08 January 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Rose Sapp-Bax, Deacon
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of the Province of Myanmar (Burma)
St. Mark’s Church, Haines City
All Souls, Horizon West
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
One of the most famous journeys in all scripture is celebrated today, the
wisemen come to visit Jesus, the King of the Jews. Just as we have watched our
own wisemen journey from the back of the church - from the chapel in the east -
actually, I think it’s in the west - but work with me here- up the side isle - very
slowly, precariously perched on their moving table - until, finally - today they have
It is easy to perceive the physical journey they have undertaken, believed
to perhaps 900 miles. But, today we compare their journey - both physical and
spiritual - to our own life journeys.
But before we talk about these journeys, let us answer a few common questions
about this event. First of all, when did this visit take place? The wisemen are
often shown in the nativity scenes right along side the shepherds and the angels.
But the very first verse of our reading tells us that they arrived in Jerusalem
AFTER Jesus was born.
Herod asks them when they first saw the star - indicating the star had been
visible for some time. Then, Verse 11 tells us that the wise men entered the
HOUSE where Mary and the CHILD were - not infant, but child - not the stable,
but a HOUSE. I am just glad that Joseph got that baby out of the barn and
into a house!
Then we are told that Herod kills all the males up to two years old trying to rid
himself of any other royalty that might be competition. So the wisemen most
likely visit Jesus in Bethlehem some time after his first birthday.
So, who were these wisemen - referred to in other scripture translations as
Magi from the east, and how did they know what the rising of this star signified?
We get no other information in this text about where in the EAST they came
from. But, If we go back to the old testament book of Daniel, we find the mention
of a similar group of people to whom Daniel himself belonged - but only after he
studied under them for three years. Is it possible that these travelers learned
about the coming of a Messiah from stories and teachings given their ancestors
from Daniel himself? Scripture does not say, but these were Gentiles from a
distant land who now had knowledge of the star announcing the birth of the King
of the Jews. Did God use Daniel - generations earlier - to spread the news of the
coming Messiah and to set the stage for today’s events?
How ever the Magi learned of this foretold event, it was enough to cause
them to set out on a long journey - not just a physical journey, but a spiritual one
as well. Theirs is a journey of sacrifice.
Traveling during this time was slow, difficult and dangerous. We don’t know
for sure exactly how they traveled - most likely by camel!
Even more uncomfortable than Mary’s trip on the donkey.
While we don’t know exactly where these wisemen came from, the trip from most
anywhere in the East would have taken them across desert and mountainous
terrain. It is estimated that the trip would have taken somewhere between 6 and
10 months. All this to visit a child - the King of the Jews - to pay homage to a
savior about which they knew very little.
When was the last time WE endured this kind of hardship or sacrifice for the sake
of our Savior?
Sidenote: Just after I typed this last sentence, I took a break and made a couple
phone calls and got a message about someone in the hospital who requested a
visit. I had my day all planned - finish my sermon, make a few phone calls, spend
some time working on the quilt I had started. I had no plans to venture out. I
glanced back at the sentence I had just written. wow . . . okay, God! I got it. I
smiled - God really does have a sense of humor! The visit turned out to be a
blessing and a joy - for both of us!
Back to the wisemen. Not only was this a journey of sacrifice, but a journey of
faith. Scripture tells us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move
mountains. The Magi had such faith - God given faith. For them to take on this
journey knowing so little about what they might find - it’s like spending your life
savings for a hand drawn treasure map. And yet, their journey - started with only
the faith of a mustard seed is rewarded by God - faith upon faith. I wonder how
many times they thought or talked about turning back? And yet, they persisted.
What a story they had to tell when they returned home!
What is your faith story? When was the last time you shared your faith with
someone? So many times, Jesus rewarded those He encountered for their faith.
Are we so willing to share our faith to strengthen others?
For these men, their journey was also a journey of worship. From its very
beginning, these wise men knew why they had to make this journey. Their
worship started long before they reached the house where they found Jesus.
Their very journey was an act of worship! Verse 10 - When they saw the star
they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Each time they looked up and saw the
star - each time they yearned to find this Messiah, each step was an act of
worship. And when they reached their destination, what did they do?
These men of great stature and wisdom, fell to their knees and worshipped.
This was an act of great humility and faith. What an amazing response!
Yes, Jesus deserves their worship.
Philippians 2:10 tells us that ‘every knee will bow’ at the name of Jesus. These
were among the first who did just this. No one told them to. They chose to
worship him - the first of many.
Then they presented Jesus with gifts - gifts that were typically only for Kings!
These men of great wisdom understood.
The gifts - gold, representing wealth - a gift fit for a King!
Frankincense - the sap of a tree that was dried and hardened to create incense
and used in worship. A gift for a deity.
Myrrh - a fragrant perfume used in embalming to anoint and preserve the dead.
Did the Magi understand the significance of their gifts - we don’t know, but in His
sovereign plan, God used these gifts to show us who Jesus was and foretell the
life He was to lead, and the death he was to suffer.
In 2 Samuel, David proclaims that he would not offer Sacrifices to God that
were of little value. The gifts of the Magi were costly and their worship cost them
a large amount of time and expense.
Our worship, too should require sacrifice - of our time and our expense. We
often hear as our offertory sentence: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice”.
This means that everything we have and everything we are, must be devoted to
God. We do this with every daily decision we make - our daily sacrifices.
Finally, the Magi’s journey was one of obedience. The final verse in today’s
gospel says: And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they left for their own country by another road.
This is the first directive we see given to the Magi from the Lord - their faith has
led to obedience. They could have ignored the dream and gone back to
Herod - He seemed like a genuine guy, after all - surely it would not be
dangerous to tell him about Jesus. They didn’t second guess God - simple
obedience. God uses our obedience, in the big things and in the little things to
accomplish His plans.
The wisemen came to worship a King - their sacrifice was more than inconvenient.
It was costly - in time, in treasure. From them we see that:
- Jesus is worthy of our sacrifice
- He is worthy of our faith.
- He is worthy of our worship.
- He is worthy of our obedience.
We have just celebrated Christmas, given and received gifts. But what have we
given to Jesus? Perhaps the season of Epiphany is a time to examine our
journey - where have we failed to follow the path God set out for us? To what is
he calling us now? AND . . . . How can we better worship our Savior?