This year, I propose that we all share a resolution, and that we work together to make sure it happens for each of us. I propose that we all resolve to do what we can to grow in the knowledge and love of God.
Our gospel reading for this morning gives us a good start. Today we remember the journey of the wise men to pay homage to the little Lord Jesus.
On Christmas, we celebrated the good news of great joy that, when we were lost, when we had wandered far away from God, God came to find us. Apart from God’s incredible grace and love, we would have remained lost. God has to take the first step. Thankfully, God did. God took flesh to dwell among us. Christ our savior was born as one of us. That is the good news of Christmas.
The next step is ours. Now that God has come to meet us where we are, now that Christ is in our world, it is our job to do everything we can to draw closer to Christ. That is what the wise men did. That is what I am proposing we all resolve to do.
The journey of the wise men to see Christ is a metaphor for the whole Christian life. As Christians we are invited to draw ever closer to God, to go on our own journey of faith into deeper relationship, deeper intimacy with the God we know in Jesus Christ. That is my hope for us this year.
But as we think about journeying to Christ in this year, a first lesson we can learn from the story of the wise men is that we may well get lost at points along the way.
That might sound like a surprising lesson for this reading. After all, the wise men were led by a miraculous star right to the Christ child. That seems like a great deal.
A woman recently told me she wished that God would be clearer about what she needed to be doing. She was ready to take the next step in drawing closer to God; she just didn’t know what the next step was. In terms of our reading, she was longing for a star to guide her. She wanted what the wise men had.
I get that. I often wish for the clarity of a star of my own. But the journey into deeper relationship with God often isn’t that direct. It wasn’t that direct for the wise men, despite the star.
The wise men travelled something like a thousand miles to see Jesus. That is roughly how far it is to Jerusalem from Persia—modern Iran, where they probably came from. Their thousand-mile journey is described in only twelve verses, so a lot is left out. Who knows how often they got lost?
But this much we do know. In nine of the twelve verses—75%!—Matthew describes the problems the wise men encountered along the way. The wise men have to ask for directions from people they thought would know better. That is not easy for men to do! The wise men have to consult unfamiliar Scriptures about the prophesied birthplace of the messiah. The wise men have to overcome the lies and treachery of Herod. Their journey, even in its final stages when they were closest to their destination, was anything but direct!
Their experience is a reminder, if we need it, that the journey to God can be confusing, that we often lose our way, that we sometimes cannot see God’s star which is supposed to be leading us onward.
But, and this is a big part of the good news of this story, God’s star was always there, even when the wise men couldn’t see it. Even when the wise men struggled, God was leading them. Even when they were lost, God was leading them. Even when they had no idea what their next step should be, God was leading them. And eventually, after a detour through Herod’s Jerusalem, they found the one they were looking for.
That reminds us to keep going, to keep trusting in God’s leadership even when we seem to have lost sight of God altogether. God is there, somewhere. And eventually we’ll catch sight of God’s star again. We’ll get back on track. We’ll resume our journey towards Christ, with God’s help.
In the meantime, whenever we lose our way, we can do what the wise men did. We can consult those who are farther along the way than we are. We can study the Bible. Most importantly, we can pray for God’s guidance. And, in God’s time, we will receive the answers we need, as long as we keep at it.
But here’s the most important lesson from this story. When we find God, we may be in for a surprise.
I have no idea what the wise men were expecting. Maybe they were well-prepared for Jesus when they met him. But they travelled hundreds of miles to see the one born king of the Jews. And he turned out to be an unknown peasant child living in the sticks. My guess is, Jesus was not exactly what they expected.
Certainly that is often true for us.
I long for dramatic encounters with God. I want to be knocked off my donkey and hear Christ tell me what to do. And, although I have never had anything quite like that happen to me, I have had moments when God seems to give me a little shake to wake me up. On my way home last Tuesday, I was driving into a nearly full moon, low on the horizon. It was easy to see God’s hand in that moon.
But the Christ whom the wise men met reminds us that Christ is in the less dramatic parts of our lives too. Christ came among us as an apparently ordinary little child. It is like Christ comes in disguise, and our task is to spot him. It is not as easy to see God in the homeless person panhandling in the street as in the dramatic beauties of nature. But that is the Epiphany invitation, that is the invitation for this year: to look for Christ all around us all the time, to see Christ in all the people we meet and in all the things that happen.
And that turns out to be the best news of all. Our journey into God is, in the end, a simple matter of opening our eyes, of looking more deeply into our world, which is God’s creation, and into our brothers and sisters, who are God’s beloved children.
And so we embark on our journey this year, knowing that we will sometimes lose our way, trusting always in God’s guidance, and in the end, finding Christ, who, it turns out, was with us the whole time, hiding in plain sight. My prayer for us this year is that we can all open our eyes as we journey together into God.
In the name of the one who comes to us, who leads us, and who unites us to our heavenly Father. Amen.