We have made our way through the Advent stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and we have arrived at Epiphany – the day we recognize the visit of the three strangers who follow the star across the expanse of desert from the Orient to the land of Judah. Along the journey we have missed a few stories.
I bet Mary and Joseph could spin a good yarn with all the exciting times that they went through during those months leading up to the visit of the kings. If we were to scrapbook the stories, we would probably begin with a family tree. We might add a snapshot of the betrothal and wedding. I dare say a snapshot of Joseph thinking deeply and pondering his predicament would be essential. There was the census journey to Bethlehem and the story about that innkeeper. I can only imagine how they might have remembered that faithful night of the innkeeper’s mercy.
And, Oh! There would have to be a story about the star – how everyone in Israel missed the importance of the star yet the kings from far away pointed it out! And, there’s the story of the circumcision and naming of Jesus at the 8th day of life. I can only imagine how special it was to have two people – Anna and Simeon – speak words of prophecy over the child. But to top off the whole experience enter into the real lives of these meek and humble parents three very rich kings bearing gifts.
We remember the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. David Stewart in his book Healing Oils of the Bible points out the significance of the great healing power of frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense was used to anoint the newborn sons of kings and priests. Myrrh was a natural agent for healing in the ancient near east from birthing stretch marks to naval cords to depression to cuts and bruises. In fact myrrh was offered in the wine to Jesus at his crucifixion as a therapeutic agent. The healing gifts of frankincense and myrrh are symbolic in many ways of the healing Jesus would bring to us. But most importantly the sign of the anointing of the king, like David.
To be sure the strangers who came to see Jesus, brought something more precious that gifts of healing in their spices or signs about the future of his baby boy. They brought themselves – their whole hearts. The only imperishable in the story are the kings’ hearts. All the other parts of the story will pass away, but the soul of the kings has the opportunity to live forever. The star that moved across the sky is only a temporal cosmic event. King Herod would die. The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh would be spent. Yet, the hearts of the kings have the opportunity to encounter the Savior of the World, and be changed forever.
The star guided the kings, but they had to be hungry for the search to travel such a great distance looking for a possibility. The kings sought insight into their lives through the stars – a practice that is against our Judeo-Christian heritage. Yet, they were hungry to know of this God whom they sought in the great traveling star. They followed the star that would lead them into another nation, and Roman territory. They risked a political conflict to enter into another nations territory uninvited.
The quest for the king under the star stirred up great turmoil and unrest in King Herod, and he gathered the chief priests and teachers of the law to interpret the sign of the star according to the trusted and time tested prophetic writings. The quest for the king under the star was a noble one for the kings of the Orient, but now a corrupt king was awakened to news of the quest.
The noble quest of the kings was shaped by their desire to worship him. Their hearts sought nothing more than prostrate themselves before this new king. This new king would be born a leader of leaders. The king under the star would be a shepherd who would protect, rule, and govern the people. The kings sought a ruler of great nobility who would protect, rule, and govern like a gentle shepherd. Shepherds are not warriors as their weapon of choice is shepherd’s crook used to rescue the sheep from pits and ravines and bramble bushes. Shepherds rule their sheep through a use and care manual rather than punitive judgment. Shepherds govern their sheep by calling to them and the sheep know they shepherd’s voice and follow him. It is the comfort of the shepherd’s voice that guides the sheep to safe pasture and refuge.
When the kings arrived at the place where the star stopped, they were overjoyed! The kings came with joy to meet the king under the star. They bowed down and worshipped him! Their hearts were humble and willing to submit to his authority – protection, rule, and government. Then they opened their gifts and presented them! They willing surrendered their possessions to a poor family and their son who was far from the palace. And, having been warned in a dream they returned to their homeland by a different route.
To me the story of the kings, the magi, the wise men is all about their hearts of worship. They sought the God behind the star before they ever understood what that star would bring them to. They visited the palace of King Herod to discover that the king they were seeking wasn’t in the palace. They would find him in the humble dwelling with his adoptive parents – Mary and Joseph. When they arrived, they would find the meekness of a young mother with a baby boy upon her knee. And, it is then that they were overjoyed. Their hearts were ripe with expectant longing that caused them to bow low before the young maiden and her child. And, as they were filled with joy and bowed before the shepherd-child, they opened their treasure boxes of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
When you and I come into the presence of God on Sunday mornings, have we been whole-heartedly seeking God and anticipating finding him in the signs and wonders of worship? Are we ready to be filled with joy as we gaze upon him in worship? Will we bow low in childlike faith believing that our worship matters to God?
At the end of this passage we read that the kings have a God-given dream that must be interpreted. The heart of the kings needed to be ready to hear from God and know what it’s like when he speaks in the sign and the wonder of a dream. In the dream they are instructed to go by a different route home. They willing obey this instruction from the dream.
How about you? After you encounter the unexpected humble shepherd-king whom we call Jesus in the songs and the scriptures today, are you willing to heed his words of instruction and leave by a different way than when you came today? Have you come the anticipation of joy-filled worship? Were you ready to bow low to worship the King of your heart? Was your heart ready to seek him before you ever knew what the service was going to be about? And, after you experience the encounter of worship today did you open you heart of treasures and offer him yourself?
We’re going to take communion now, and the altar rail is open for you to take time to heed God’s Word for you today.