Sunday, December 26, 2010

Matthew 2:1-12 - Ancient Stories

To get me in the Christmas spirit last week, Desiree Burnett sent me a link to a video called
“The Digital Story of the Nativity.”  It imaginatively depicts the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary coming in the form of a text message that Mary receives on her iphone; the subsequent dialogue between Joseph and Mary takes place on email (gmail of course); the birth of Jesus is announced on facebook; and the three wise men purchase their gifts on eBay; these same three become followers of the star on Twitter. And tweet back and forth to one another their progress as they make their way to see Jesus following the star.

If some of you have no idea what I’m talking about right now....IT’S TIME TO GET WITH THE 21ST CENTURY!

ACTUALLY, Ten years ago and less, none of these methods of communication even existed.
Now we depend on them (or at least we think we do). Chances are high that for many of us,
devices that may enhance our ability to communicate by these various means took up a big place under your Xmas tree, even if it came in a small package. These things aint cheap! But I digress.  The video is great, and I really appreciate its attempt to make sense of an ancient story--the story of Jesus birth--through our 21st century reality.

This is the ongoing task of people of faith who depend on ancient stories found in sacred scriptures: How does the story relate to our lives today?

We love the birth story.  Of course! It’s about a baby and the dramatic events that surround his birth. It has the exciting events of the pregnancy; the adventure and danger of travel even migration; the terrifying suspense of King Herod’s actions; And in the end, the good guys win.  
But what does that story mean for our lives today? So here’s the fun we’re going to have with our biblical passage today.  An exercise in hermeneutics - interpretation, doesn’t that sound fun! Woohoo

The passage comes from Matthew 2:1-12.  The story of the wise men, or magi, or readers of the stars.  And I’m going to share with you briefly, some of the more creative ways, five to be exact, this scene of the story has been interpreted in an attempt to make it relevant to our own lives.  
So let’s open our hearts and minds as we, with diligence, seek to discover the meaning of Christmas, kind of like the wise men who sought out the baby Jesus by following a star two thousand years ago.  

Ready! (all but the last interpretation were inspired by the devotional Su Voz, published by the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba, Oct -Nov- Dec 2010 edition).

One: How much thought have you given to the star?  The star of Bethlehem?  Without the star, we don’t have  a story. It got the wise men to Jesus.  The star guided them to the best news: the birth of hope.  Think about this: we too can be like the star of Bethlehem, and guide others to places where there is hope, humility, harmony, and peace.  We may provide light for people who are lost.  May we shine brightly! 

Two: A negative.  Don’t be little king Herod’s. Herod is kind of the grinch in Christmas.  
Because of his ego, his fear, his lust for power: he lied, he slaughtered innocents.  How often do our egos and our own quests for power not only prevent us from seeing truth, but also make us contributors to systems of injustices around the world. When we act like little Herods, it’s like we are trying ignore, even do away with god’s kingdom. We prefer to reign and not Jesus.

Third: Jesus has universal appeal.  The wise men were foreigners, of a foreign land and most likely not Jewish.  But they came to worship him, and Jesus welcomed them (pause).  Of course, Jesus welcomed them, they had presents with them, it was the first Christmas! Never-mind he was a baby.  

Fourth: Speaking of presents, have you ever thought about why gold, frankincense or incense, and myrrh.  How many of us can spell two out of three of those gifts correctly? Gold, a precious metal. Since ancient times a powerful motivation to make war, and conquer and exploit people and the environment. Kings are measured by how much gold they possess.  
Gold was the best gift to give a king.  Yet, the wise men saw in Jesus a king that would change the course of history, not with violence but with peace and justice. Incense has been used by priests to open the way to God for people.  The gift of incense foretold the work of the baby Jesus as High Priest who would open the way to God. And, Myrrh. Myrrh was used to prepare bodies of the deceased for burial.  By giving Jesus Myrrh, they foreshadowed a life of service and sacrifice that Jesus would live until his death and resurrection.

Finally, a fifth way of looking at the story of the wise men.  May our actions match our words.  
The wise men came to King Herod asking where the King of the Jews was to be found? They wanted to go and worship him.  King Herod didn’t take the news-that another king had been born- very well.  But Herod sent them on saying: “Search, when you’ve found him, come and tell me, so that I may come and worship him also.” Both Herod and the wise men said with their mouths they wanted to worship Jesus. But their respective actions that followed were quite different.  The wise men did what they said; Herod, did not, to say the least.  Some of us may say we worship Jesus with our mouths, but what is in our heart? What do our actions say?

An ancient story, relevant today in so many ways.  A Savior born who gives us the courage to live with faith, as we strive to follow him, in our lives.

I’m going to lead us in prayer, and I’m going to conclude with the Padre Nuestro.  The words are found on page 16 in your blue hymnal.  You may turn to page 16 in the blue hymnal at this time.  

Let’s begin our prayer in silence, giving thanks for the gift of this day, and praying for the life of the world....

Oh God, tis the season to continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and we do so in many different ways around the world.  The birth of a child is a miracle.  Some among us anticipate an imminent birth.  Some have recently welcomed a new life in the family.  The image of God can be seen in every newborn child... and, although obscured by sin, it exists at the heart of every person, waiting to be released through Your grace Oh God (J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God).  As we gather with friends and family and the church family throughout the twelve days of Christmas, we have an opportunity not only to recognize and celebrate that wonderful birth from centuries ago of a child named Emmanuel, God with us.

We also have an opportunity to be in the presence of God with us as we look into the faces of those whom we love, and as we share our love with them. May we be the star of Bethlehem to guide others in your truth, and when we are weighed down, shine your love into our hearts.  
May we not be little Herods, and when we are, minister to us so that our own egos and fears may be replaced by faith, hope and love..  May we be welcoming of all, as Jesus was.  
May we be gift bearers to Jesus, as we offer him our lives which are precious to him, and hold nothing back. May we speak words of love always, and may our actions and hearts reflect such words. In these way, we may blend the reality of the past event, with our present reality, and experience God’s grace as we celebrate Christmas. Danos un feliz Navidad. Christ, the Saviour is born Christ, the Saviour is born  and as he grows in stature he taught disciples to pray,
“Padre Nuestro...”

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