Matthew 2:1–12, Isaiah 60:1–6
Most of you, I am sure, are familiar with the 12 Days of Christmas, right? “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.” OK. You know that song. But because of the way we in these United States celebrate Christmas, you might be hard pressed to know that the 12 days of Christmas actually run from Christmas day to – anyone want to take a guess? Do the math. Twelve days from December 25 takes you to – January 6. That’s today [tomorrow]. So the 12 days of Christmas run through to January 6 – the day we call Epiphany.
Couple of things that we associate with Epiphany. First – it’s the day that we associate with the coming of the wise men to visit the Christ child. And the second thing that comes to mind when we hear the word Epiphany is to remember what that word means. Epiphany is a revealing or a revelation. Think of it as an eye opening experience – or what I like to call – an “ah ha” moment – when suddenly – well maybe gradually – but usually suddenly something comes into focus – and you find yourself saying, “Ah ha! Now I get it.”
So, since the twelve days of Christmas don’t come to an end until today, let me ask you a question. How many of you still have your tree up? Good. A fair number of us do.
Now, let me ask another question. What is on the top of your tree? Is it a star or an angel? Star or angel? How many angel people? How many star? I would have thought there might be more star people. Because – you know – everybody wants to be a star.
Growing up, my parents always put a star on top of the tree. It had a little opening for a light bulb to fit through, so there was a lighted star on top of our tree. Nancy and I have had an angel on top of our tree for as long as I can remember.
Now you might not even know why you have one or the other on top of your tree. Most likely it’s tradition. Kind of a, “we’ve always done it that way,” kind of thing. But let me suggest to you that there is rich meaning behind the angel – behind the star – that you may or may not have on top of your tree.
Like the Christmas trees we have in our sanctuary. We have … oh…we don’t have a star or an angel. We have bows. Bows. You know, my wife Nancy will never give a gift – will never feel the wrapped package is complete unless it has a bow. So you know what a bow on top of the tree means? It means that God gave us the best gift that could ever be given – the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. Which is precisely what we celebrate each year at this time of year. But most likely you have either an angel or a star.
Biblically, the Angel represents those who had been waiting for the Messiah, waiting for a sign from God. So the Shepherds knew what the Angel meant when he told them about a Savior, a Messiah, born in Bethlehem.
And the Star was for those who were searching, for those who were still unsure, for those still with questions, for those on a quest to find out about this mystery and message from God wrapped up in human flesh and swaddling clothes.
May I suggest that God sent the angel – God sent the star because God always meets us where we are. He met the shepherds in their fields, watching their sheep.
Meanwhile, God met the Wise Men, these travelers and searchers from the East – as they searched the stars for answers to the meaning of life. These foreign travelers – these Gentiles – were among the first to witness this newborn Messiah, the Savior of the world because God chose to meet them where they were.
Now, we really don’t know where these wise men came from. We’re told they came from the east. So they could have been anywhere from, say, Babylon, or present day Iraq, to India, or maybe even China. We really don’t know. In fact we really don’t know much about them at all.
We are simply told that they came from the east. And – don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble – but we don’t know how many of them there were either. Could have been two, could have been a dozen. All the Bible says is that they brought three gifts: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. But they traveled to this tiny out of the way place called Bethlehem. And there God met them in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.
But here’s what I want you to see. God met these wise men – God met those shepherds – where they were. But God didn’t leave them where He found them.
Remember? The Angel's message to the shepherds had been so compelling that they went running with haste. They dropped everything and went into town to see this baby. And when they went back to their flocks, they went back changed. These were different men. They returned, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” Yes, these were different men.
And then the Wise Men from the east. They were looking for something. They weren't sure exactly what it was they were looking for. But they came seeking, and God sent them a star. They came seeking just like so many of us.
The Wise Men’s search for answers – for meaning – lead them to Bethlehem. And that is where they found what they were looking for.
But here’s the next thing I want you to see. Once they found what they were looking for God wouldn't let them return the same way they came. God warned them and sent them off on their way back home by another road.
God met the Wise Men where they were but God didn't leave them there. God brought them to Bethlehem on one road, but He sent them home by another road. Now this can serve as an illustration for us – a metaphor if you will – to describe what happens to you and me.
You see, God comes looking for us. He meets us where we are. And instead of using angels or stars – may I suggest that he uses other kinds of messengers – to meet us where we are. Now I believe God can use anything or anyone to grab our attention. But I believe that God most often uses believers – Christ followers – disciples of Jesus Christ – to get our attention. To meet us where we are. To lead us to the Savior. And once we have that life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ – call it an Epiphany – call it an “aha moment,” – our lives cannot be the same again. We come to Jesus as we are on one road – and we are touched and we are changed – and our lives continue on another road.
Let me tell you about another wise man, a wise man of our day, who like the wise men of old, was led by the stars and then lead home by another road. From a young age, Hugh Ross was consumed by the study of physics and astronomy. He devoured scientific texts, and found in them a knowledge that excited him. His studies of science and the order of the universe led Hugh to the belief that there had to be a Creator somewhere that set the whole thing in motion.
Let me ask you, have you ever had a conversation like that with yourself? You’ve looked at the stars – you’ve looked at the world around, you and you’ve asked, “Where did all this come from? How did all of this get here?” You know that you can’t get something from nothing, and you’ve concluded that there must be a supernatural power – let’s call it God – that must be behind all this.
Well, that’s the conclusion that Hugh Ross arrived at. And as a young man, he began studying the sacred books of the world's major religions. He measured each one against the known facts of science and history. If there was a Creator, Hugh felt, and if this Creator went to such great lengths to make an orderly universe that could be understood, then such a Creator would want to communicate with His creation in an orderly and truthful manner. Hugh Ross' study of the stars and the planets led him to believe that there was such a God. Hugh Ross found that God in the Bible.
He wrestled with his knowledge of the universe and his understanding of the Bible., and eventually he was ready to ask Jesus to be Lord of his life. Today, he is the director of Reasons to Believe, an organization that publicizes the historical and scientific truths of the Bible. Dr. Ross comments, “As an astronomer, I have achieved my ultimate quest: My education led me to the stars; my faith led me beyond.”
Dr. Ross searched for knowledge; what he found was Truth and it sent him home by another road.
Today, you’re invited to come to meet the Savior with the Wise Men. But like the Wise Men we're invited to go home by another road. This morning we're invited to come to Bethlehem, “the house of bread” and to leave by another road. And today we also offer bread and wine for the journey. Kind of neat, don’t you think?
Now, again, I don't know what it is that brought you here today. I don’t know what’s on your heart and mind right now. Some of you are here today, and your hearts are filled with joy! Others might be a little skeptical about what I’m saying here today. Maybe you – like the wise men – are searching. Looking for answers to the meaning of life – to the mysteries of life. Some of you may have heavy hearts, or you’re going through some trouble right now. I don’t know. But this much I do know. God is here. God is in this place. And God is meeting you where you are.
It’s a trite saying, but it’s true –wise men – and wise women – still seek Him. So in this new year, I invite you to come and meet the Savior – Jesus the Messiah. Come and meet Him. Let Him take you down a different road – show you a different way – the road that He wants you to travel on. The road of healing. The road of forgiveness. The road of new life in Jesus name. You came here on one road. You can leave by another. And I believe that’s why the Lord brought you here today. The Lord brought you here today for a reason. And not just to take up space in a pew, either. No.
No. As we begin this New Year, let me encourage you to listen. Listen to God. Be fed by God. Be touched by God. And let God send you home by another road.