The Visit of the Wise MenMatthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “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.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘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.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then 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.” When 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
After Christmas, as I was looking for something to watch on television, I decided to watch a few Pixar shorts on the Disney channel. Each Pixar short or movie was less than twenty minutes but was full of emotion, and quickly drew me in, connecting me to the characters and their story. By the end of the short, I was left feeling warmed by the relationship that I quickly formed with the characters in the story and was filled with the wisdom of their experience. The best part of all is that it happened quite quickly, and I didn’t have to commit to an entire movie.
You see, today’s society moves so fast, and people’s attention spans shut down quickly when they feel that they aren’t being instantly fed. That started me thinking, what if during the season after Epiphany, when we are called to go out and bring the light of Christ into the world, we met the world where it is, not expecting them to come worship like us, but bringing the good news to them, in a short, sweet, yet affirming and empowering way?
The problem is: what about our regular Oldtowners who like worship the way they like it? Well, I guess I could make separate videos for them, and for the people out in the world that we are trying to reach. I quickly felt exhausted before I began and decided to forget the whole idea. But something woke me up in the middle of the night. I heard a voice in the back of my head saying, “Faith is not about keeping people comfortable, it’s about challenging them to stretch and grow while inviting new people to join the journey.”
The truth is there’s good news and bad news about holding virtual worship. The good news is it allows us to reach out to so many more people in ways that we never imagined before. The bad news is, in doing that, it changes the way that we have always done things.
The week before Christmas, I shared with you “The Week Before Christmas” story. Our worship watch numbers were high that week, with ninety-five views! Dan and I decided to clip just the poem out of the worship video and posted it on Facebook by itself, to see what would happen. It was shared by thirty people and viewed more than 1,500 times! Now I totally understand that it was a cute poem, and it was the week before Christmas, but it got me thinking about ways, while we are worshiping virtually any way, that we can reach out to even more people.
So for the next eight weeks, until February 17th–just during the season after Epiphany when Jesus called his disciples to follow him, to make new disciples and to share the light of Christ with the world–I thought it might be a good idea for us to call others to follow Jesus, to make disciples, and to share the light of Christ with the world, too. So for the next eight weeks, we are going to worship via an Oldtown short each week. And I’m going to ask you not just to watch it, but to share it on your Facebook page (if you have one), inviting others to see it too, getting a glimpse of Oldtown as they receive an affirmation of faith for the week.
Now don’t worry, we’re also going to offer our regular worship and Household Huddle. But our Epiphany challenge this year is to focus on spreading the good news as far as we can between now and Ash Wednesday.
THE NIGHT SKY…
AN OLDTOWN SHORT
Have you ever looked up at the night sky and seen all of the stars? It is amazing, isn’t it? Well, I wonder, if you were going to follow one of those stars, how would you know which one to follow? Every day we have as many choices as there are stars in the sky as to which path to walk and who and what to follow. We can follow the brightest or the shiniest. We can follow the one that calls out to us or the one that we feel a deep connection to, or we can choose to jump around, following different stars on different days.
Well, the wise men in Jesus day had done their research. Hold on. Actually, many believe that the wise men, rather than being kings or magi, were astronomers, scientists who spent their lives studying the stars. And that star in the sky that led the wise men to Bethlehem may have been just like the star of Bethlehem that we saw in the sky just a few weeks ago. A star that appeared to be bigger and brighter than the others because, rather than being a star, it was an alignment of planets. But does that change the story? No, because the star or the planets or whatever that light in the sky was that the wise men or the kings or the magi or the astronomers followed led them out of their comfort zone. It led them out of the place they called home. It led them to a far-off land to be introduced to a child–a child who was vastly different than them, but who loved them unconditionally.
As the story goes, they presented the child with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, worshiping him and recognizing his presence and his importance, and then disappearing into the night, never to be seen, or heard of again. What a strange twist!
So why is this such an important part of our Christmas story? Why do we set aside an entire day, Epiphany, to celebrate such a brief short encounter? Because this story tells of a light shining in the darkness, that can be experienced and seen by anyone, anywhere, no matter who they are, where they are from, or where they are on life’s journey. The story of wise men following the star opens the door for something incredible, something even more exciting, and something even more life-changing, not just for a chosen few, but for the whole entire world!
Because the child that the star led them to became the light that shined in the darkness, not to lead us all to him like the star led the wise men, but instead so that he might light the way for us. Sometimes leading us out of our comfort zones, and sometimes even calling us outside of our homes and our church building to meet people who may look very different than us or believe very different than us or live very different than us, but so that we might be more like him, loving others unconditionally as we continue to share that light with the world.
And the coolest part of all is that Jesus shines the light on our path to help us use the gifts that we have been given that we might be the best that we can be, not so that the light will shine on us, but so that we can reflect it in the darkness for others.
So, friends, in the week ahead, may you all take some time to look up at the stars at night knowing that the number of stars that you have to follow is immeasurable, but the light that shines in the darkness? That is the greatest gift of all, because not only does that light show us the way, but that light loves you more than you could ever imagine!