(watch here: https://youtu.be/aQf6B_PrqwQ)
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘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.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “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.” ’
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then 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.’ 9When 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. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On 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. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
16When 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. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’
I like the one about the two wise men who show up at the stable there in Bethlehem. They enter and find Joseph and Mary with their newborn son. The first wise man approaches Joseph and, kneeling on one knee, presents his gift of frankincense. Joseph graciously accepts it, saying how blessed they are. The second wise man approaches and, kneeling on one knee, presents his gift of myrrh. Mary accepts the myrrh, with a tear of joy rolling down her face. Everyone looks at each other, followed by an awkward pause. Joseph breaks the silence.
Wiseman1: “Well what?”
Joseph: “Where’s the third one?”
Wiseman2: “The third what?”
Joseph: “The third wise man. There’s supposed to be three of you.”
Wiseman1: “I assure you, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There are only two of us.”
Joseph: “Everyone knows there are supposed to be three wise men.”
Wiseman2: “We have traveled long and far to present you with these gifts. Your son is destined to be the messiah. Please, if we have offended you, it was not our intention.”
“That’s it,” Joseph yells, throwing down the jar of frankincense, spilling it across the floor. “I’m not finishing this joke until someone gives me gold!”
Kind of an anti-joke but funny nonetheless. Joseph was clearly not appreciative of the gifts he did receive. Nor was King Herod as we heard in our reading for this morning. He clearly did not appreciate the gift of Jesus. And he’s the first person in Scripture not to appreciate the wonderful gift of Jesus. Many people would grow to despise Jesus and the message he would bring…the disruption that that message would create. King Herod was the first to be afraid of Jesus and rightly so. Jesus has great power and can overturn the reign of all earthly kings. Jesus is unlike any other king. His reign is absolute and supreme. There is no one who has the power of Jesus to fundamentally change the lives of his followers. Jesus can take the life of even the most wretched among us and transform it into something that is pleasing to God. No one is beyond Jesus’ love and care, grace and mercy. We all can live the lives we want to live if only we claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Jesus gives joy and happiness and peace and purpose to anyone who is willing to claim him as their King. Yes, most kings claim to offer such things but few actually deliver on that promise. And not as fully as Jesus delivers it. In Christ, there is unimaginable and unending joy and happiness and peace and purpose. Christ offers something that no other king can offer.
Which justifies King Herod’s fear to some degree. He must have known deep down that he couldn’t provide what Jesus could and he was afraid of losing his power because of it. Indeed, Jesus’ power IS something to be afraid of! We tend not reflect on his power when we look at that cute, little baby in the manger. A baby is the most powerless among us. For anyone who holds some degree of power, Jesus and the supreme power he wields can be frightful. And Jesus’ power has a major caveat that all the powerful of this world realize whether consciously or subconsciously—Jesus’ power is always meant for the good of his follower. The powerful of this world often fail to act according to the good of their subjects. But Jesus always serves and blesses those who serve him. Again, unlike kings of this world.
It’s a shame that King Herod couldn’t look beyond his power to receive the gift of Jesus. It’s a shame that there are too many among us who are unwilling to receive the gift of Jesus. If only they knew the joy and happiness and peace and purpose he bestows. Jesus is for ALL of us! Why can’t we all graciously accept the gifts he has to offer? I wonder if it is a matter of gratitude. Perhaps too many of us are simply ungrateful for the various gifts we receive in life. I pray that we all were grateful for what we received over the Christmas break from loved ones. But beneath it all, we received the greatest gift of all—Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And we should be forever grateful for that one gift. In our times of ingratitude and selfishness, we should look to Scripture for help and support. Recall what Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (5:18) All the joy and happiness and peace and purpose that Jesus brings with him follows us through whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. It’s not just a onetime gift. No, Jesus’ joy and happiness and peace and purpose follows us through all of life’s circumstances if we but keep Jesus close to our hearts and our minds. Paul also writes in his letter to the Colossians, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (3:17) We show God our gratitude through faith in Jesus. He IS the way and the truth and the life! We sing with David, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)
Jesus has been born anew this Christmas season. The gift has been given yet again. The gifts of the Magi that we celebrate this Epiphany Sunday reflect our gratitude for God’s great gift. Let us not forget to be grateful for what Jesus brings. James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”(1:17) Let us rejoice that God is with us, in Jesus, and goes with us through whatever the year ahead has in store for us. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.