But whoever they were, these wise men kept watch on the night sky.  Looking for signs and clues in the heavens above. 

So, Matthew tells us that just as Jesus was born, they saw this new star rising in the western sky over Judea, the land of the Jews.  Using all their powers of analysis and interpretation, they determined that this star was a sign that a new king had been born.

Intrigued, these wise men wanted to find out who this king was, and they wanted to pay him respect.  So, they set out toward the west in the direction of Judea and they followed the bright star in the sky.  The bible doesn’t tell us how they traveled but our imaginations tell us they had to have ridden camels because what else do you travel in the desert?  Matthew tells us when they reached the city of Jerusalem, they immediately went to Herod’s palace.  Herod was the only king in that region.  So, it made perfect sense for these Iranian Magi to show up at Herod’s palace asking to see the new king.  Now this is where the story gets interesting.

Apparently, Herod didn’t watch the stars or listen to his advisors who did because he was totally unaware of any new king.  Neither did he know what the wise men were talking about.  As he listened to them, he was filled with fear.  Acting on his fear he orders his soldiers to destroy the threat and kill all the boys in Bethlehem, 2 years old and under.  While Herod was afraid the Wisemen, were filled with intrigue and as they listened, they wanted to see this miraculous event. They listened as Herod told them to go to Bethlehem, and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.[1] The wisemen left the palace and followed the star that led them directly to Bethlehem and the stable where they found the baby.

What they did not know was that this baby, this new king born in Judea was not only the King of the Jews, but actually the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the savior of all, and his name was Jesus.

So, when the wisemen entered the stable, they bowed down before the infant Jesus and offered him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  What kind of gifts are those?  Scholars think that frankincense was presented to the infant Jesus to symbolize his later role as a high priest for believers while myrrh symbolized his later death and burial.

We don’t know much about the wisemen, except they were outsiders, Iranian astrologers, it is believed that they traveled well over 1,000 miles to come and worship the king.  While King Herod, an insider, was scared by the threat of a baby, a mere 6 miles away in Bethlehem.  But these strange foreign pagan wisemen were unafraid and followed the star and found the king.  As much as we might want to see these Wise Men as innocent and uninformed immigrant travelers, they are so much more. They bear witness to the new king, the real king, even though they not born into the faith, or raised in the faith, they believe.  They trust their own experience, their own encounter, their own epiphany.  They understand that there just might be more to the story than what they have been told.  And therein lies the heart of our Christian faith.[2]  They followed the star because they listened, they keep on going and found the real king.  Listening is important in life and in faith.

It is especially important for us here at IHC beginning a New Year to listen.  We, the Vestry Session will be presenting a new plan for the mission and ministry of our church.  It is a positive plan for growth and discipleship.  It is a plan to streamline policies and procedures, build on our strengths and improve our growth areas. All of this is to say that a major component of this year we will need to listen, listen to each other, and most especially listen for God. Listening is important in life and in faith.

What will you and I listen for this year? Frederick Buechner the American writer and theologian encourages us to, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is.  In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” There is no event, no moment that God is not present.[3]

How appropriate that we start 2019 off in the church with Holy Communion.  How fitting to begin a New Year with breaking bread together, not alone, not distant, but together, around Christ’s table.  For it is in a community of faith where we help each other listen and find the holy, the meaningful, the hopes to sustain us this new year and beyond.  What a blessing to remind each other that Christ died for you and for me so that we might have life, abundant life both now and forever.  Christmas might be gone for another 353 days, but the peace and joy and hope remain.  Listening is important in life and in faith, so let us listen to our lives and for God.

Let us pray

[1] Matthew 2:9, NRSV

[2] Reverend Dr. Caroline Lewis

[3] Reverend Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner Page 2, (1992)