Jeremiah 29:11-13 and Matthew 2:1-12
Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
The three wise men were seeking the Messiah. They were seeking Hope. Now you’re thinking, don’t we talk about the ‘We Three Kings’ after Christmas? Epiphany is celebrated on January 6, isn’t it? The fourth verse of the “Silent Night” hymn points us toward the term “King” and it gives us a hint of trouble to come. Sort of like a movie that gives you a hint of trouble ahead before flashing back to the start of the story. Murder She Wrote and Columbo were good for that. They’d show the murder at the beginning and then how the detectives solved it. Two of my favorites. There wasn’t as much blood and gore as they show now. Just a murder and a detective solving it.
Giving us a hint of what’s to come as we approach Christmas Eve with the knowledge of the radical nature of this naming Jesus as “King.” Singing “alleluia to our King” gives us a vision of Hope that the prophecy came true.
Were the three wise men astrologers/Magi or kings? Matthew tells us they came from the east. From an area which is now in either Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen. One theory is they may have been Kings of Yemen, as during this time the Kings of Yemen were Jews.
In Isaiah we read about the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was the first area attacked when nations like Assyria began conquering. Isaiah prophesied that this area -known as “the Galilee” – would not always be so troubled.
Isaiah promised that God would send them light and joy through the birth of a child who would break the “yoke of their burden.” In Isaiah 9:4, we read, “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”
As Jews, the three Kings, would know this prophecy and because they were scholars who studied history, science, medicine, and astrology, they would have been anxious to find out the truth. They were seeking knowledge. They were seeking truth, the meaning of life. Three men is only a guess because they brought with them three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. No matter how many there were, they probably would have had many servants with them. Nobody really knows for sure.
The second verse of We Three Kings, says this, “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again, King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.” This verse would have stuck terror in the heart of King Herod, who was a Jew and afraid of August Caesar if he didn’t maintain order in the Roman occupied nation of Israel.
When the three Magi came to King Herod and asked, “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.” (verse 2) This struck fear in Herod’s heart. How would he maintain his tyrannical oppressive reign over his own people if there were another king they would fear and obey?
Herod did some investigating and found out the prophecy said that the Messiah, the king of the Jews, would be born in Bethlehem. He tried to trick the three Magi. “He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (verse 8) What Herod really wanted was to kill the child so that he could maintain his tyrannical oppressive reign over the Jews.
Tyranny only works when you have all the power over the people. Tyrants have to be afraid of losing power in order to stay vigilant enough to ward off threats to that power. When power become a god, you fear losing it. When you reign by fear, you live by fear. *
Thank goodness the Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they returned to their country by another route. (verse 12)
It is perhaps true that the opposite of fear is not simply “calm,” but rather “hope.” Hope serves as defiance against despair and fear. Hope is our word for this week.
Joan C Williams wrote in her book Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America, this, “If people can’t access their hope, they live by their fear.” **
I think we live in a time of fear. Fear comes in many forms. Fear of not having enough money, fear of not being perfect and of being criticized by others, fear of an abusive spouse, or of bullies, fear that if I don’t take that next drink or that next drug I will not be able to face the life I’m living, or fear of the rejection of someone we love.
Dr. Marcia McFee writes that, the light of God’s guiding star illuminates the false evidence of the perceived fear in our lives. F.E.A.R. = False Evidence Appearing Real. *
As Christians we know the ending of the story. Death does not have the last word. We have our faith that love and life, joy and hope, peace and light, calm and bright are more powerful truths, mightier than the tyranny of fear. We choose to live with the guiding star, which leads us to each other… to listen to God’s cry in the silent night. *
I found a poem called Hope, by Henri Nouwen, a priest, professor, writer and theologian, that I’ll share with you.
“Hope means to keep living amid desperation, and to keep humming in the darkness. Hoping is knowing that there is love, it is trust in tomorrow, it is falling asleep and waking again when the sun rises. In the midst of a gale at sea, it is to discover land. In the eye of another it is to see that he understands you. As long as there is still hope there will also be prayer. And God will be holding you in His hands.”
The world has hope because Jesus came to earth to tell us and to show us God’s love. I pray you find hope through your faith, and I pray you tell others where you found that hope.
Let us pray. Father God, may we trust in you and turn to you to find the hope we need in all our struggles as we journey through this earthly life. And may we have the courage to tell others where we have found our hope, that they might find hope also. Amen
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
*Worship Design Studio, Calm and Bright, Dr. Marcia McFee
** Williams, Joan C. (2017). Overcoming class cluelessness in America, Harvard Business Review Press.