Blogging Toward Sunday, January 7, 2018
Angels Among Us: More Light!
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.' When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. They told him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
"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."
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.' 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
If you're reading this today (January 5th), happy Epiphany Eve! Tomorrow marks Epiphany, the last of the twelve days of Christmas, Three Kings' Day, celebrated in a bigger way than Christmas by our brothers and sisters in many Hispanic Christian cultures, as well as the Eastern, Russian and Greek Orthodox churches. Today in Tarpon Springs, Florida, young men of Greek descent dive into the cold water of the gulf to search for the golden cross that is said to bring blessings on the one who finds it. This Sunday, we'll dive into Matthew's gospel, seeking blessing along with the wise men who followed a star, and then found their lives and their way back home changed by a messenger from God who shared both warning and ultimate blessing.
There will be some chilling moments in this story, for this is no "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" children's rhyme. This star is troubling. So is the very real warning of the messenger in their common dream. For the wise men, it unsettled them enough to leave the security of their books and homes and countries to follow something unknown, and perhaps unknowable, and then to return by "another road." That's challenging, even (and, perhaps especially) for educated folks like them who make a living off of their wealth of knowledge.
The star and the Magi troubled the government and religious authorities, and the whole population, according to Matthew's story. "When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him"(verse 3). Everyone recognized that the star signaled something, someone important who would change their world. The star promised change, and that is often troubling.
Angels keep appearing early in Matthew's Gospel...first to Joseph in 1:20-23, with a surprising birth announcement that changed Joseph's mind and his life; twice more to change path of the holy family from traveling back home from Bethlehem to exile in Egypt as refugees, and then to send them back to Nazareth after the mortal danger to their precious son diminished with the death of King Herod.
The Magi also receive a dream messenger who brings warnings and ways to avoid danger to themselves and the holy child whom they worshiped. They heeded the messenger, and went home, not following a star this time, but following a dream that led them home by "another way..." a way that took the message of Emmanuel, "God-With-Us," far beyond the Roman outpost of Jerusalem.
Change, sometimes troubling change signals every new year, so let's gather this Epiphany Sunday, January 7th, to celebrate the unchanging promises of God reflected in the star of Bethlehem, the message and messengers in the dreams that God sends us, and receive the blessings that come with seeking the light of Christ in a world that keeps changing. It's a new year, and perhaps a new path home, but God's promises remain the same.