Christmas is well and truly over for most people. Most have taken down their Christmas trees and are finishing off leftover ham and mince pies. (Ringwood) Our Christmas Tree is still up as officially Christmas season continues till Epiphany, January 6th, the original date of Christmas until the 4th Century. Many have returned to work. A final party on New Year’s Eve was probably a good way, to officially end Christmas as well as 2017. Christmas Cards have slowed down, to be replaced by credit card bills as a last reminder of the Christmas Spirit. Christmas started early – around October / November in the supermarkets who are already preparing us for Easter with Hot Cross Buns But Christmas comes to a much quicker end, than how it begins.
There were the parties and the Christmas lunches and dinners galore – and now the advertising by gyms have started to get that Christmas body back into shape.
For most people, the Christmas season starts well before Christmas, but it ends before the Christmas season is officially over; but for the Church, Christmas ends today at Epiphany, which marks the visit of the Magi – the Wise Men – to Bethlehem to see the new born King of the Jews – Jesus. Tradition tells us there were three of them but the Bible never mentions a number.
Matthew’s Magi might have been astrologers the same word that forms the word Magician. Some scholars believe the Magi were from different lands, representing the whole world bowing before Jesus. Whoever they were, they recognised Jesus as the Messiah when most of God’s chosen people in Israel failed to recognise him. The Magi are also part of Old Testament prophecy pointing to Jesus. The Old Testament prophesied that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17 which is the tribe of Jesus’ ancestry.
The Scriptures even spoke of the wise men coming to bring gifts: Isaiah 60:6 – And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. Psalm 72:10: The kings of Tarshish and of the isles Will bring presents; The kings of Sheba and Seba Will offer gifts.
Herod was frightened when he heard about this new born King of the Jews because he felt his position as the “King of the Jews” was threatened and he hurried to consult with the chief priests and scribes about what the Scriptures said about a King being born. So Herod had the right idea consulting Scripture – but the wrong solution to deal with his fear. He resembles a frightened Pharaoh who dealt with the threat of Israel’s ever increasing number by ordering the death of baby boys being born at the time of Moses. Herod will use the same tactic to deal with his fear by ordering all boys aged 2 years and under to be put to death. But the Magi weren’t afraid of Herod and the threat he posed. They went on their way regardless of the danger because reaching Jesus was more important to them than anything else, and they were prepared to take any risks to find him. When they found him they worshipped him, and presented their gifts to him. The gifts were highly symbolic. Gold was a gift for a king, incense was a priestly gift used in worship as it is used today in many churches, and myrrh was a spice used in burials; so all three of the gifts foreshadowed both Jesus’ life as prophet, priest and king, but more importantly his death. After finding the Saviour they were seeking, the Magi were warned by God to return to their own land by a different way rather than through Jerusalem as they had intended.
Still today, following Jesus can mean taking risks in life with rejection and ridicule even by those very close to us. It may mean sacrifice in following his call. Life may take us on a different direction as we respond to God’s call. So as we move away from Christmas and into this New Year, the message of Epiphany presents a challenge – are you willing to listen to Jesus even if it means risk – even if it means struggle and being led in a different way, like the wise men? Epiphany asks us whether we are looking for the signs that are leading to Jesus as the wise men were? Are you looking in your bibles to read what God’s Word says about Jesus in the same way that Herod did – albeit for the wrong reasons? Is your relationship with Jesus one where worship is the most central and important thing as it was for the wise men when they fell down and worshipped Jesus even though it was against Herod’s wishes; and are you prepared to listen to Jesus even if it means a change in direction in your life. The easy way for the wise men was to go back the way they came and report to Herod. But they listened to God’s messenger and took a new route home disobeying Herod’s command to report back to him. Sometimes in following Jesus’ call we will be called to go against what others are calling us to do, like Herod and the Magi. And that’s the question put to us too – are we listening to God’s messengers or taking the safe easy way?
It’s interesting to note that as the wise men followed the bright star it only took them part of the way to finding Jesus by their own efforts. They had to then, refer to God’s Word to find fullness in their search for him. Likewise as we follow our dreams they will take us only so far in life. Our careers, our possession, everything in life will not lead us to fulfilment. Only as we have Christ in our lives will we find that true fulfilment and contentment in life. And what we learn from the wise men in our Gospel is that we are led to Christ by his Word which is where they discovered the rest of the way. And despite the expensive gifts that they brought to Jesus their true treasure was discovered in their worship as they fell down on their knees and worshipped Jesus. And that is where we too will find true meaning and fulfilment in our life and in our relationship with God as we search his Word and as we encounter God in worship as we gather around Jesus Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper.
The world tempts us to follow a different path to fulfilment – a path of success and self-satisfaction.
But God is leading us in a different direction that gathers to worship his Son who gives us true success and true self-satisfaction in life. The wise men are always a cute addition to the nativity at Christmas time but their appearance is much deeper. It reveals humankind’s search for meaning which can only be found in God’s Word – which we also know Jesus to be God’s Word made flesh.
It reveals that our relationship with God is one that is centralised in worship – which is also what John discovers when he writes the Book of Revelation and that life in heaven was a life of Worshipping Jesus.
The wise men also reveal that when one has an encounter with Jesus, God may send them on a path they don’t expect to take. Maybe God is challenging you but you’re afraid or apprehensive. And that’s okay too because sometimes in our flight from danger God leads us to new opportunities too.
It was the persecution of Christians who fled to new lands for their safety that led the first Christians to take the Gospel to new lands. It was fear of Herod that led Mary and Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt, fulfilling yet another Old Testament prophecy – and so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:15 and Hosea 11:1).
So keep following Jesus even if it might seem unclear where God is leading you because we know that God is always leading us where he knows we should go.