Sermon 3 January 2021


Sermon for Epiphany Sunday 3rd January 2021 Isaiah 60:1-6 Psalm 135 and Matthew 2:1-12 Revd Tudor V Roberts All Saints Lydiard Millicent

Today is Epiphany when we continue in our story of Christmas this time focussing in on Matthew 2:1-12 with St Matthew’s account of the coming of the Magi.

Matthew begins chapter 2 of his gospel with these words:

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem”. Unlike Luke, Matthew is very brief indeed in his description of the birth of Jesus Christ. In chapter 1 vs 25 he said, “ But Joseph did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a Son, And he gave him the name Jesus”. Friday 1st January was the day we remembered that event, the naming of Jesus when he would have been circumcised. His name, the Greek equivalent of Joshua, means  “He who saves” Matthew in this second chapter gives us a hint of the battles that will gather around this child and, and with Magi coming to see him we get a sign of the extent of his salvation “to the very ends of the then known world” to the East.

So, says Matthew we are still in the time of King Herod, Herod the half Idumean, half Jew who had been appointed by Julius Caesar in about 44BC, so quick calculation: he must be in the very last years of his cruel reign. Matthew 2 in many ways mirrors the beginning chapters of Exodus when Mose's birth is in a foreign land under the rule of a cruel leader, the Pharaoh, and as Moses is born, he has to dodge the baby killers sent out by the Pharaoh and his army to kill every male Hebrew child. But Moses survived as did Jesus and Moses went to lead his people to freedom. Jesus did so too, but on the Cross rather than crossing the Red Sea. The infant Jesus like Moses finds himself born in an occupied Country and though Herod is no way near as powerful as the Pharaoh he more than makes up for it by his vindictive cruelty, putting Jesus's life at great risk.

But the birth of this child Jesus is part of a global picture, a global story of salvation and yet it starts so strangely in Matthew. You Know what it is like when you have a party and then when its over, you just want to get the bottles out to the recycling, clear up and get on with normal life. But just as Mary and Joseph are taking down the decorations, meanwhile unbeknown to them In Jerusalem only 5 miles up the road from Bethlehem, (a place that the Holy Family would have travelled to to get Jesus named) the city is in turmoil because of some rather exotic visitors. They were party guests who arrived after the party was over, the baby had been born, the shepherds had done their bit, Jesus it appears was no longer in a manger. Yet here comes a group of men seeking Jesus. They do not yet know him by name, nor where he lives, they simply come seeking the new-born king of the Jews. They are seekers after the one who has been born a King. God delights to reward true seekers.  Only 5 chapters on in Mathew 7 Jesus will declare this:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Maybe for many of us the challenge in 2021 is to renew a sense of trust in God’s providence over our world, our nation, our community, our Church, and our family. Sometimes the discouragements, the disease, and deaths in 2020 have worn down people’s faith and expectation while living in 21st Century Britain. We need to know God is on the case .Matthew 2:1-12 suggests that is the case. Somehow our late party goers rise above the setbacks and discouragements that life seems to throw at them in their quest to find the Christ child. May their quest fire us on in our quest.

Our seekers were called Magi, astrologers/astronomers/seekers, the scientists and explores of their time, with origins in Arabia and branch offices in Babylonia/Iraq and Persia/Iran. They appear from the East having followed a bright star and all Jerusalem is disturbed by their arrival, what could it mean? Herod is disturbed because he immediately sees a threat to his throne and not knowing scripture turns to the teachers of the law who point him to Micah 5: this child would be born in Bethlehem:

Micah 5:3-6

New International Version

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace
    when the Assyrians invade our land
    and march through our fortresses.
We will raise against them seven shepherds,
    even eight commanders,
who will rule[a] the land of Assyria with the sword,
    the land of Nimrod with drawn sword.[b]
He will deliver us from the Assyrians
    when they invade our land
    and march across our borders

 

Note, Micah says as quoted by St Matthew  out of Bethlehem will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. Bethlehem was the hometown of King David. So, Jesus is associated directly with the shepherd who became King, and through Joseph’s line he is seen as being of the line of David. Therefore, Jesus is directly opposite in his kingship to Herod, yet when you read vs 5 and 6 of Micah 5 you understand how the Jewish people yearned for one who would deliver them militarily, but this king would fight different battles. Jesus will be a King who will pastor and care and protect, just like David cared for his sheep as a shepherd.

Herod by contrast was tricky, he tried to find out when the star had appeared as he wished to calculate how old the child would be and tried to get the Magi to be reporters of where he now lived. Yet one greater than Herod was looking after the holy Family and his evil scheme to kill Jesus were confounded albeit he poured his wrath on the innocent boys under two years old in Bethlehem. But for now, in our scripture here is God’s hand of providence and the star goes ahead of the Magi to guide them to exactly to where they would find Jesus.

How wonderful that God answered the quest of these Gentile explorers to find Jesus yet thwarted the attempt of Herod to destroy him.

The star went ahead of the Magi, the sight filled them with Joy, as Matthew tells us, and stopped over the house where Jesus and Mary were. I have started reading Genesis starting on January 1st with Genesis one and I Never noticed before how the writer slips in, in verse 16,  and He also made the stars.

16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.

There are 100 billion stars in our own Milky way galaxy and now the creator of those stars is born on earth and its like heaven itself comes to worship the Son of God born on earth and the indefatigable Magi would follow that star to find Jesus.

I love what Michael Green writes about them in his Bible commentary on Matthew's Gospel

“ Is it not perfectly astonishing that men with so little to go on should venture so far, endure such hardships in travels, and face such uncertainties of finding the one betokened? What is more they wanted to give him costly gifts and the worship of their hearts? They even recognise him as King of the Jews a title which stands out in striking contrasts with Herods position and which does not reoccur in Matthew until the crucifixion.”

Herod thought he could gain power by intrigue, manipulation and maybe through money too, but the Magi, Gentiles though they may have been, astrologers though they were, are true of heart and maybe that tells us that true seekers do not always come in packages as it were that we recognise. “Open our eyes Lord to your evangelistic heart Lord, whom have we not thought of yet that might in fact be very open to your call upon their lives”.

Preachers Note. You will see that we are launching Alpha online with the help of Pattern Church Swindon, the Resource Church. We will have “a table” for Pattern Church’s online Alpha for seekers from All Saints Church, so get seeking those in your family and networks who might want to come, it could be a relative far away that does not matter .Online they can turn up as if they were here in Swindon.

ALPHA Course starts 20/01/21

Two churches in Swindon are linking up with Pattern Church Swindon  for their online alpha course: All Saints LM, and Christ Church, Can I encourage you to get praying be bold and invite people on Alpha. Be like the Magi seek Jesus!

All the details are on this website link with Alpha starting end January Pattern are running it, but they have invited other churches to take part which is wonderful...

patternchurch.org/alpha

2020 has been an awful year with Covid 19, but God is never thwarted by what happens he can overcome; he can bring victory and I believe 2021 is going to be a year of opportunity for All Saints Church, be part of that please. Get inviting NOW.

When the Magi reach the house, they fall to their knees and they worship Jesus (the word worship occurs three times in Matthew 2:1-12), their focus is on this child. As they give their gifts of gold for glory, for a King , Myrrh for Joy, (and yes it was used in burial, so it pointed to his death too, but it also symbolises Joy) and Frankincense symbolising prayer.

How amazing that what Jesus tells his disciples to do at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel after He is raised from the dead to “Go to Ta ethne, All Nations and preach the Good news of the Gospel” these foreign Magi get in there first, and they worship Christ and recognise Jesus as King of the Jews.May you and I be true worshipers of Jesus too.Go back please and read Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12 again, ask the Holy Spirit what he wants to teach you and how your might respond..

In this coming year when you see the stars in the night sky as I did this week under a full moon, thank God for the Magi, and thank God that you too can know Jesus

And pray, pray with all your heart that THIS is the year you help lead someone to Christ.

Alleluia, alleluia.

We have seen his star at its rising,

and have come to pay him homage.

The infant Christ received gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh:

Father, accept the offering of our hearts and minds

at the beginning of this year of our Lord 2021,

Lord of glory come down upon us and send us out as evangelists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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