Sermon Ideas For Matthew 2:1-12 Part 2
Whenever I read the nativity accounts from the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, I think about the word "journey." We know from the Lukan text that the shepherds came to the manger in Bethlehem from nearby fields. For them it was a short journey to find the Christ child.
Matthew tells us of the arrival of another group of travellers. The wise men came from the east to discover the promised Son of God. For them the trip was much longer and more difficult. The wise men even had to go through Jerusalem, encountering Herod and his questions. Then after receiving instructions from Herod to " go and find the child," they went on to Bethlehem.
In these two well loved passages of Christ's birth, we are struck by the realization that people will come from near and far to spiritually encounter the Holy Messiah. For some, coming to the knowledge of Jesus as Lord will be relatively easy. For others, there will be struggle and deep spiritual searching. Difficult events of life may make the search even more uncertain.
The metaphor of journey is a very important one in the Christian faith. Each person has a story to tell, a spiritual sense of travel that has brought them the realization that the child born at Bethlehem is to be their Savior. As a Christian counselor, I find it helpful to listen to the stories of personal journey people have to tell. In the therapeutic setting "taking a history" of a person, couple or family can reveal a lot about their life. In the same way, letting people share about their "faith discovery," will tell us a lot about their spiritual searching.
The invitation to seek out the Savior is the most personal expression of God's love. It is the clearest revelation of how a Holy Lord comes into communion with a sinful humanity.
The invitation to the shepherds to come to Bethlehem was given simply and beautifully by the angel who appeared to them saying, "Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." As with any invitation to accept Jesus as Savior, Luke tells us that the shepherds responded with positive and immediate joy; "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." Then they made the short journey to the manger to see the child.
How wonderful it is when people come to know Christ by the leading of God's Spirit. How wonderful it is when men and women make a discovery that begins an eternal journey of faith and life with God.
We know from the teachings of Jesus that many are called, yet few choose to follow. This is one of the great mysteries of the human condition. Yet in our God-given free will, we have the right to choose. That too is part of what it means to be a child of God. Some will respond in faith and joy, others will turn away in fear and doubt. Trusting in God's leading is essential as people reach out to find God's hand in the presence of a Holy Child.
Several years ago a couple came to me early one Saturday morning following the death of their four-day old son. Normally I wasn't at the office on Saturdays, but by the grace of God I was there when they drove in the parking lot. In addition to their deep sorrow, they expressed a great deal of anger toward God. They were determined not to ever have another child. The funeral was one I will never forget. However, after months of therapy, the healing of the Holy Spirit began to enter their hearts. Finally, they agreed to see a doctor, to find out if they could have another child and what the risks would be. Twelve years later they have five, yes five, wonderful sons. The spiritual and emotional journey was long and difficult, but they stayed on the path and learned again to trust in God.
In this new year are we ready to trust God fully, completely? Are we willing to bring before the Lord our pain as well as our joy? Can we reach out to the Savior at Bethlehem and know his love as we have never known it before? Like the wise men who came to the home where Jesus was, maybe our journey these past months has been a troubled one. For some there has been disappointment, for others celebration. To learn of God's love in Jesus Christ is to learn about who we can be and what it means to be healed, renewed, restored, forgiven and made whole.
In the closing of the text for today from Matthew's Gospel, we come to an amazing verse of Scripture. It's one I have often used in my counseling practice, and of course a sermon or two.
In verse twelve of chapter two we read of the wise men, "And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another road." Again we have a sense of journey, but the return is by another road, a new path. The symbolism is powerful and personal. To meet Jesus and know he is the Christ means that the rest of our journey will be different. We cannot be the same after we have met the Lord, because we have been called to holiness even amidst our humanness. Jesus asks that of us either personally, emotionally, spiritually or all of the above! When we come to the manger, we leave by "another road," and it is God's Spirit who leads us in the new direction.
One of my professors at the Presbyterian Counseling Service in Seattle, Washington, used to ask us this question: "How is God working your life?" He would then go on to say that to experience God's presence means that we are continually challenged in our faith and in our life. The Spirit pushes us on, leading us to new paths of faith and roads we never thought we would travel. Maybe there's some travelling we need to do. The journey of faith never ends, at least not in this life. As you and I leave the manger, where are we headed in our spiritual growth and maturity?
There's a picture in my office of a friendly dragon. He's lying down with one of his front feet covering a treasure chest. The dragon is watching carefully to make sure that no one comes and takes what is his. The artist who painted the original told me that the dragon was protecting what was special about him as a creature of God. No one was going to deny him of his unique character and gentle nature and special treasures.
Our life is a treasure to be protected and nourished. We are special in the sight of our Lord. As the wise men brought their gifts, they also brought themselves. As a result, a new journey of faith began. They left by another road. In this new year, let us bring our whole being to the Lord of life--the struggles, joy, pain, sorrow, celebration and peace. Let us present to our Savior the best that we have, so that by the Spirit, the journey of life finds new meaning and hope. May we be able to pray, "Lord, bring us faith and life. Be with us as we journey through another new year. Hold us and uphold us. Though Christ, Amen."
Paul Fisher Ojai, California