As You Enter a New Year

New Year

Happy New Year!

The story of King Herod and the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) provides fertile ground for us as we enter a brand new year.  King Herod rose to power during the flurry of activity that occurred after the death of Julius Caesar. King Herod was a survivor who was bound and determined to bring Judea into the Roman Empire, and he was a man who was not afraid to use violence to get his own way. Herod ordered the death of his wife; and, then, he had her dead body preserved in honey for seven years. Herod commanded his soldiers to kill three of his sons, and Herod’s own brother escaped a similar fate only because he died before the soldiers could assassinate him.

And then, near the end of his life, Herod meets the Magi. The Magi were oriental priests who studied astrology and who interpreted dreams (which, in the ancient world, were understood to be the voice of God). Most people accept the fact that the Magi were not present on the night of Christ’s birth because the Bible tells us, when the Magi arrived, Jesus was living in a “house” with His mother – and we also know that when King Herod tried to destroy the Christ Child, he ordered the death of every boy under the age of two (to allow himself some wiggle room).

But, the story of King Herod and the Magi is a story about people who went away from the Christ as people who had been changed and as people who decided “to go home on a different road.” And that’s the challenge we find in this story today.

“As You Enter a New Year” is a message that’s meant to invite you to think about the new year and about how you can live your life in a new way in 2018.

Can we enter 2018 with a renewed sense of peace as we continue to live our lives in a world where it’s easy to be consumed by long lists of worries and concerns? Can we enter the new year with a deeper understanding of God’s love and embrace in a world where it’s not always easy to love and embrace? Can we enter 2018 with a renewed sense of what God’s doing in our lives – in our families – in our churches – and in the world? Can we enter 2018 with a deeper sense of God’s unfolding plan for our lives and world during a time when we seem to be constantly surrounded by chaos, conflict, and bad news?

The Magi didn’t return to King Herod because “dream interpreters” who listen to the voice of God understand that God’s future isn’t going to be found in people who simply overpower others to get their own way. “Dream interpreters” who listen to the voice of God understand that God’s future isn’t going to be found where people squash others under their feet to get ahead.

Can we enter 2018 with a deeper understanding of the gentleness and compassion that stands at the heart of God’s message to the world? Can we enter the new year with a deeper understanding of the fact that God’s Reign breaks into the world when divisive rhetoric is replaced with a spirit of cooperation and goodwill for all people? Can we enter 2018 with a deeper understanding of God’s path of love that calls us to bear each other’s burdens and to lift each other up?

How will we be changed by the encounter with Christ that we’ve just shared? How will the voice of God call us to “go back home on a different road” – walking together on new and exciting paths as we enter the new year?

 

Be a Star!

wise-men-pic

Most of us are probably familiar with the story of the Wise Men.

We picture a band of weary travelers slowly moving through the desert – following a star to Bethlehem. We don’t know how many Wise Men actually visited the holy Christ-child, but Church Tradition teaches us that there were three; and Tradition also teaches us that their names were Balthasar, Jasper, and Melchior. We do know that the Wise Men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – at least according to the story we find in the Gospel of Matthew. We also know that the Wise Men visited with King Herod before they went to Bethlehem; and then, they simply disappeared – returning to their homes by a different route. (Matthew 2:12)

We suspect that the Wise Men were ancient astrologers. But, perhaps, one of the most important insights we can gain from the Biblical story of the Wise Men is that they didn’t know how to get to Jesus. The Wise Men needed a star to point them toward Jesus because even “smart” people can’t find their way to Jesus all by themselves!

We need to realize that many people are dwelling in darkness as we enter 2017. We can’t listen to the news or pick up our Smartphones without being reminded that violence and darkness are all around us. Many young parents are concerned about the future that their kids are going to face. People need something that can carry them through all of the ups and downs of life, something that can restore their hope, and something that can help them to rediscover a sense of peace in crazy times. People need Jesus.

In this week’s message, “Be a Star!”, we’re challenged to recommit ourselves to being a “Star” that points other people toward Jesus in 2017. We point other people toward Jesus when we love them. We point other people toward Jesus when we forgive them and release the festering anger that we’re holding inside of us. We point others toward Jesus when we lift-up what’s “good” inside of people and look past what isn’t so “good.” We point other people toward Jesus when we lovingly give them things that they may not always deserve – because that’s what makes darkness go away, isn’t it?

As we enter 2017, God is challenging us to become more intentional about the ways that we share the story of our own encounter with Jesus with other people. God’s challenging us to commit ourselves to the task of lifting-up what’s good and whole in the lives of others, and to the task of learning to let go of the things that disappoint us.

Be a star!

As Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good words and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Happy New Year!