Matthew 2:1-12 NRSV
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] 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,[b] 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[c] 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[d] my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] 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.
They were on a journey, those Wise Men; they knew a thing or two, but that was about it.
They knew, at least, what their mission was: they were to follow the Star in the East until it led them to the Child who had been born King of the Jews. And they knew how their journey would end; it would end when the star ceased to lead them onward, and came to rest: no wonder they were so overjoyed when it finally did. Where it would come to rest - that, they did not know. Presumably not knowing is what drove them them to take a break from following the Star and make an unscheduled pit stop in Jerusalem, where they asked the question that sent Herod and his followers into a tailspin, and brought on the Slaughter of the Innocents. (Take a few minutes to read the rest of the chapter. For now, without getting too grisly about it, let me just say: Sometimes it’s better NOT to stop and ask for directions.) Last but definitely not least, they knew that they were not alone: they had each other; they had their mission; they had the star. And that should have been enough.
But apparently it wasn’t. It must be hard for professional Wise Guys to deal with what they don’t know...and so, for reasons best known to themselves, the Wise Men wound up in cahoots with King Herod, agreeing to report back to the old schemer where the Child could be found. Given Herod’s reputation for mowing down anyone who so much as seemed to be challenging him, I’ve wondered why they made such an unholy alliance. Maybe they just wanted to get back on the road again, and move forward on the journey without any further interruptions.
But it’s not only Wise Men from the East who find it difficult to embrace Not Knowing. When it comes to our own journeys, not knowing what we consider to be the essentials - the when’s and the where’s - can be a little unnerving. Let’s face it; that’s exactly where we’ve been, all of us, for the last 10 months. If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that what we don’t know is considerably greater than we’d thought. It has taught us that our plans are just that: Our. Plans. Don’t get me wrong; it can be a good thing to have a plan - as long as you don’t get too attached to it. Because the world might throw us a curve ball...or God might have something different in mind.
But we need not feel so alone with that. Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew makes it perfectly plain that we’re not the first to live in disconcerting times. The world in which the Wise Men lived was no less alarming than our own. Life has always been uncertain. But our vast scientific knowledge and our ever expanding technological capabilities sometimes mislead us into believing that we’ve got all the cards in our hands. Which we don’t. Not by a long shot. Of course, that’s the good news: it’s a good thing for God to be the One in charge, however much we might cherish the illusion that we are. And with Jesus as both our Leader and our Companion on the journey, we can link arms and keep putting one foot in front of the other, as we wait further direction.
We are on a journey, friends; we know a thing or two, and that will have to be enough. Yes, the world may throw us the occasional curve ball; and Anyone as creative as our God will always be full of surprises. But although no one ever knows what the future holds, we have the privilege of knowing the One who holds the future in store for us. Lucky us, blessed us, grateful us: the One who holds the future is the One who loved us enough to pitch his tent in our human flesh, and move in with us. The One who holds the future is the One who stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross, so that we might come within his saving embrace. The One who holds the future is the One who rose up from the dead, and is even now interceding for us at the right hand of God. This we know, and in God’s amazing grace, it will be more than enough; because, as John Wesley put it in his wonderful last words: “Best of all, God is with us!” Thanks be to God!
I Want To Walk As A Child of the Light, #206, UMH, stanza #1 and refrain
I want to walk as a child of the light
i want to follow Jesus
God set the stars to give light to the world
The star of my life is Jesus
In him there is no darkness at all
The night and the day are both alike
The Lamb is the light of the city of God
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood