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Worship and Sermons
January 6, 2019

“The Message of the Magi” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, January 6, 2019, Year C / Epiphany – Isaiah 60:1-6  •  Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14  •  Ephesians 3:1-12  •  Matthew 2:1-12

THEME:  Be open to God’s grace coming in the unexpected ways from unexpected sources,  and proclaiming through our lives.


Do you think of yourself as a preacher? 

I suppose, if I were to ask if anyone here is a Christian, every hand in the room would go up.  And if I were to ask if anyone here is a disciple of Jesus Christ, every hand would stay up. 

But if I asked all the preachers in the room to stand up, there might be a handful, at best. 

But this morning’s gospel message of the 3 Wise Men suggests to me we ought to reconsider that. 

You’ve probably heard the old joke about the 3 wise men.  Because they brought such impractical gifts, they were the first and last men ever invited to a baby shower.

The truth about ancient magi is a bit more complicated.  Magi were many different things – part sorcerer, part scientist; part philosopher, part fortune-teller. 

They functioned as priests and prophets, learned folk who could interpret dreams and read the stars.  Whatever else they were, they were accomplished astrologers.

In antiquity, astrology was important.  It was believed that everyone had their very own star.  When someone of great significance was born, there would be signs in the heavens. 

By studying the skies, these clever Magi found the rising of a particular star and understood what it meant:  someone of world-changing importance was being born.

It was none other than the King of Jews.   

There was just one small problem.  Someone already held that title.  For almost 40 years, Herod had ruled over the Jews as Rome’s puppet king. 

Herod was a political animal.  He was a survivor.  Roman Emperors and Generals came and went, but Herod managed to stay in power through sheer cunning, flattery and brutality.

And now he’s frightened by the news these foreign Magi have brought.  And, because Herod is frightened, so are the people.  They know from experience when Herod feels threatened, violence is sure to follow.

Matthew’s audience would have appreciated the irony here.  News of the Jewish Messiah is brought to the current Jewish King by gentiles – non-Jews.  God has chosen to bring his good news to Israel, not through the ruling hierarchy or religious establishment, but through rank outsiders.

That would have been quite a shock to the Jewish Christians Matthew was writing for.  But, if we stop and reflect a moment, maybe you and I shouldn’t be so surprised at this. 

After all, God chose the lowliest and least likely parents for his son.  And when the time came, he announced the good news, not to Caesar and his cronies, but to common shepherds. 

When Jesus took up his ministry, he embraced Samaritans, adulterers, lepers and tax collectors in proclaiming his father’s Kingdom.  At the cross, God even used a Roman centurion to witness to Jesus and the power of his divine love.

Bringing his saving grace through unlikely people in unexpected ways is simply what God does.

That’s a warning for you and me.  We have to be ready to receive the grace of God’s good news in unexpected situations and through unexpected people.

As Pope Francis said earlier this year, "God does not conform himself to preconceptions.  We have to make an effort to open our hearts and minds to accept the divine reality that presents itself to us."

We’ve all had that experience, haven’t we?  Confronted by a crisis, someone we know only superficially, or not at all, is suddenly the unexpected bearer of a message of hope and possibility, a source of support and hands-on help.

In a moment of sudden clarity, we recognize in them God’s love.

That’s the divine reality Pope Francis spoke of.  It’s up to you and me to recognize and accept it for what it is:  God’s grace, coming to us through an unlikely source. 

That’s what happened on that very first Epiphany, when God led those mysterious Magi to the manger. 

Their starlight pilgrimage from Persia to Bethlehem was the beginning of the fulfillment of what Isaiah envisioned when he wrote, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you… Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

That’s the Epiphany story.  But it’s not the end of the story. 

God spoke to the Wise Men through a dream to guide them safely back to their own country.  The question I’ve been pondering this week is what happened when these wise men got home?

They would have been overwhelmed by the joy of witnessing and worshiping the Christ child.  You can’t contain an experience like that.  You certainly can’t forget it.  The only thing you can do is to share it.

That’s why I’m convinced those wise men became the first missionaries to share God’s good news beyond Judea.

And, folks, God expects something similar from you and me.  God wants to use us as his messengers, too, no matter how unlikely we might seem.

You may not consider yourself a good candidate to proclaim the good news, but I guarantee you’re at least as well qualified to bring God’s grace to others as some of the deeply flawed and unlikely folks God used.

Moses?  He was a stutterer and a murderer.  David?  An adulterer.  Jonah?  A prophet who ran away from God.  Paul?  A persecutor of Christians.

Yet God used them all to bring his news of covenantal love and saving grace to the people.  And he’s been doing that down through the ages to the present time.

When we think of those whom God has used to proclaim his Gospel in the modern era, we naturally think of great preachers.  On any list of the greatest preachers of the last 200 years, you will find the name of Dwight L. Moody.  A more unlikely preacher would be hard to find.

Born to a working class family in rural Massachusetts in the early 19th century, Dwight had the equivalent of a 5th grade education.  His parents, no doubt preoccupied with raising their 9 children, never encouraged him to read the Bible. 

In fact, his knowledge of scripture was so poor, he failed a basic Bible test at his local Congregational Church and they refused to receive him as a member.  He never went to college, never went to seminary.  He was never ordained.

At age 17, he left home to work as a shoe salesman in Boston.  His energy, quick wit and winning personality made him a success.  Most important, it was there that he became a Christian.

He went on to Chicago where he founded a church and teamed up with the local YMCA to host new ministries reaching out to the unchurched and the urban poor, especially newly arrived immigrants.

Then, the great Chicago fire of 1871 destroyed not only his church, but his home and the YMCA as well.  With characteristic faith, optimism and resilience, Moody became a traveling revivalist.

Consider that, in addition to his lack of education, he was short, badly overweight and not very good-looking. He had a slight speech impediment.  He spoke in a rapid-fire delivery.  He couldn’t even pronounce correctly the more common Biblical names.

But what he lacked in eloquence and appearance, he more than made up for in spiritual power and persuasion.

He became an international sensation, preaching in major cities here and throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.  Moody regularly preached to audiences of 10 – 20,000 people.  Over the course of his life, he proclaimed the good news to an estimated 100 million people. He became one of the best-known preachers and evangelists in the history of Christianity.

If God can use an awkward, uneducated country boy like Dwight Moody to proclaim the Good News, then he certainly will use you and me. 

But now you may be thinking, “Hang on a minute. How is God going to use me to proclaim the Good News?  I’m not a preacher.”

Well, allow me to differ.  You see, I think you are a preacher.  In fact, I’m convinced that everyone in this Meeting House is a preacher. 

We all have access to the single most powerful and persuasive preaching tool possible:  the example of our own lives.

It was St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

The Irish poet, Oliver Goldsmith, may have said it even better. He wrote, “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.”

That means acts of kindness, large and small.  It means the peace we work to build and the love we show even to our enemies.  And, above all, it means the way we sacrifice for others, especially the least and the lost.

That’s how our lives preach.

In just a little bit, you and I will return home from worshiping Jesus this day, just as those mysterious Magi did over 2,000 years ago.  As we do, let’s not just marvel at the way God spoke his love to this world in such an unexpected way, through such unexpected people.  Let’s take the next step.

Let’s ask ourselves “To whom is God expecting me to proclaim his good news of saving grace?”

Friends, rest assured, God is reaching out to this entire world with the Good News that, in Jesus Christ, his Kingdom has come near and it’s time to repent.”

And, as unlikely as it may seem, he wants to use you and me to do it.  He wants to use our lives as well as our words to bring others into the embrace of his life-changing love.

That is the message of the Magi. 

Whether we use words or not, may our lives always proclaim that Good News.

May it be so.

Last Published: January 8, 2019 11:18 AM
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