January 2, 2005

Epiphany Sunday

"Another Road"

(Matthew 2:1-12)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


INTRODUCTION:

I want to start this morning by taking a short poll. First: How many of you still have your Christmas Tree up? Second: What do you have on the top of your Christmas tree, a star or an angel. How many of you have stars on top of your tree? How many of you have angels?

The reason I asked the first question is: Christmas, from the Christian perspective isn't truly over until January 6th or Epiphany, the day we traditionally celebrate the visit by the Wise Men. The reason I asked the second question is: I think there are two types of people. Some are star people and some are angel people.

Biblically, the Angel represents those who had been waiting for the Messiah, for a sign from God, for a long time, like the Shepherds. They knew what the Angel meant when he told them about a Savior, a Messiah. They remembered the old prophecies. They remembered with anticipation.

And the Star was for those who were still searching, those still unsure, those still with questions, those on a quest to find out about this mystery and message from God wrapped up in human flesh and swaddling clothes.

A friend reminded me that God sent both the Angel and the Star because God always meets us where we are. He met the shepherds in their fields, doing their duty, watching their sheep. Some dozing, some sleeping, all awakened by the Glory that shone around them. While God met the Wise Men, the travelers and searchers from the East as they searched the stars for answers to the meaning of life. These foreign travelers became the first ones to witness this newborn Messiah, the Savior of the world because God chose to meet them where they were in their journey of life.

Let's look at the passage that describes their encounter. Matthew 2:1-12

[1] In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

[2] 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."

[3] When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;

[4] and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

[5] They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

[6] '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.'"

[7] Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

[8] 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."

[9] 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.

[10] When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

[11] 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.

[12] And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


I. WISE MEN:

Nobody really knows what country the Wise Men came from. Some commentators say they were from Arabia or Mesopotamia. Some say they were magicians from Persia (or modern day Iran). Others say they were astrologers from Babylon (or modern day Iraq). Some say they were from even further away, as far away as India. Some speculate that they were wealthy scholars from Medes, a subjugated tribe within Persia. Some say they were Zoriastrians. One of our earliest historians, Herodotus, indicates that the Magi specialized in interpreting dreams.

But we don't know, all of that is basically conjecture. Scripture simply says they were wise men from the East. It doesn't even say there were three of them. There could have been two, there could have been twenty. All we know is they brought three gifts; Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. They were from the East. And they traveled a long way, following a star, to find this baby who would be King.

What we do know for sure is that God met them in the midst of the circumstances of their life. God met them where they were. But notice, God didn't leave them there.


II. THE ROAD:

Just like God didn't leave the Shepherds at the manger. The Angel's message to the shepherds had been so compelling that they went running with haste, they dropped everything and skeedaddled over there to see this baby. And when they went back to their flocks, they went back changed, filled with excitement, anticipation and expectation.

I'll bet some of them even began a sort of countdown or a count up. They began listening to the gossip and talk about all the upcoming preachers and rabbis. Maybe they heard about a young boy teaching the elders in the Temple and thought, "No, it can't be him, it's only been twelve years."

And maybe twenty years went by and they started to lose hope, then thirty and they began thinking, surely it was all a dream. And then one day they heard friends or acquaintances talking about a preacher at the Jordan, baptizing people. Maybe that was him. But then they went and John said boldly that he wasn't the Messiah, just the one getting people ready for the Messiah.

And then they heard about a rabbi in Galilee, Galilee of all places. A preacher who taught and preached like no one else, one who preached with the Spirit and with authority. And then they knew.

And the Wise Men from the east? They came seeking. They weren't sure exactly what they were seeking, just like so many of us. They came seeking the answers to life and the meaning of life.

Maybe they were like us. They found that all the stuff money could buy just wasn't enough. They came to the realization that there wasn't enough stuff in the whole world to fill what they were looking for. So they went seeking among the stars and in philosophy. And that search lead them to Bethlehem and they found what they were looking for.

But once they found what they were looking for God wouldn't let them return the same way they came. God warned them and sent them off on their way back home by "Another Road"

God met the Wise Men where they were but God didn't leave them there. God sent them home by Another Road.


III. ANOTHER ROAD:

Let me tell you about another wise man, a wise man of our day, who like the wise men of old, was led by the stars and then lead home by Another Road. From a young age, Hugh Ross was consumed by the study of physics and astronomy. He devoured scientific texts, and found in them a knowledge that excited him. His studies of science and the order of the universe led Hugh to the belief that there had to be a Creator somewhere that set the whole thing in motion.

As a young man, he began studying the texts of the world's major religions. He measured each one against the known facts of science and history. If there was a Creator, Hugh felt, and if this Creator went to such great lengths to make an orderly universe that could be understood, then such a Creator would want to communicate with His creation in an orderly and truthful manner. Hugh Ross' study of the stars and the planets led him to believe that there was such a God. Hugh Ross found that God in the Bible.

But it would be another few months of wrestling with his will before Hugh was ready to humble himself and ask Jesus to be Lord of his life. Today, Dr. Hugh Ross has earned degrees in physics and astronomy from the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto. He is the director of Reasons to Believe, an organization that publicizes the historical and scientific truths of the Bible. Dr. Ross comments, "As an astronomer, I have achieved my ultimate quest: My education led me to the stars; my faith led me beyond." (1)

Dr. Ross searched for knowledge; what he found was Truth and it sent him home by Another Road.


CONCLUSION:

This morning we're invited to come to the manger once again with the Wise Men. But like the Wise Men we're invited to go home by Another Road. This morning we're invited to come to Bethlehem, "the house of bread" and to leave by Another Road.

This morning we're not only offering bread and wine for the journey but oil for healing.

I don't know what it is that might be troubling your heart. I don't know what you've come seeking this morning. But know this, God is in this place and God will meet you where you are. And God offers what you are seeking. If you will but seek Him.

So come this morning to the Table. Make that journey of faith like the Wise Men. But then listen to God as God leads you home on Another Road. Leave what is troubling you behind.

Leave the illness that eats at both your heart and your body.

Leave the hurt and the pain caused by others.

Leave the guilt of your sin.

Leave all that behind and leave by Another Road, the Road of forgiveness. The Road of Healing.

You came by one road seeking something this morning.

Listen to God, be fed by God, be touched by God. Start the new year on a new journey and leave by Another Road.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

______________________________

Bibliography

1. Dr. Hugh Ross in The Day I Met God, compiled and edited by Jim & Karen Covell and Victorya Michaels Rogers (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2001), pp. 47-51.

2.

3.

4.

Other References Consulted

www.SermonWriter.com (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000)

www.SermonMall.com

www.deaconsil.com

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Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.