Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`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.'"
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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." 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
As most of you probably know our daughter Sarah got engaged just before Christmas. So a lot of our time and thoughts through this Christmas season have been concentrated on preparing for a wedding.
I have to admit that one of the most pleasant opportunities I have as a Priest/Pastor is to travel alongside people as they prepare for and then participate in The Celebration of a Marriage.
Now, I haven't had as many opportunities to walk that path as I have to walk alongside people who are preparing to farewell a loved one at the end of their loved one's life.
Funerals have outnumbered weddings since I have been here at Church Church. But that hasn't been a bad thing or a sad thing for me. Both journeys have their blessings. Both have opportunities to celebrate other people and their impact on our lives.
It is interesting to me, that I have four couples who have approached me and asked if I would be willing to celebrate their marriages here at Christ Church through the coming year. I am not sure how many of those will come to pass but I am filled with hope and anticipation of the new life and commitments these potential marriages point towards.
As I talk with couples about their weddings I find that those who come to me and ask me to walk alongside them in preparing for Marriage have lots of questions. Because this is not something many people have done before they find themselves in a "foreign" feeling place. They find that as they go through the process there are many times of uncertainty.
One of the interesting things for me is that people who have decided to get married find themselves walking into a place where they compare their "life experience" with their hopes and dreams. I find that one of the first questions I ask couples is "why do you want to get married?" Another, which usually follows that first one very closely is "why do you want a Christian or religious wedding?"
I want to establish in my mind and to try to help them to understand what they are committing to when they come to Christ Church for a wedding. In the world, we live in, marriage doesn't have a great track record. Many younger people are choosing to live together without the traditional Wedding as a formal recognition of their relationship.
A couple of generations ago this practice was widely frowned upon. There was a public price to pay when people didn't take the step to formally and legally recognize their living arrangements. These days people may frown when they hear that couples are not getting married but there certainly isn't a public outcry.
As we walk through the steps of marriage preparation couples have the opportunity to talk to someone about their goals and expectations. They get to verbalize and hear each other talk about what they know and what they hope for. They also take some time to consider what they have experienced or seen in marriages around them.
One thing that becomes obvious as they interact is that they begin to evaluate their hopes and expectations of each other. Many times they discover things that they either did not know or only had a vague inkling of about the other person. It is often only when they sit down and talk to one another in this kind of setting that they learn very important things about each other.
Now, I have to say at this point that it is only after the wedding and a few months into the marriage that some things are revealed, some things are tested and some things are confirmed. There is no substitute for the experience of being married.
As we enter this new year I believe, that many of us, are feeling some of the same feelings and anxieties that couples feel when they come to prepare for marriage. Some of us are feeling very tentative about what this year might bring. We are coming to this moment and we are comparing our life experiences with our hopes, dreams, and expectations. We are learning more about what this year might hold for us and we are to decide if we are willing to commit ourselves to the upcoming year.
I would also like to suggest that we, as Christian believers, as followers of Christ, should be approaching this year with a slightly different expectation than our fellow travelers on this journey. There is plenty of reason to be feeling unsure and anxious about the coming year. The year we have just been through certainly challenged some of what we thought were certainties for us. We are a little less optimistic and hopeful than we were a year ago.
I am sure that we would like to stand with Isaiah in the proclamation he makes in the Old Testament reading this morning.
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you."
But I would suggest that we are still a little hesitant, we are hoping and we are expectant. We are just not sure yet that we can proclaim those verses with certainty yet.
Wouldn't we all like to be able to stand alongside Paul and proclaim as he does in the reading from Ephesians 3:7-12
"Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him."
I am sure there is a part of each and every one of us that would like to have that kind of impact with our lives and our witness. For many of us, we just have never had that experience and we are not sure where we would start or how we could start.
I am so glad for the couples who come to me and talk about marriage and want to get involved in planning their weddings here at Christ Church. Many of them have not experienced healthy marriages. Many of them have very good reasons for not committing themselves and their partners to what they may consider an antiquated institution. But they come anyway and they commit themselves to their hopes, dreams, and expectations.
They remind me of the wise men in the Gospel this morning. They begin a journey with a very vague understanding of what they are doing and what they expect to find. They come to the people they expect should be able to guide them and ask directions only to find that those people have to dig into their ancient records to find the directions they are seeking. They are not living lives of expectation and anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. Then they experience the so-called leader of these people asking them questions about how they knew that the child would be born.
They follow in anticipation, they continue to follow, even when those who should have known better than them know nothing, and they go on to complete their journey and discover the reality of their hopes, dreams, and what they are anticipating.
As we enter this coming year are we going to be led by our hopes, our dreams, and our anticipation or are we going to let our experience of life up to this point dictate what kind of life we will live.
I am so glad for the couples who come to me and ask me to walk with them along the path of preparation for marriage. Because every time I walk that path I am reminded of what the true hope, the true dream, and what great expectation we can have of marriage.
It also reminds me of the hopes, dreams, and expectations we have in the Gospel of Christ to give us new life.
I truly hope that this morning and in the coming days of this new year we will all experience the joy of Christ's coming into our lives, and into our hearts in a new and refreshingly powerful way.