January 6 – Epiphany Sunday 2019
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read Matthew 2:1 – 12
Grace and peace to you as you let the star of Jesus shine brightly in your life, from God our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Imagine a beautiful and ornamental Persian palace. We are there watching. It is night and the golden decorations sparkle in the candlelight. The time is about 2000 years ago. We see a woman wearing a beautiful, decorated robe, storming down the hall of the palace and rushes into one of the rooms. Her angry words cut the air as she says: “Caspar, you fool! What in heaven’s name could possess you? Where are you going now? Out into the desert? Are you going to be gone for weeks! Or months! Or years! Doing what? Wandering! Following what? An illusion? A dream?” Casper seems at peace sitting in the room—his quiet place. He looks up at her and slowly answers, “No my love, a star.”
She moves toward him, standing over him, “You’re going to follow a star? That’s crazy! You don’t have time to go off tracking stars. For all of the years we have been married, I have lived through dozens of your schemes and dreams. But this! … This! … Don’t you care about those here who need you? What about your children? What about your grandchildren? What about your obligations? What about me?”
“I know there are a million reasons not to go,” Casper says. “Don’t you think I’ve told myself all of them? I can list you a thousand things that won’t get done if I take this journey. But I have to go. I just have to GO.”
Her anger turns to pleading. “But why? You have everything here. You have a family, friends, people who look up to you. You have your work. You have …”
He cuts her off. “I have an empty life. For all my working and searching, for all my thinking and dreaming, I have nothing that will last. I am coming to the end of my life. The sun is setting for me. I hear the echo of my voice in my own tomb and my tears stain what might be my death bed. I have chased plans and grand schemes and found them all empty. In my heart, I feel a hollowness that will not be filled. Look, my dear wife, my faithful friend, my beloved – I see the darkness coming and I cannot stop it.” Then in almost a whisper Casper says: “I have to try this one more chance of finding hope, true hope, peace and life.”
She looks into his eyes with tears and says, “But to follow a star?”
“Why not a star? Perhaps the stars are the eyes of God. Perhaps the stars, mark things that are even beyond our dreams.” He says to her as he stands to wipes her tears with a piece of cloth.
She turns away, her words now are touched with her tears, “And where will this journey lead you too? Into disappointment? Into danger? Or worse?”
Casper turns and looks out at the night sky, “I believe this star will lead me to life, true life that only God can give. This star is pointing to what I’ve been looking for all my life – oh, I’ve sought it in myself and in others, I’ve sought it in knowledge and in the endless striving for what is missing in my life. Perhaps this star will lead to something that is finally eternal. I have to go. I have to follow this star. I have to come to the place where the finger of God is pointing me too. I have to find out … Perhaps the only things worth following is this star.” (Pause)
It’s fascinating to imagine what it must have been like, isn’t it? Of course, we know very little about the wise men who came to find the newly born Christ Child, the king of Kings. We know they were probably those who had studied the stars and believed that the heavens had a significant effect on what happened on earth. They also must have studied the books of the Old Testament brought to their region by the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish nation. It would have been the books of the Old Testament that predicted the King of Kings coming. Predictions like what God said through Balaam, in the 24th chapter of Numbers. “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Num. 24:17)
We don’t know how many wise men there were, but we know they brought expensive gifts fit for the king of Kings they sought. We know that they believed that the hand of God marked the birth of this new born king by the appearance of a remarkable star. They were so confident that this star was a sign of a special event that would change the course of the world, that they left their homes and traveled, perhaps a long distance, to find this king of Kings. They were aware that the appearance of this star in the sky marked the appearance of the unique gift from the hand of God and they wanted to see it.
Chasing stars seems to be a way of describing the spiritual quests of many seekers even today. The stars they follow are not just heavenly bodies, but other events and appearances that they believe are the mark of the hand of God. Some follow strange teachers and so called “wise men,” seeking in their insights a way to touch the very hand of God. Some see the hand of God in the shape of the face of Jesus or the outline of the Virgin Mary on pieces of toast, on the sides of buildings, or in any number of mysterious visions. The seeker, which is a description of many who call themselves spiritual in our world. Remarkably, many if not most of these seekers are looking for the hand of God in countless places besides the church or in God’s very Word. They seem to feel that their spiritual journey is unique and that they are able to build their own “religion” out of what they discover in the world of nature or in the world of mystery.
But what is most remarkable about the seeker of today is that the connection to God and the spiritual fulfillment they seek is right in front of them and yet they can’t see it. The truth is that the God they seek is Christ, the Christ child who was the goal of the seeking wise men some two thousand years ago. This Christ who is right in front of them is seeking them through His Word and Sacraments by the Holy Spirit, but they want to do it on their own.
The fundamental truth is that God is not off somewhere in the stars waiting for people to find Him. God, through Holy Spirit is actively seeking those seekers and each of us. The miracle of the way to touch the very heart of God is found in God’s actions toward us, not in our running after Him. God comes to be with us, in the Christ child born in our world to save us through His Word and Sacrament as the Holy Spirit works in our lives. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us faith and strengthening that faith so that it can grow, as He guides us to the true-life God want to give to us now and forever.
We worship “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God seeks the seekers. The truth the seekers seek is found in God’s Word and Sacrament and in His Church where people let the Holy Spirit guide them in this world. Indeed, we are witnesses to the truth that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). We know that and believe it with all our hearts, soul and mind. We are the ones who carry the knowledge of the truth and are busy “teaching all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Seekers don’t have to chase after visions and mysterious appearances or stars or spiritual gurus. God is right here with us, reaching out to them and us, by His words and through our actions. That is our very purpose in life in this world. We represent, we proclaim, we witness to others the risen Christ, who is the very gift of God to a fallen humankind so that they can have life instead of death, hope instead of despair, peace instead of turmoil, love instead of hatred.
It’s very simply, we witness to the Savior who was born in Bethlehem as we tell what God has done for us through Christ. That’s all evangelism is. It is the planting of the seeds of God’s presence right here in this world, in this place, in this time, so that the seekers can find the gift of God and the Holy Spirit can give them faith and fill their empty hearts.
Wise men? Are the world’s wise men still following stars seeking the king who came to save the world? Perhaps, but now in this world we have “this grace that was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.11 This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.” (Eph. 3:8 – 12). Are seekers still looking to follow stars, to connect with the Creator Redeemer God? We are the stars in this dark world who light up the sky. We invite them to follow us as we follow God’s Word through power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. We open ourselves to reveal the God who loves us, redeems us in Christ and promises us life now and eternally. We invite all seekers to the gift of the Savior, born in a stable in Bethlehem – who lived in this sin filled world that we live in without one sin and then took all our sins and went to the Cross of Calvary to make the full and final payment for all of them, so that we can have the very gift of life that God wants to give to all of us. This is the gift that we have received on that first Christmas so that we can shine like the stars in the heavens in the darkness of this world and lead others to the true life given to us by God Himself. Amen.