“By Another Road!”
Matthew 2:1-12, January 3rd, 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the gospel of Matthew, chapter two, verses one thru twelve.”
Matthew 2: 1-12
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
“Having heard the accounting of the Magi as they followed the star to Bethlehem, let us consider its meaning for us.”
“By Another Road”
In life there is always more than one way to get to where you think you need to go. However, there are frequent roadblocks, obstructions, and risky choices to be made along the way. One way may be the shortest distance, yet one must evaluate and then choose the ‘right’ pathway to follow. Sometimes, we get all ‘caught up, in the destination, when truly life is all about the journey! Take for instance a simple task, a short walk to get to a nearby restaurant of your choosing. Last month my wife and I got together with our daughters, granddaughter and grandson, and our great granddaughter. They were staying at a ‘time-sharing’ unit up on Coco Beach. The four-lane roadway was rather busy, but we decided that we could more easily walk as it was so close, rather than pull out one of the cars. Eventually, we made it across safely, but we sure did not save any time, as it was indeed treacherous crossing the busy roadway at five thirty in the evening on a Tuesday evening. After dinning out on the veranda of a nice Italian restaurant we did not have any problem crossing the road as the traffic had slowed down considerably. The shortest way is not always the fastest nor the safest way to cross a street.
Choosing the right pathway in life is something we all are challenged to do – quite frequently along our journeys. Young adults and their parents are often challenged to pick the right schools, especially as the prospect of going to college comes their way. Does one pick the most prestigious school, or the closest to home? The student to be and the parents frequently disagree on these choices. Cost is always a factor, yet there are ways around these obstacles for many. A student may need to take a few years longer to get their education as they seek employment to ease the financial burden. All part of the journey. Choosing a school ought to be the solution to a given challenge or goal. When we start with this approach the choices take on a different complexion. College is meant to give the student more ‘tools’ not just a diploma to aid their ability to be successful in their career choices. A diploma from a top named school does not accomplish the goal for everyone.
It really is all about the journey. Picking the right pathway, picking the right road is crucial! Being taught integrity and common sense, along side some practical skills such as reading and writing at a college level is a good start. Being taught how to work with others or how to cope with stress and such add a lot to an education. Just being taught how to get an A on an exam – will not guarantee the student will know how to apply their knowledge to a particular trade or profession. Some of the most successful men and women in our current society, never finished high school. Yet, they were able to navigate through their journey’s quite well. Were they just lucky or did they see clues in the signposts along the way that gave them the ability to navigate the pitfalls so many have fallen into along the way? Of course, we are not all destined to be the leaders of large corporations or hold positions of power. There are a huge number of us who serve extremely valuable positions in life… with little recognition or even are acknowledged by others. A great many of this very large group of folks, they have been more focused on their journeys through life then that ultimate and sometimes unreachable goal.
Our scripture is about some wise men, referred to as kings… magi or simply noble men in many writings. Neither the gifts they bring, nor their titles are the key or the primary focus within our writing. Their willingness to set out on their journey is the key here! Our scripture tells us that they asked while in Jerusalem, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” /Matthew 2:2/ These stargazers did not seek out old King Herod, but word got back to him of their quest. Herod clearly did not like the idea of a new king being born; he was frightened of what this would mean for himself! Therefore, when Herod spoke with the wise men from the east, he asked them to come back to him and tell him where the newborn king was. Yet, in a dream they are warned to go home a different way! And that is what they did – they went home by another road.
I know we preachers are not to get into political matters from the pulpit, yet it is impossible not to see politics within the scriptures. A writer named David Keck points this out for us. “The wise men remind us that stargazing always involves politics.” Herod’s only interest in the birth of baby Jesus was for his concern about staying in power as the King of the Jews – not some prophesied Messiah that would come to save the people! Our lives also revolve around power, prestige, and influence, if we allow it to be the center of our lives. Do these things affect our lives? Absolutely! Do we need to allow them to control and direct who we are and what we stand for? Absolutely not! Thus, it is so very crucial that we pay attention to which roads we take. Some lead to heaven and others will take us somewhere else! The shortest paths, the bright shiny looking ones with all the glitter; ones with the superficial promises; these are seldom the ones, the pathways for those of us who are seeking a life of integrity and righteousness – a journey through life that includes a relationship with the likes of the ‘Holy One’ which the wise men sought to pay homage to! The question for us to consider is this: are we getting guidance as to how to navigate our journey around the obstacles that shall surely throw us off the pathway of faithfulness to the God, the Holy One to which we pay homage to!?
The birth of the Christ Child, as written in holy scripture, is a fantastic drama! What makes it even more than that… is that this drama is driving and has driven the Christian movement to this point in history! The struggle so many have is that there are numerous roadways with twists and turns that the many branches of Christianity have taken… since the writing of these ancient accounts of Jesus’ birth. Including this dialogue of the wise men from the East! Tradition tells us how we are to interpret this event and how we ought to celebrate the majesty of it all! Many believe that the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas comes from this piece of scripture. Most scholars however place the ritual of gift giving further back in history. The wise men gave gifts in homage, in honor of the birth of Jesus; much like our custom for our personal birthdays. Giving Christmas gifts to one another, in celebration of Jesus’ birth, if done out of love and admiration for another, is a good custom and a good tradition. Christianity is meant to honor the love of God, a God who loves us so much that the very essence of God would come and live amongst us in the embodiment of the baby Jesus. Gift giving has helped families pass on the mystical telling of the birth of the baby Jesus, and the coming of the wise men, with their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh have enhanced this ancient custom. This is an easy choice to make, as it is within the journey of gift giving, which is so powerful and profound.
Old King Herod is portrayed as the tyrant, the villain in our scripture today. And as we read further in the scriptures, he is all of that! Verse sixteen of this verse from the gospel says it plainly. When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent soldiers to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under. He did this seeking to be sure the baby prophesied to become king – was killed! /Matthew 2:16/ It is critical that we all see the significance of this passage. Yes indeed, the birth of Jesus is something to celebrate and honor. Yet, let us not get lost in the tinsel. All that glitters is not encased in gold. Nor can we allow ourselves to become the instruments of another’s demise! Herod, in his rage as a cruel tyrant and ruler of the people, wished to use these pilgrims, from the East, to hold onto his position of power! We are called to become wise like they and choose a different road.
What road are we to take? Easy question, but a difficult one to answer. Simply look to the wide range of answers Christian leaders since the time of Jesus have given. Wars have been raged over the very answers. The “Herod (’s of this world) is/are still sending centurions to trample through small towns in the name of the public good.” Thank you: Nancy Rockwell, for this harsh yet revealing truth. I too wish to continue stargazing as I look to the stories of the scriptures. Thankfully, the deeper meaning in our scripture tells us that we can, and we ought to pay homage to the Holy One, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, just as the wise men did when they found where the baby Jesus was born. However, we cannot, and we must not, allow the darkness of those who would trample upon the innocent for the sake of their own gain blur our vision! We must use the very gifts God has given us to be as wise, alert, and careful as the men who traveled through Jerusalem, on their way to see the baby Jesus. We must pay homage to the signs and listen to the still speaking voices of God, who warns us away from those who would impede our journeys. Let us be ‘alert’ and ‘listen’ for the Spirit’s guidance as followers in the ‘way’ in the ‘pathway’ of the Prince of Peace!