Isaiah 60:1-6 & Matthew 2:1-12
Bishop David Bard, who preached here in July, sent a New Year Message to Michigan United Methodists. Reflecting on his first year as Michigan Area’s Bishop, he said this, “This past year has been a year of deepening love—love for the Michigan Area, our churches and our people; love for our identified vision as a conference; to be Christ-centered, engaging in mission and ministry, developing and encouraging bold and effective leaders, and nurturing and growing vibrant congregations. I love that our vision serves an even larger vision, the vision God has for a newer world.” (The Joyful Journey, January 3, 2018, Michigan Area website)
The word ‘vision’ began to bounce around my mind, and I began to wonder what kind of vision would cause the three wise men to follow the star to Bethlehem.
This Sunday is called Epiphany on the church calendar, and it is a celebration of the coming of the three wise men. An epiphany is a new way of seeing or understanding. It is appropriate that we should begin a new year with an epiphany, a new way of seeing, a vision, an image of what our world can be, of what our lives can be. Like the three wise men of old, we need to open the eyes of our heart and our mind, to a new vision.
We read in Matthew’s gospel, that the three wise men journeyed to Jerusalem and ask King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (v.2)
King Herod doesn’t know, so he asks his chief priests and teachers of the law of Moses. They cite Old Testament scripture, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel” (v. 6) Old Testament prophecy told of the king of the Jews being born in Bethlehem.
Who were these three wise men asking the question? Tradition says they were men of high position from Parthia, near the site of ancient Babylon. They could have been Jews who remained in Babylon after the Exile. They may have been Gentile astrologers from the east, who studied ancient manuscripts from around the world and studied the stars.
Humans have always been fascinated by the stars. It amazes me that the stars we see today are the same stars God placed in the sky at creation. Jesus had a different perspective of the stars when he viewed them from earth than he had when he was in on creation. Doesn’t that boggle the mind?
Yet, what caused these astrologers, if that is what they were, to follow that star? Some think because of the Jewish exile centuries earlier, they would have had copies of the Old Testament in their land. They may have read Isaiah 60, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, the darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the people, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you—-Nations will come to your light, and the kings to the brightness of your dawn.—And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” (vv. 1-3,6b)
Or maybe these three wise men had a special message from God directing them to the Messiah. Some scholars say these wise men were each from a different land, representing the entire world bowing before Jesus.
Whatever message they received, from their studying, or from God, these three wise men had a vision and traveled thousands of miles searching for the king, whom they found as a toddler, somewhere between one-and-half and two years old. They not only found him, they brought him gifts. What vision caused them to bring the baby Jesus the gifts they brought?
They gave him gold. Gold is a gift for a king. They also gave him frankincense. Frankincense was the sweet perfume that was used in temple worship and at the temple sacrifices. Frankincense is a gift for a priest. The Latin word for priest is pontifex, which literally means a bridge builder. The priest is a bridge builder between a person and God, and that is Jesus’ ultimate function. He built a bridge between us and God; He made it possible for each one of us to enter into the very presence of God. Think about the cross +, the vertical beam connects us to God. The horizontal beam connects each of us to Jesus. The third gift was myrrh – the gift for one who was to die. Myrrh was used to embalm the bodies of the dead. Jesus came into the world to die. At Christmas we remember this sobering truth – Jesus is the only man who ever chose to be born. We also remember that he chose to die. He gave himself to us in life and he gave himself to us in death, that we might have life.
I spoke last week of how the younger generations do not have a vision of hope for their future, and how this lack of vision is causing some to commit suicide. I found an illustration that encourages us to find a new vision for a better world. A vision not found in our life’s possessions or life’s circumstances, but found in loving and serving God and our neighbor.
Leo Buscaglia Phd., who wrote books on how to love one another, once told a story that happened while he was a professor at the University of Southern California. He had a student who was brilliant and filled with potential. Joel, however, had lost his meaning and purpose for living. He had no vision of a future.
Joel had been brought up in the Jewish faith, but like many young people he had wandered away. God had become a meaningless symbol. He had no motivation to live another day and no one could convince him otherwise. So he prepared to take his own life. On his way, he stopped by Leo’s office. Fortunately, the good doctor was in.
The student told Leo that he had lots of money, clothes and cars. He had been accepted at several of the top engineering schools to work on his Master’s degree. He had everything going for him, even good looks. Women circled around him like sharks. Yet he had nothing inside. There was no fire or passion in his belly. He had no vision, no joy, no enthusiasm, no peace, no harmony.
Leo said, “Before you take your life, I want you to visit some old people at the Hebrew Home which is adjacent to our campus.”
“What for?” the young man asked.
Leo said, “You need to understand life through the eyes of your heart.”
“The eyes of my heart?” the young man asked.
“Yes, you need to experience what it is like to give to those who have lost their connection to a meaningful life. Go to the desk and ask if there are people there who have not been visited for a long time by anyone. You visit them.”
“And say what?” the young man asked.
“I don’t know,” Leo said, “Tell them anything that will give them hope.” Notice Leo’s strategy–we get back what we give.
Leo did not see the student for months. In fact, he largely forgot about him. Then one day during the fall, he saw him coming from a bus with a group of seniors, some of whom were in wheel chairs. Joel had organized a trip to the baseball game with a group of his new senior friends who had not been to a game in years. Leo and Joel chatted for a moment. Just before parting Joel said, “Thanks for helping me find the ‘eyes of my heart.’” Leo nodded and smiled. *
This is Epiphany. Seeing life with new eyes. A New Vision. Seeing new possibilities in our life and in our world. That is what I pray for each of us this day. Whatever vision brought the three wise men to Bethlehem, that vision took them on a journey of faith. When they found the newborn king they offered him gifts, gifts that represented the best of who they were. This is the kind of vision we need as we begin this new year–a vision to build new lives and a new world.
If you’ve lost your vision of a future, I encourage you to go visit a shut in or someone in one of the many nursing homes we have in our area. Visit someone who may not have family or visitors. Share with them words of hope, and as you do, you too will find A New Vision for your life.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
References: *Cited by Rev. Richard E. Stetler,