Jan 7, 2018
“Paying Him Homage” - Matthew 2:1-12
One of the most popular games among children just has to be hide-and-seek. The rules are very simple. One child closes his eyes and counts, while all the others hide. Then he cries out. “Ready or not—here I come." He begins the search for all of the children who are now in hiding. He keeps it up until all are found. The first one discovered becomes the new seeker, and the game starts all over again.
There are several reasons for the enduring popularity of this game. It’s simple to play. It doesn't cost anything. It’s quite portable, and it doesn't require any special athletic skills. So all can enjoy it. Everyone can play—boys, girls, and even adults.
In many ways the game of hide-and-seek is surprisingly true to life. In a real sense we never stop playing it. Of course, as we get older the rules change, but the basic plot remains the same. That is, all of us spend a good part of our lives hiding from and looking for something.
Sometimes we even play this game with God. There are days when we fool ourselves into thinking that we can hide from God. And of course, there are other days when it seems as if God is hiding from us.
Throughout the pages of the Bible there are many stories of people who are looking for God and of people who are having difficulty finding God. Epiphany offers us such a story. It tells of some men who make an incredible journey in search of a king. That king is the very one we know as the Messiah. God’s chosen One. Jesus the Christ. We learn that they finally find Him, but it isn't easy. It turns out to be a real challenge. Even with the help of a bright star to guide them.
Let us pray. Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Matthew lets us know that some time after Jesus is born in Bethlehem, some strangers show up in Jerusalem. He calls them wise men from the East. They are probably from the deserts of Jordan or Arabia. So, in all likelihood they are Arabs. And given the riches they carry in their saddle bags, they are probably quite wealthy to boot.
These magi are thought to be skilled in philosophy, medicines, and the natural sciences. They are soothsayers who interpret dreams. And they’re really into astrology. They’re convinced that the future can be told by the stars. That a person’s destiny is determined by the stars.
So, these wise men from the East show up in Jerusalem. And they are smack dab in the middle of one large and difficult game of hide and seek. But somehow they seem to have lost the trail. So, they are desperate. But they aren’t afraid to ask for help. They stop people on the street to question them. “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. We want to pay him our respects. Why, we even want to worship him. The star clearly tells us that he is destined for greatness.”
They continue to openly search for a king. They should have been more careful. For Palestine already has a king. King Herod. And he’s not looking to share his throne with anybody. We know him as Herod the Great. That’s because of his many construction projects. He’s a great builder. Among other things, he is the one who saw to it that the very temple in Jerusalem was built. Yes, he did have a generous side.
But Herod is also deeply flawed. He’s terribly suspicious. Let’s face it, he’s down right paranoid. And the older he becomes, the more suspicious he becomes. And his suspicions lead to some pretty awful and cruel actions. He’s not afraid to eliminate anybody that seems to pose a threat to him. He even kills family and friends. So, he’s feared.
And here are these so-called wise men openly asking how they might find a new baby king. And Herod is no baby. So in no time, word reaches his ears about the strangers and their search for some special child. A child whom they say will one day be king of the Jews. Naturally, Herod is quite troubled by this news. His fierce suspicions become activated. That’s because down deep he’s a frightened creature. Questions gnaw at him. “Could this child grow up to become a threat to me and my rule? Would he lead a rebellion? This has to be dealt with.”
So Herod hurriedly summons some of the chief priests and scribes. They’re the ones who are supposed to be the experts in Jewish scripture. Surely, they would be the very ones who could help him get to the bottom of all this. With their counsel, maybe he can nip this whole thing in the bud. Once they are all gathered around the table, he peppers them with questions. “Where is the Messiah to be born? Where will this so-called king of the Jews first make his appearance?”
They get right to the point. They know better than to keep Herod waiting when he’s in one of his moods. They give him what he’s looking for. “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet. ‘And you, Bethlehem are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Armed with this information, Herod summons the wise men to his office. He acts as if he’s trying to help them with their search. He pumps them for information, and they tell him the whole story. Satisfied, Herod pretends he’s in sympathy with their cause. That he’s on their side. Why, he even sends them on their way to Bethlehem with his blessing. “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.”
The wise men set out. Their search continues. And, lo and behold, they see it again. The star. The very same star they’ve been following. So, they take up the game of hide-and-seek once more. And the star leads them right to the very place where the baby king is hiding in plain sight for all who have eyes to see. And these wise men definitely have eyes to see. They find themselves simply overwhelmed with joy.
They begin knocking on the door. They can hardly wait. When it finally does open, they introduce themselves to the surprised parents. They tell them who they are and how far they have traveled. Then they ask to see the newborn king. Of course, permission is granted.
And there he is. Right there in the middle of the house. Without a moment’s hesitation, they do exactly what those who know him do. They kneel and pay him homage. For this is the true king of the world. The Messiah. The very one whom Israel has longed for and hoped for.
Then, they begin opening their saddle bags. They pull out the precious gifts they have brought for him. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Now, those don’t really seem like appropriate gifts for a newborn. They didn’t bring diapers or pacifiers or crib toys. But their gifts are the most precious things they have to offer. Gifts fit for a king.
So, their mission is accomplished. They find what they have been seeking. They’ve given their gifts and paid their homage. With that, it’s time for them to depart. But now they are changed people. They don’t want to go back the way they’ve come. They don’t even want to see Herod. They don’t trust him. They question his true intentions.
That night their dreams confirm this. They’re warned to avoid Herod like the plague. So, at dawn they set their GPS for an alternate route. Now, they’re changed people. Now, they’re on a new road of life.
I’m reminded of a story of three other wise guys and their gifts. It seems that three men have died on Christmas Eve and are met at the pearly gates by St. Peter himself. "In honor of this holy season," he says, "You must present a gift that symbolizes Christmas in order to get in."
The first man fumbles through his pockets and pulls out a lighter. He flicks it on. "It represents a candle," he says. St. Peter smiles and says, "You may pass through the pearly gates."
The second man reaches into his pocket and pulls out a set of keys. He shakes them and says, "Listen. They're bells." Again, Peter smiles and says, "You may enter heaven."
The third man is searching desperately through his pockets. Finally, he pulls out a pair of women's glasses. St. Peter looks at the man with a raised eyebrow and asks, "And just what do those glasses have to do with Christmas?" “They’re Carol’s.” “What?” “They belong to my wife. Her name is Carol. So they’re carols.” Saint Peter doubles over in laughter. “I like the way you think on your feet. Come on in.”
You see, that’s what the big game of hide and seek is all about. It’s about the giving and the receiving of gifts. Here’s how it goes. God keeps seeking us out and when God finds us God blesses us with more gifts than we can even begin to count. Then, we keep seeking God. And when God finds us, God keeps right on pouring precious gifts into our lives. Gifts of love and peace and hope and joy.
Truly, God gives us so, so, so much. Gifts meant to be shared with the world. And in this season, we are reminded of the most precious gift ever given to us by God. The gift of Immanuel. The gift of God with us. The gift of God for us. The gift of God among us. Yes, the gift of Jesus the Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.