Religion Magazine

The Joy of the Wise Men. Matthew 2.1-12

By Malcolmdrogers
Matthew 2.1-12
The joy of the wise men. Matthew 2.1-12

Today we celebrate the Epiphany, and, in the western tradition, we read of the wise men.
That is different to the eastern tradition, when the feast of the Epiphany is primarily linked to the baptism of Jesus
An audio of the talk can be found here
But epiphany means literally the appearing of the light, and both stories are epiphanies.
In our reading today, the star appears and leads the wise men to Jesus
In the story of the baptism of Jesus, God is revealed as Father - the voice from heaven, we are shown the ‘beloved’ Son, and the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove.
And as we look at this story, so we can see at least three things that it reveals to us.
An epiphany, revelation, about Jesus that leads us to worship
An epiphany, revelation, about ourselves that leads us to repent
And an epiphany that leads us to joy.
1. The epiphany, the making known, of Jesus Christ the Son of God, through the leading of a star.
I need to say a word or two about the wise men.
People say that they were astrologers. But if they were, they were very different to the so-called astrologers or horoscope writers of today.
At its best a horoscope is fraudulent. At its worst it is demonic. If you are controlled by your horoscope, if it shapes what you do in the day, or if you fear what will happen if you do not read your horoscope, you need to ask God’s forgiveness and seek his mercy and seek help.
Having said that I do rather like the story of the horoscope writer who got bored, and so wrote, at the beginning of a new year, ‘All the woes of previous years will be nothing in comparison to the horrors that will face you in 2023’. 
It was true for him: he got the sack!
The point of the Christmas story is that, when you go out there at night and look up and see the stars and wonder what they are saying, they have spoken to us. And they have said, ‘Go to Jesus’
And the light of the star reveals that the baby born in Bethlehem is the Creator of the stars
It reveals him as the Lord of Creation, before whom stars bow
It reveals him as the one promised to Moses 2000 years previously: ‘A star shall come out of Jacob’ (Numbers 24.17)
It reveals him as ‘the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star’ (Revelation 22.16): he was both the descendant of David, but he was also the root of David. He was there before David existed.
And through the star, the baby born in Bethlehem is revealed as the King of the Jews, the son of David to be born in Bethlehem, ‘the ruler who is to shepherd God’s people’, the Messiah, God’s ruler.
And as the wise men follow the star, they reveal him as the one to whom kings from the East will come, who bring their gifts (Psalm 72.10).
This is an epiphany that should lead us to worship.
We may not be kings. We may not be wise. But these wise men are prototypes for us.
We are foreigners who have seen the star and light of Christ, and we come to worship the king of the Jews, who has also become our King.
And he is the one in whom - as we each bow down before him and offer him our gifts and our lives - we find our harmony, purpose, unity and joy.
2. This story reveals the depths that the human heart can sink to.
Yes, Herod is a tyrannical paranoid ruler. In the next verses we learn that, in order to feel secure on his throne, he gives the order that all children in Bethlehem under the age of 2 are to be slaughtered. It is all about him.
We do not have that sort of power, but to be totally honest, there are things about Herod in each one of us. We have ‘the children’ that we slaughter in order to calm our insecurities. And so often it is all about us.
In his last work before he died, the Russian philosopher, VS Soloviev, wrote about the antichrist.
The antichrist is a ‘remarkable person’ who is a great writer, thinker, philanthropist, sympathetic to all in need. His great intelligence “always showed him the truth of what one should believe in: the good, God, and the Messiah.”
Soloviev says, “In these he believed, but he loved only himself. He believed in God, but in the depths of his soul he involuntarily and unconsciously preferred himself. He believed in Good, but the All Seeing Eye of the Eternal knew that this man would bow down before the power of Evil as soon as it would offer him a bribe – his own immeasurable self-love.”
He was so enamoured of his own gifts that he thought “himself to be what Christ in reality was,” notes Soloviev.
He showed himself as a kind-hearted humanitarian who appeared to love all forms of life. He was a vegetarian, was concerned about ecology, and was an ecumenist. He came to believe he was to be the world’s final savior.
There was only one thing he could not do when he asked himself if he could say, “‘Lord, Jesus Christ, forgive me, a sinful man’? Shall I not be compelled like an old Polish woman to prostrate myself? I, the serene genius, the superman! It cannot be!”
The story we read today shows us the persistence, generosity, humility and obedience of the wise men; but in Herod it also holds up a mirror to us - we look at him, and if we are honest, we see our own self-love: the self-love which blinds us to the needs of others, which makes us trample over others in order to achieve our goals. It is the self-love which makes us think that our life and our views are superior, more valuable, more important than that of ‘the old Polish woman’.
And that is an epiphany, a revelation, about the depths to which our heart can sink, and which should lead us to repent
3. But there is a third epiphany in this story, and that is the revelation of joy
“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy” (Matthew 2.10)
It is easy to forget that.
We speak of repentance and sorrow for our sins
We speak of costly obedience to the Lordship of Christ
But we often forget that the goal of the Christian life is joy.
Yes, there is the joy of heaven, when we will see God as he is, when we will be in right relationship with each other and the new creation.
Jesus, we are told in the book of Hebrews, endured the shame and pain of the crucifixion ‘for the sake of the joy set before him’
But joy is not just something that is waiting for us in heaven
There is joy, there can be joy, here and now because the Lord is near.
Much of my thinking about Christian joy has been shaped by a dream that I had about 15 years ago. The details are not important. Suffice to say that in my dream I had died and was in something like an airport departure lounge waiting to go to heaven, when I suddenly knew that Jesus was close by, he was near. And my whole body, from the tip of my toes to the top of my head exploded with joy. It woke me up and it was something that lived with me for about a week.
No doubt a psychiatrist would be able to explain that experience.
But I do remember thinking ‘well if this is a glimpse of the joy of heaven, then bring it on’.
And as I reflected on that experience in the light of what the bible teaches about Christian joy, there are connections.
Peter writes in one of his letters to Christians who were experiencing great suffering for their faith: ‘even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable joy’ (1 Peter 1.8).
Paul urges his readers in the church of Philippi, to rejoice always - but he gives them a reason, because the Lord is near.
When the women meet the risen Jesus, they were filled with both fear and with great joy. Fear because this is so out of their experience, and joy because Jesus has not left them. He has conquered death and he is near.
And the wise men see the star stop over the house where Jesus lies, and they know that they are now very near to him, and they are ‘overwhelmed with joy’.
Some of us may have had glimpses of that ‘indescribable joy’. It can sometimes happen when God first meets with us, and reveals himself to us. CS Lewis spoke of his conversion and wrote that he was ‘surprised by joy’. For others it can sometimes happen when they experience an infilling of the Holy Spirit.
But please do not get anxious if you have not had such an experience.
First of all we can still know the joy that ‘the Lord is near’.
He is near us in space: he is a friend who is beside us, so close to us; indeed his Spirit is in us; He is near us in the tragedy and pain of life, and he is near us in the triumphs of life. There is nothing that can separate us from him and his love. Not life, not death; not war or peace; not tragedy or victory. If we love him, he will make all things work for good for us. He is the Lord of all things.
And secondly, one day, the veil will be taken away, and we will see him - face to face. We will be filled with joy. And like the wise men we will fall down and worship him.

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