Follow That Star

by Rich Bregitzer
(St. Louis, MO)

Matthew 2:1-6

Mt 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem
Mt 2:2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Mt 2:3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
Mt 2:4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
Mt 2:5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
Mt 2:6 “ ‘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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.’’”

What are you looking for? Do you have something you really desire? Are you looking for a promotion at work? Maybe you’re looking for a little time off for the holiday. What about you young folks; are you looking for anything special under the Christmas tree?

In today’s scripture Magi, from the east, were looking for the infant Jesus in Jerusalem.

Now the magi, or as we call them, wise men, were Persian Medes accomplished in the rather pagan practice of astrology. While the Bible does not tell us of a prophecy we can assume that these astrologers had some form of teaching that suggested that the arrival of the Jewish Messiah would be announced by a specific astrological event that they had now witnessed.

What impresses me about this is that while astrology is never really given the stamp of approval in the New Testament by any early Christians it still seems to be the case that God speaks to these Persians through their questionable practices and brings them to Jerusalem. In other words God can use any system, practice or belief to make his point known or his message heard.

So, the wise men show up in Jerusalem and they began to ask questions about the one they are looking for. They know a little, but not the whole story. They can read the skies, but have never read any Jewish prophecy because if they had cracked open the book called Micah they could have narrowed down their search.

So, now King Herod has become aware of these unusual visitors who seek the king of the Jews. The notion that a new king could rise up was a threat to Herod. The scripture says that this disturbed him and so now he too is looking for Jesus, but for far more sinister reasons and he begins to ask some questions too.

He gathers up the chief priests and the teachers of the law and asks them where the Messiah is to be born. Now these folks know a thing or two about where the Messiah could be found. They reply to Herod by saying:

Mt 2:6 “ ‘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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.’’”

Now I want us to stop right here because there is something sort of interesting that is happening here. See, we have the wise men looking for Jesus and asking questions so as to be able to find him. They had good intentions and were actively engaged in searching him out.

Then you have King Herod looking for Jesus. He, too, is asking some questions so he can find him. His intentions are not good and yet he is diligently trying to seek him out.

But then you have these chief priests and teachers of the law. These folks are often just passed over when we hear this scripture, but let’s consider them for a few minutes.

Chief priests would be priests that were familiar with the temple and who presided over all of its functions. They knew the synagogue inside and out and were very knowledgeable about all the routines and traditions that they presided over.

The teachers of the law more than likely refer to the Pharisees and Scribes, two special groups that arose to present the Law and interpret its meaning for the people.

These were educated men; men who could quote chapter and verse the prophets, the writings of Moses or any other Jewish work. Like I said they knew procedure too. So, of course they were ready to supply the king with an answer when asked where the Messiah would be born, but do you see what they did not do?

Unlike the wise men or even the cunning King Herod; these chief priests and teachers of the law did not look for Jesus. Even though they knew what the scripture said, even though they had instruction they did not go off trying to find the very Messiah that they were so fond of pointing to in their religious teachings. Why?

Why did they talk all about him, but not go running to find him; especially when the news of the wise men and the star reached their ears. Why didn’t they go out to confirm or to disprove this astrological sign? The chief priests and teachers of the law did nothing. Why?

Or let me ask you another question: why is it that we have so many people celebrating Christmas, but who are not looking for Jesus during the holiday? They know our songs, they may even know the nativity story, but they really aren’t looking to find Jesus. Why do you suppose that is?

In the case of these knowledgeable men let’s consider a few possible answers:

1) They were afraid of getting on King Herod’s bad side. Let’s face it aligning yourself with another authority could have been a death sentence so maybe these chief priests and teachers are looking out for their own skin.

Fear is a huge opponent of faith and belief. While it is possible that these leaders thought that very thing it must also be true that they didn’t really put that much stock in the Messiah because in Jewish thought, the Messiah, was thought to be the King of the Jews, a political leader who defeat their enemies and bring in a golden era of peace and prosperity.

So, they must not have really believed that or surely they would have run to their deliverer.

What might be another possible reason for not heading out to search for Jesus?

2)Could it be that they didn’t really believe the scripture they had just quoted.

The scripture quoted in Micah had been around for centuries and sometimes people give up when they have to wait too long. We have just wrapped Advent and the culmination of that season of waiting is now over. This Christmas Eve service is a celebration of the One we were waiting on. We celebrate because the wait is over. God came to earth, in the form of a human being.

We are told that one day he will come back for us (John 14:3), but what happens when life happens? What happens when times get tough and we’re still waiting? Do you still believe the scripture? Are you standing around quoting the scripture, but not looking for Jesus? Are you singing “Silent Night, Holy Night”, but really just wanting the night to be over with?

Something else sort of sticks out about this story: have you considered how dark it must have been for these guys? Here they are traveling by donkey or camel in the pitch black of those ancient times. No earth glow to speak of; no street lights, no lit up billboards, nothing to follow, but that star; that light piercing the darkness.

I find a metaphor in that Jesus is our light in the midst of darkness and just like the wise men we may have to journey through some barren places, in the middle of that darkness, but if we turn to follow that light we find life.

We also will find that the scriptures are true and that quoting them is nothing compared to living them and to applying them to our lives. We find, if we follow that light, that this season takes on a whole new meaning.

Unlike those chief priests and teachers of the law we can act upon what we have known. We can be more like those shepherds in Luke’s gospel. Remember what happened to them? An angel came to them while they watched over their flocks and said (Luke 2:10-15)

Lk 2:10 …“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Lk 2:11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Lk 2:12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Lk 2:13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
Lk 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Lk 2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

While the priests and teachers may have feared Herod, the angels tell the shepherds that they have nothing to fear; that the news being shared shouldn’t fill them with trepidation, but that it’s good news that should fill them with great joy, because the Savior is born.

My Christmas question is this: will you be a fearful or lackadaisical traditionalist; caught up with stuff like Christmas tree tinsel and the half-hearted “Merry Christmas” wishes or will you do something with what you know?

Do not fear, do not hesitate for unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given and according to Isaiah 9:6 he will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

AMEN

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