Today, January 6, is Epiphany Sunday. It is the day when we celebrate the Wisemen’s visit to the Jesus at Bethlehem. We’re going to be looking at their story in Matthew 2:1-12 but, just to be clear about something, they did not go to the stable. They did not see Jesus laid in a manger. We put them there on Christmas Eve out of tradition but, as we read in Matthew 2:11, by the time they arrived at Bethlehem, the holy family was in a house. Nonetheless, they visited. Whether it was at the stable or in a house is really irrelevant.
The important thing was that they came, which is what Matthew tells us in Matthew 2:2 (NIV): “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” So far, so good. They followed a star. In fact, they had followed a star for quite a long way. Scholars believe that they came from the East – probably Mesopotamia. So clearly they are on a mission.
But then, in Matthew 2:3 (NIV) we discover that Herod was not very pleased by this news: “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” His concern is understandable. After all, he thought that he was the King. Rome had given him the keys to this kingdom to rule on their behalf and he rather liked doing it. And so, hearing that there might be an usurper in the area disturbed him greatly.
History paints Herod as a ruthless, merciless, blood-thirst tyrant and so, to search out any competition, he hatches a plan to protect himself and his interests. We read about it in Matthew 2:4-6 (NIV): “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.””
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’”
So that’s the plan. Find out from the priests and teachers what the Old Testament Bible says about a new king, where he will be born, and send the Wisemen to find him. And then instruct the Wiseman to return to tell Herod where he is so that he may also go and worship him.
There’s some truth to Herod’s plan. He does want the Wiseman to go find Jesus and he clearly wants them to come back and tell him where he is. But do you really think that Herod purpose was to go and worship him? I hardly think so. Herod wants to eliminate him. Put him out of the picture. He will tolerate no opposition.
But Herod’s sinful plans are thwarted. Listen to what happens next in Matthew 2:9-12 (NIV): “After they had heard the king, [the Wiseman] went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
TIME FOR A FRESH START
So what do we make of all of this? Let’s start with the light. The Wisemen began their journey because they saw a light. And it wasn’t a light they had seen before. It was new light, a new star and they were compelled to follow it.
A new year is a time to find new light. It’s a time to clear the slate once again, to put things behind us and start over. It’s a time to renew things we have let slide. For some of us, it is time to start something new. That’s what new years resolutions are all about. They are about starting new, starting fresh, beginning again.
Some people, however, have trouble with that. They look at their lives and see no hope that things will ever really change. They’d like things to change. They’ve tried to change things in the past but it’s so hard. There just seems to be too much darkness that gets in the way.
All of us know what that’s like. Every one of us has something – some dark thing – in our lives that we would like to change. That may surprise some of you. You might look at the person in the pew beside you or up three rows ahead of you or maybe it’s the person over in the next section. And you say to yourself, “I would love to have that person’s life. They just seem to have it all together. Whatever they touch turns to gold but whatever I touch – well, it just seems to go muddy.”
Do you know someone like that? Do you know someone who you think just has it all worked out? I bet you do. Here’s something else I’m pretty sure of. That person may look good on the outside but who knows what darkness lurks in the shadows? There may be something well hidden that most people know nothing about. You may not know that burden that person carries but he or she knows it only too well.
What I’m trying to say is simply this: sometimes we mistakenly think that we are the only ones with problems, that everyone else is doing just fine. But the reality is that all of us have those dark places in our lives that could use a little bit of light. All of us have things we would like to change and yet change is seldom easy. Just know that when you begin to feel that way, you are not the only one. Chances are that there are all sorts of other people feeling the same way you are. And maybe one of them is looking at you and wishing that they had your life because, to them, your life looks pretty amazing. Think on that for a moment.
A new year has come. What changes do you need to make in your life? Some of those things are things you should start doing. Maybe you’ve always wanted to give blood but never have. You’re a bit squeamish about the thought of it but you also think it’s a good idea. Is 2019 the year when you start doing that? Why not? It’s the gift of life. Maybe that’s your new star.
Maybe you need to start saving for retirement. The years are passing by and you only have so many left to build up that nest egg. How are you going to do that when you seem to live hand to mouth every month? There’s only two ways to do that. You either have to increase your income or decrease your expenses. Is that your challenge in 2019? That might be a new star for some of you.
Or maybe you’re one of the people who needs to exercise more. You know you’re spending way too much time on a couch or at a desk and lately you get winded just going up the stairs. Maybe you should get a gym membership like the dozens of other people who do that every January and make it hard for us regulars to get to the equipment. But not to worry because most of them will be gone by March. Or maybe rather than going to a gym you’d just like to start walking for an hour every day. That’s a great place to start in 2019. Maybe that’s where your new star is leading you.
There are so many ways that we could change our lives by starting something positive. On the other hand, there a many things that we do that we should stop doing. Maybe that’s your challenge in 2019. What is there in your life that displeases God? What do you do that you know you should not be doing? What happens in the deep darkness of your soul that needs to have some light shed on it? Maybe that’s where your new star is shining.
Do you have addiction issues? Those are very common. Alcohol used to be the big one. It’s still a problem. But today there are others that are just as common and just as debilitating. Prescription drugs – obtained either legally or illegally – are a huge problem. Did you know that every day in the United States eighteen women die every day from prescription painkillers. That’s 6,600 every year from prescriptions that they were given by their physicians. Men have another problem. It’s called online pornography. Get this statistic: a full 30% of the Internet industry is now dedicated to pornography. That’s a huge number. 64% of men admit to viewing pornography at least once a month. Regular church attenders are 26% less likely to view porn than non-attenders but those who self-identify as “fundamentalists” are 91% more likely to view porn. Church leaders at not off the hook. In fact, 50% of pastor confess to viewing pornography on a regular basis. Maybe it’s time to change that by following a new star.
Here’s something to challenge you. What’s your language like? I am constantly amazed by Christian men and women who think it’s okay to use foul language, profanity and take the Lord’s name in vain. The bottom line is that it not okay. When you do that you dishonour God. In Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) Paul wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” And then, a couple of verses later, in Ephesians 5:4 (NIV) he wrote this: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” That covers a lot of ground and I know how easy it is to get caught up in the language and profanity of the day. But, as Christ followers, we need to resist the temptation. And just so you know, after spending almost thirty years in the army, I struggle with this all the time so I get how hard it is to change. I also understand what James wrote when said that of all of the things that need to be tamed in life, the hardest one to tame is the tongue. Man, I get that. Maybe it’s time to lasso that one and get a grip on it. The bottom line is that if you wouldn’t say it in church, you shouldn’t be saying it anywhere else. Maybe that’s your new star.
There are so many things that we need to change, so many things that we should either start doing or stop doing. The Wisemen saw a star in the eastern sky. They followed the light and it led them to Jesus. When that happened, their lives were changed. What about you? What new star is rising in your life? What new road does he want you to travel?
THE EXAMPLE OF THE WISEMEN
Change, however, is seldom easy. And the bigger the change the more difficult it is. So how do we do it? Let’s look at the Wisemen and see what they did because their actions provide a great template for us to follow. So what did they do?
The first thing we have to understand is that they did what God called them to do. They saw a new star and realized that God was speaking to them through that star. You may see all kinds of things in your life that need changing but look for the one that God wants you to tackle. What is it? What new star to you see on the horizon? What is God saying to you about what you need to do? Whatever it is, let that be your focus. You need to listen to God and seek his will for what he wants you to do.
The second thing the Wisemen did was have a clear objective. They saw the star and they were going to follow it. They may not have known where they were going but that wasn’t important. All they needed to know is that they had to follow the star wherever it went. That was a clear, understandable and achievable goal.
What does that look like in our lives? What kind of clear goal might God be calling you to embrace? Let’s assume for a moment that what God really wants you to do this year is to grow in faith by being part of a regular Bible study. Do you see how clear that is? It’s not general. It is very specific. This is what I think God is calling me to do in 2019. Now you have a goal. You’ve listened to God and you have a goal. What’s next?
The next think to realize is that the Wisemen did not try to follow the star individually. They did it together. Tradition says that there were three of them because there were three gifts but we don’t know for sure. There were at least two, maybe even three or four. But each of them helped the others. They did not travel alone. If you want to make a change in your life, it is so much easier if you have someone to help you with it. That’s because the other person can be your cheerleader but even more important they can also make you accountable.
Assume that your goal this year is to start attending Bible study. You are far more likely to be successful if you find some other brother or sister in Christ who is willing to keep you honest. Perhaps that person is already part of a regular Bible study. It is always so much easier to go someplace new if there is someone by your side. Also it is very helpful to have someone whom, when you don’t show up, is on the phone wondering what happened to you. So you are not alone. You have each other and you need one another.
If you want to make a change in 2019, you need to discover what God wants you to do. Second, you need to have a clear goal in mind and, third, you need to understand that you are far more likely to be successful if you have some else with you.
The final thing you need to know is that God is always with you. Not only do we have each other. We also have a God who loves us. God’s star led the Wiseman all the way to Bethlehem. And once they had seen Jesus, they went home by a different road that God revealed to them. Know that God is there. Follow the new star he has set before you.
The final question I want to ask is this: why change? If change is often difficult why not just keep things as they are. Go through 2019 just like you did in 2018. Why change? There’s a very simple answer to that question. We change because it helps us to be the people God created us to be. Change may help us to look better, feel better and function better. Those are all good things. But none of them is the primary reason for change. The best reason to make changes in our lives is because they make us better able to do that which God has created and called us to do.
Each of us, as a child of God, was put on earth for a reason. You are here for a purpose. We all are. None of us in an accident. Each of us is here for a reason. The changes that we make in life before God enable us to fulfill our purposes and do the ministry that God created us to do, whatever that may be.
The light of God is shining on us. His star is in the sky for you to follow. To follow it merely requires that you take the very first step. That’s all you need to do to start that next stage of your journey.
prayer for each of you is that 2019 will be a year in which you grow in faith
and in your understanding of what God wants you to do for his kingdom. You may
not be able to make all of the changes that you need to make this year but you
can make one. You can stick to it and you can achieve it by the power and grace
of the Holy Spirit. So pick one change that God is calling you to make in 2019
and go for it. Follow that star.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, our Friend and Father, we thank you for all of the good things that you have given. We are so blessed that we often fail to recognize your great generousity. We can take for granted those things that seem ordinary but you are in the simple things of life. As we consider all of your blessings, help us never to become conceited or arrogant at our good fortune. Enable us to embrace humility in our hearts, knowing as we humble ourselves and seek you and your way of doing things, you will bring light into our lives at the proper time in the proper way.
Thank you, God, that you have called us to enter into your salvation. May we share that Good News with all the world. Enable us to encourage others to seek a deeper and stronger relationship with you through study, prayer and fellowship with other Christians. Keep us from being judgmental and narrow in our outlook. Remind us that you welcomed Gentiles from a far away place to enter into the house in Bethlehem and worship the Jesus Christ. There is no one who is beyond your salvation for you have opened the doors wide.
We pray for the sick at home or in hospital this week. Grant them a special measure of your Healing Spirit and hold them safely in your arms giving peace and comfort.
Our prayers go to you for Canadian soldiers throughout the world. Help them to feel our support as they put themselves in harms way for us and our freedom. Be with the families of those who have died as they learn to live with their loss.
God, we come to a new year. As we contemplate 2019, evaluate goals, make plans,
and reflect on decisions to be made, help us to remember that you are always
near. There is no limit to your great mercy, patience, and care. Thank you for
the assurance of your faithful love, freely given without condition or limit.
Help us to love you with all of our hearts and to exemplify your character and
way of doing things in all that we do and say in the coming new year. We pray
our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
January 6, 2016 / Epiphany Sunday
Psalm 147:12-20; Jeremiah 31:7-14; [Matthew 2:1-12]; John 1:10-18; Ephesians 1:3-14
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: We come to the God of Justice who rules over all Creation.
Come, let us draw near to the One who gives us life.
ALL: Blessed be the God of Righteousness.
ONE: Blessed be the One how lives and reigns on high;
who dwells in the hearts of believers.
ALL: Blessed be the God of Life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Living God, your voice echoes over the frozen landscape. It shatters the wind and heals the brokenness of Creation. We need to listen for your Spirit today as it whispers through the trees and into this sanctuary. Enable us, in our worship, to make you and your way the primary consideration and motive of every decision, that we may live life to the fullest as you have called us to do. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Compassion and Peace, we are so glad that we never have to hesitate to call upon the power and grace of your name for you are always ready to accept us no matter what we have done or said. Thank you for the incredible mercy that you have for us. No matter where we have been, what we have done, or what we may need, you are always ready to listen and answer. Grant to us now your unconditional acceptance as we bring our sins to you. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In a world tossed by sin and challenged by injustice, we have an anchor upon which can rest in the assurance of faith. Our sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ. Our unrighteousness is washed away and we are freed to be the people of God in the truest and best sense of the word.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Accept these gifts, O God of All Creation, and sanctify them for your purpose. We give them to you as you have gifted them to us. As you are generous, make us generous. As you are thankful, make us thankful. As you are wise, grant us wisdom. Amen.
Like Magi, we have come to worship the Living God, the
Newborn King. Like them, we are called to return to those places from where we
came to share the message of hope and new life that is ours in the Risen
Saviour. Go in the peace of Christ.