Grace to you and peace in the name of the Holy and most blessed Trinity. Amen.
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. – Matthew 2:1-12
The visit of the Magi offersa model for our discipleship and Christian response in the midst of a global pandemic. While the astrologers from the East and King Herod occupy a significant role in the account, ultimately it is God who is the principal actor. God guides the Wise Men to the Christ Child by the star. The star functions as the light of God illuminating and directing them to Jesus. God’s Word embodied in the prophecy of Micah contributes to driving the action in the narrative. The dreams of the kingly visitors send them home by a new path, thereby avoiding the deceiving intentions and manipulations of King Herod. In addition, the Magi’s return to their homes by another road symbolizes the transformation they receive in their encounter with the Christ Child. Their experience in paying homage to Christ, worshipping him and offering him gifts changes them and sets their lives off in new directions.
We enter 2021 in the midst ofadevasting global pandemic. It continues to impact our daily lives bringing illness as we experience the advent of suffering, death, hardship, isolation, loneliness, division, and economic challenges. The account of the Magi’s visit assures us of God’s guiding light that shines in our darkness. It is the star that illumines our path and offers hope and a pathway forward. Micah’s prophecy invites us to root ourselves this year in the Word of God that shepherds, sustains and strengthens our faith, inspires us to love God and neighbor, and offers hope. After months of few COVID – 19 cases in our community and none in our congregation, the last two months have seen a sharp increase in the numberof cases. Each week more members and friends of our Christ Lutheran Gettysburg community are diagnosed with COVID-19. Some have been hospitalized and are fighting for their lives. Others have experienced milder symptoms. God’s divine light guides us to care for each other, pray, and do all we can to keep one another safe and healthy. This is why we are currently worshipping and gathering virtually and will continue to do so until it is safe to be together in person. Please stay engaged in prayer for those who are sick, suffering, dying, and mourning. Your prayers matter and are an important part of our congregation’s response to this pandemic. I encourage you to stay connected withone another. Worship each week with us virtually whether it’s on Sunday or finding a time during the week to do so. Contact one of the pastoral staff if you would like to serve as a reader of the scripture lessons for one of our weekly services. Our Christian education classes continue to meet and are connecting people, creating faith filled conversations, and helping participants grow in their faith.
Upon finding the Christ Child, the Wise Men were overwhelmed with joy. Joy has been difficult to experience in the last year. Nevertheless, I heard throughout the Christmastide from many who shared joys they received this past year even in the midst of a pandemic. The joy Christ brings to our lives cannot be extinguished. In the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God offers us the gift of life now and forevermore. God extends mercy and forgiveness. Through Christ God promises to be with us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God provides the gift of faith. These are all gifts that bring joy to our lives, hearts and minds. While joy often seems scarce in times such as these, the Wise Men’s joyful experience with Christ reminds us that God encounters us in our darkness and despair bringing light and joy.
The Wise Men enter the house finding Jesus and Mary and immediately they pay him homage. They offer him respect and recognize his lordship and in doing so recognize their role as servants. Their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh symbolize his authority, power, and divinity. Furthermore, they foreshadow his sacrifice of laying down his life so that humanity and all creation might be renewed. The actions of the Eastern Magi model for us a life of Christian discipleship. As a people of faith we too are called to pay homage to Christ, to embrace our role as a follower and servant of Christ, and to offer our gifts to Christ. The light of God shines upon us illuminating paths for us to follow in faith perhapsin some new directions to find creative ways to worship, learn and serve together. It invites us to offer our gifts including our time and energy, our many God given talents, and our financial resources in service to the ministry of sharing God’s renewing and transforming light with others.
May the promises God offers in the birth, death and resurrection of Christ strengthen and inspire our faith to live out our Christian life with integrity and purpose. May it take us along new paths away from the ravages of sin and death into lives of faith that reflect the hope, love and joy of God.
May you and yours have a blessed, healthy, happy, and joy-filled new year!
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Stephen Herr