These illustrations are based on Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany – Year A
Think of the disappointment these men must have experienced who through the night had traveled many miles by camel to discover that the star had come to rest over a stable. They had followed a star and found a stable. Surely they were expecting a palace. Or perhaps a stately mansion. Think how they must have felt. Their vast disappointment as they look down from some nearby Judean hill and came to the realization that their destination was a stable.
Following stars and finding stables is a common occurrence in human experience. Who among us has not at some time in our life fixed our gaze on some high and lofty star only to find it leads to a stable.
Hundreds of examples could be given. A young man graduates from high school full of great dreams and expectations about the future only to wake up one day and discover himself enmeshed in the very drudgery that he had promised himself he would avoid.
A man comes to retirement age. He thinks of all the good things he's going to be able to do. After a few weeks, however, he begins to discover that retirement is not exactly what he thought it would be. The day starts growing longer. The hours become more oppressive.
All of us at some time in our life follow a star only to discover a stable.
The problem is how to turn that stable into a moment of salvation. What is it that enables wise men of every age to turn the stables of life into victory?
1. For one thing, they look for God in the stable
2. For another, they offer their best to God
3. And finally, because of what happens in the stable, they mark a new direction for their life.
PLEASE NOTE: Please understand that we are aware that the Magi did not met Jesus until he was 2 years old. The rest of the sermon makes note of this. The sermon uses the traditional legend. Whether the wise men meet a new born or a 2 year old it still is not a king in the traditional sense.
Star Over Bedlam
If I were to choose one word to describe 2001, I would have to choose the word bedlam. 2001 started in confusion with the presidential elections and it ended with the insanity of a religious nut in Afghanistan. In a word:
Bedlam--total confusion and insanity. The Bible keeps trying to tell us we are not all alright but we keep turning a deaf ear. So I choose Bedlam. And I do so with good reason.
You see the word bedlam has been used for insane asylums for centuries. In fact Bedlam is the name of the world's oldest insane asylum. It is in England--you can go there today--in the town of Kent. It dates back to 1257, over 750 years ago. But it has not always been called Bedlam. You see Bedlam is a mispronunciation of its real name: Bethlem. The Bethlem Royal Hospital it is called. Originally it was a religious house established by the Catholic Church. In the 1500's it became what it is today. A home of the mentally ill.
How in the world do we move from Bethlehem to Bedlam? God burst on the scene with angels announcing his birth, shepherds telling the story, the wise men from the east, the bright star, and the baby in the manger. No sooner are we acquainted with this child of peace, then we are introduced to Herod the murderer. How do we move so far so fast? We desperately need a star over Bedlam today.
Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com, January 2004.
Letting Go Of Treasures
Giving with a glad and generous heart has a way of routing out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money or some other treasure does something within us. That something is it destroys the demon, greed."
As Long As There is Hope
A few years ago the psychology department of Duke University carried on an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container they placed a rat for whom there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container they made the hope of escape a possibility for the rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally giving up. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of our common conclusion. We usually say, "As long as there is life, there is hope." The Duke experiment proved, "As long as there is hope, there is life."
Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com 2004
A Lengthy Illustration About Giving
My friend knew Mike and his family and were wondering how they were getting on following Mike's death just before last Christmas. It is always a hard time for a family with three teenage boys when a dad suddenly dies, and the mother has to step into his shoes with three very demanding teenagers. But Judith seems to be doing well. She told of a custom their family has.
Judith wrote: "It is just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so. It all began because my husband Mike hated the commercialism of Christmas: the overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry, and the dusting powder for Grandma - the gifts given in desperation because you cannot think of anything else. He just said, "All I want is for my boys and us to be together, and to be Christian."
Knowing he felt this way I decided one year not to buy him the usual shirt, sweater, tie and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike.
The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, took up the sport of wrestling at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. The boys were mostly black and came from under-privileged, poor families.
These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them."
Mike loved kids -- all kids -- and he knew them. He had coached little league football. When Christmas came that year the idea for his present came. I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church for their team. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. In succeeding years I followed the tradition -- one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a football game, another year a cheque to two elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on, always helping the poor.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. As you know, we lost Mike last year due to cancer.
When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree.
It was my gift for Mike. I was sending in his name a group of underprivileged kids to church camp. In the morning, as we all gathered round the tree in our pajamas, I was amazed to find three more envelopes stuck in the tree. Each of our sons, unknown to the others had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad telling what they had done for others.
This year we know it will happen again. A tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us."
As I read Judith's e-mail, my eyes filled with tears. What a magnificent tradition in that family! What would your re-action be if you were given the unexpected? It happens and that surprise may be the most beautiful of all.
After all, weren't the first gifts totally unexpected? Mary and Joseph were amazed at the unexpected gifts given to their newborn baby Jesus.
Matthew 2:1-12 records the story of the coming of the Magi from the East.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes, www.wesleymission.org.au, Sermons from Sunday Night Live.
A Legend of the Magi and the True Story
There is a beautiful old tradition about the star in the East. The story says that when the star had finished its task of directing the wise men to the baby, it fell from the sky and dropped down into the city well of Bethlehem. According to some legend, that star is there to this day, and can sometimes still be seen by those whose hearts are pure and clean. It's a pretty story. It kind of makes you feel warm inside.
There are other legends about this story of the wise men from the east. For instance, how many wise men were there? In the old days in the east, they believed that there were 12 men who made the journey, but now most everyone agrees there were three. One old legend even tells us the names of the three. Melchior was the oldest of the group, with a full beard. He gave the baby the gift of gold. Balthasar also had a beard, but was not as old as Melchior. He presented the gift of myrrh. The youngest of the three was Casper, who had no beard yet, but did present the gift of frankincense to the baby. Yet another legend goes on to tell us that after seeing the baby, the three continued traveling as far as Spain, telling the world the good news about what they had seen. These stories bring the wise men a little more to life, and add some color to the meaning of Christmas. They can also get in the way.
The problem with legends is that sometimes they add color to stories that don't need any additional color. In fact, sometimes legends are so colorful, they are unbelievable, and can end up making the entire story unbelievable as well. Kind of like that star falling in the well. It makes you warm inside. It also makes you wonder.
I am not out to ban legends, but I do think it might be worthwhile to hear the story one more time, the way it was told the first time. I need to hear it anyway, and you are welcome to listen along if you like.
The rest of this sermon entitled "Just the Facts" can be used by joining www.eSermons.com.
John B. Jamison, Time's Up!, C.S.S. Publishing Company, 1992.
Do It Anyway!
Herod was a power-hungry ruler whose actions reeked of evil. We can't explain his actions, or the actions of anybody else who acts in evil ways.
And despite our best efforts to create an atmosphere of cooperation and kindness, it is unrealistic to think we are going to eliminate from the face of the earth divisive, rude, evil people. Our only choice, unless we want to give in or give up, is to work around the evil. Yes, this is an imperfect world, but that does not relieve us of our responsibility to work for what is good and right. If anything, the evil present in our world only accentuates the need for us to do something.
Someone wrote a short piece about rejecting the nay-sayers and taking the higher road. They titled it "Anyway." Here it is:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway!
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway!
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway!
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway!
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway!
The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds. Think big anyway!
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for some underdogs anyway!
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway!
People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway!
Give the world the best you have and you will get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway!
The rest of this sermon can be viewed and used by joining www.eSermons.com
William B. Kincaid, III, And Then Came The Angel, CSS Publishing Company.
A Change of Life
King Herod ordered the wise men to report to him where they found the newborn king. In a dream they were God-directed not to go back to Herod, but to go home another way. When a person comes to worship Christ, he experiences, or should experience, a change in life.
Former president Jimmy Carter tells a wonderful story about a change he made in his life that enhanced his marriage. Here is the story as he tells it:
"Perhaps because of my Navy training, punctuality has been almost an obsession. Rosalynn has always been adequately punctual, except by my standards. A deviation of five minutes or less in our departure time would cause a bitter exchange.
"One morning I realized it was Rosalynn's birthday and I hadn't brought her a present. What could I do that would be special for her? I hurriedly wrote a note: 'Happy birthday! As proof of my love, I will never make an unpleasant comment about tardiness.' I signed it and delivered it in an envelope, with a kiss.
"More than four years later, I still keep my promise. It has turned out to be one of the nicest birthday presents for Rosalynn - and for me."
Quoted in Reader's Digest, July 1989, p. 183.
A New Star
In October, 1989, an new star was added to the 1900 stars on the famed sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard. The new star was placed near the stars of Julie Andrews and Wayne Newton. The new star, as curious as it seems, was evangelist Billy Graham, who has preached the gospel to more than 100 million people around the world. Forty years ago he refused to have his name on a star, but he reconsidered it in 1989. He said, "I hope it will identify me with the gospel that I preach." At the unveiling he added, "We should put our eyes on the star, which is the Lord."
John R. Brokhoff, Preaching the Miracles, CSS Publishing Company, 1991
Life is what happens to you when you make other plans.
Where Are The Three Kings?
Now I have to confess to you that, when I saw that this story from Matthew's gospel, the story of the arrival of the wise men, was the lectionary reading for Epiphany Sunday, I approached the story with an arrogance born of familiarity. I got quite upset with myself when I realized how presumptuous my attitude was.
Have you ever become so familiar with something that you think you know all there is to know about it? Or maybe you have a friend, or perhaps even your spouse, who has become so familiar to you that you arrogantly assume that you know what he or she is going to say before the words are spoken, and so you don't really listen to them? Be honest now! You're in church!
That's sort of the way it was for me with this particular passage of scripture. I saw it listed for Epiphany and I automatically assumed that this would be an easy sermon to write. I even decided on a title for the sermon before reading the text. I was going to call it We Three Kings - an Encore Appearance. I would talk about King Herod's response to the news of the birth of a new king and contrast that with the response of these visitors from a far country.
Because I am a creature of habit, like most of you, I still opened my Bible and began to read the passage out loud, as I always do at the first reading.
What could it hurt? But, you know, when I read the text this time, I had a rather rude awakening. Did you know that there is no mention anywhere in this story of three KINGS, or three of anything, for that matter, coming to visit the Christ-child? There's not! I read every translation I could get my hands on and the only words used to describe these visitors from the East were Magi, wise men, and astrologers. There was no reference at all to the number of persons in their traveling entourage. The story does tell us that three gifts were presented to the Christ-child, and the church has just ASSUMED that everyone who came to visit the Messiah would have brought a gift. And since only three gifts were listed, there must have been three wise men. I don't know how they got promoted to the status of kings, but somehow they did.
So I had to throw out the sermon title I had selected, say a prayer for forgiveness of my arrogance, and start all over. Isn't it great that God lets us do that? And there's no "three strikes and you're out" policy with God, either! I was greatly relieved, however, to discover that there was still a sermon in the text, and it pretty much followed my original line of thought. The passage does reflect two different responses to the birth of Jesus. And these two responses are indications of the coming conflict the grown-up Jesus would have to face.