Isaiah 9:1-7, Matthew 2:1-6
November 29, 2015
Do you remember when you were kids? Do you remember how it seemed like Christmas was never going to get here! The calendar seemed to slow way down, starting in about the beginning of November! The time until Christmas was the two longest months of the year! Even the clock seemed to be going slower! …And you couldn’t wait! You were like, “Come on! The weeks are passing so slowly! I want it to get here!” “Oh, there are still 10 more shopping days!!!” Do you remember that?
Well, I don’t know what’s changed, but now the time until Christmas seems to fly by! Now it’s, “What?” “Only 4 more weeks???” (General sense of panic…) Maybe it’s just that we’re older, and all of life seems to go faster. I remember it seemed like I was in elementary school for like 20 years. (Actually, I might have been! I’m not sure!) Maybe Christmas seems to come so much faster because we don’t look forward to it like we used to. Maybe in the back of our minds we’re even dreading the thought of it. All we can think about is all preparation, the shopping days, the decorating… Not to mention that the days are getting shorter, and they’ll keep doing that until the Winter Solstice – which is 4 days before Christmas day!
Well, I sometimes I wonder if the feeling in the world on that original Christmas – the original time of Advent, was more like the feeling we had as kids. The world was waiting. There was an anticipation of something. And it seemed like it was never going to get here! A lot of that was probably about the people’s longing for the deliverer. But maybe it was more. Maybe it was something they couldn’t put their finger on, but they knew was imminent!
In our scripture for today, we read what I think is the strangest part of the Christmas story. But it’s the part that speaks a lot about this time of Advent, this time of Anticipation. Now I know we take this story as just part of the picture. We see these wise men – three of them, right? – we see them all around. We see them in our manger scenes, and in pictures on greeting cards and posters and TV graphics. But I think the reason Matthew told us about them was that these guys were very unlikely visitors! And I think he wanted his readers to know that, too.
Remember that Matthew was writing his Gospel to a Jewish audience. His purpose in writing was to convince the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah, who was foretold in all of their scriptures. If you read Matthew, you will find many places where he says, “Thus and such took place in order that the scripture would be fulfilled…” and then he quoted the Old Testament scripture.
So then, to those Jewish people, Matthew told this story about these Wise Men, these Magi, these astrologers, these Gentiles who came from another country and certainly from another religion! And he told how they came to these Jewish people, and to their leadership in Jerusalem! And they came asking, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews, for we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.”
I don’t think we have a very good sense of what impact those words would have had for the people to whom Matthew was writing! Again, his was a very Jewish world. And the Jewish people believed that they were God’s people, and they would have wondered what those guys were doing there! They would have wondered what this story had to do with anything!
Who knows, maybe they would have had a chance, at some point, to read Luke’s Gospel. Maybe they would have heard the story of the shepherds in the fields, and heard the angel speak of the “Good News of a great joy that shall come to all people.” Once again, we know those words. They are simply part of the Christmas story. We remember Linus saying them for the first time 50 years ago! But again, it was Good News “to all people?” Not just to “God’s people?” What would “God’s people” have thought?
Well, this story of these “wise guys” also speaks of something greater. I heard years ago that when Jesus was about to enter this world, there was a sense of anticipation that was much more widespread than people realized. The feeling that something monumental was about to happen was felt, not just in Israel, but also in many other surrounding nations – and religions. Here in Matthew is but one story. But there were others in many other religions in those days. Somehow, the world was awaiting for something, something monumental!
As we now move into Advent, I hope we consider, like the people did then, what it means that God came into this world as this little child. We tend to think of Christmas as a Christian holiday (Holy Day!) If we were Jewish, we’d think of Hanukkah as our Holy Day. And so on… But as we think about that once again, I hope we will think of these Wise Men in a new light. I hope we will think of the words of the angel that this Good News is indeed for “all people.” I hope we will think of the words of Jesus, in another phrase that we just know as part of the Biblical picture. “For God so loved the world…” Not “For God so loved his people…” or “For God so loved the Jews…” but “For God so loved the world…”
In light of all that, how do we face the world around us? How do we share the amazing love of God with the world. It’s easy to talk about that with our fellow Christians – though I suspect we don’t do so all that often – even at this time of year. But how do we share that message with the world around us, the world that “God so loved?”
As you think about all that, as you think about “preparing the way of the Lord” this Advent season, as you think about the “Anticipation” of the coming of this celebration once again, I invite you to ask yourself “What are you waiting for?” Is the celebration really what you think it is? Is the savior we honor really who we assume him to be? And what are you doing in “anticipation” of this event? In your words and in your actions, are you continuing to promote the angel’s message, the message of “Peace on Earth, and Goodwill toward men?”
Let me suggest to you that you don’t miss that! Let me encourage you to think of the world into which Jesus came, to think of the prevailing feeling of the time that something was about to happen. Maybe even try to remember the feelings you had as a child, that strong desire that Christmas would “finally get here!”
Eternal God, you have come into our world in a way the world least expected. Help us to await your coming once again, help us to get beyond our own set of expectations. Help us to love as you love us, and to reach out to our world with your love and understanding, as we seek to be the light Jesus called us to be. For we pray in his name, Amen.