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I invite you to open your Bibles or your Service Folders to our Gospel lesson today as we see God at work in the account of the visit of the Wise Men, and in our lives as well.
God is working in everything for your good. That’s his promise. We cling to that promise by faith. But it’s often hard to see God at work. The reason that it’s hard for us to see is that we are often short sighted, focused on the here and now, and looking for instant results. If we take the time to sit back and consider history as HIS-story we will see very clearly that God is at work for the good of all those who are his. We can see God at work in the account of the visit of the Wise Men.
Matthew tells us that after Jesus was born, (so not on Christmas, but probably after Mary and Joseph had taken him to the temple where he was seen by Simeon and Anna), Wise Men came from the East. They had seen a star. They were convinced that it was a sign from God that the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews, had been born.
Now the big question is, how did they know to look for a star? And where did such faith come from that moved them to drop everything, take a long, expensive journey on dusty and sometimes dangerous roads, just to meet and worship this one born King of the Jews?
Scripture makes it clear that God chooses to work through his word to inform and to create faith. Where would they have heard the words and promises of God? We don’t know for sure but human logic would suggest Daniel. He had been the head of the Wise Men in Babylon about 600 years earlier. God gave Daniel a number of visions regarding the future. He also had access to the Old Testament Scriptures. Surely a man of his stature and faith would have shared what he knew and believed about God with others, especially the promise that God would send a Savior for the world.
Whether it was through Daniel, or through contact with others who shared God’s promises with them, God was at work across the miles and through the ages. Although he chose the Jews to be the custodians of his promises, he made it clear that his promises were intended for all people. It has always been his will that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
We have experienced what the Wise Men did. Across the miles and through the ages God has worked to make sure that we came into contact with his life-giving word and promises. We have heard the good news that Jesus was born King of the Jews, born in Bethlehem just as God foretold he would be. Against all odds, and in spite of our inborn opposition, God has worked through his word and Sacraments to move us to come and worship the one born King of the Jews. The fact that we are here today is evidence of God’s miraculous work in our lives.
When King Herod heard that some travelers from the East were looking for the one born King of the Jews, he was alarmed, agitated, and the whole city was buzzing about it. They knew how evil Herod was. They knew that he had no problem having anyone he thought was a threat to his power killed. He had killed a priest, a wife, his mother-in-law and three of his own sons because he thought they were a threat to his power. We get a hint of his evil when we hear that he called the Wise Men to a secret meeting and lied, apparently very convincingly, by asking them to report back to him when they found this child so that he too might go and worship him. We know that all along he was just trying to find him so that he could have him killed.
But, see God at work even in the midst of evil! In Herod’s attempt to find the child he reminds the leading religious leaders of, and hears for himself, the great prophecy that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem! God gave him an opportunity to hear and believe. Unfortunately, he ignored it to his own condemnation. But God was also at work frustrating evil by warning the Wise Men not to return to Herod, and warning Joseph to leave Bethlehem before Herod’s soldiers showed up and executed all the baby boys two years old and under. Despite the evil plans of Herod, God was at work, making sure Jesus lived so that he could carry out the plan of Salvation he had put into motion. He was at work frustrating evil and turning evil into good for all the world; even for those mothers of Bethlehem who were mourning the loss of their children, for only in Jesus’ successful completion of God’s plan of salvation is there hope for a resurrection to eternal life.
Still today we can expect evil like that of Herod. Revelation speaks about two great beasts, the beast from the earth and the beast from the sea. They seem to represent powerful people in Government and in the church, who are in league with Satan and persecuting believers. But God is at work in the midst of evil. The Psalmist says that the one who sits in the heavens laughs at them. He is in control. When necessary he steps in to thwart their evil schemes. At all times he is at work making sure their evil turns into good for believers, strengthening their faith in the midst of trouble, and, at times, even making evil accomplish his good purpose. The greatest example of this is that God used the evil of the crucifixion of Jesus as a way to pay for the sins of the world. Another example would be how the stoning of Stephen did the opposite of what evil men intended. Instead of helping to silence Christians and wipe out Christianity it helped to spread it, as Christians fled Jerusalem and shared the good news of the Gospel wherever they went.
When times are evil, trust that God is at work in spite of them and even through them, for your eternal good.
When the wise men left Herod and headed to Bethlehem, they saw the star again. Matthew tells us that they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. God was graciously confirming for them that they were headed in the right direction and would soon see the one they were seeking, the one born King of the Jews. God was at work even arranging the stars and planets, or creating a special star, whichever way he did it, for the good of these Wise Men. Just think of it! God can move the stars and planets, or create a special star just for you, if that’s what is for your good. But he has already done something for you that’s even more amazing that that. He sent his son into the world to save you.
When the Wise Men entered the house where the family was staying, they worshiped the infant Jesus and gave him gifts. What faith they demonstrated! They dropped everything, traveled perhaps thousands of miles and then bowed down and worshipped an infant, a foreign child, as their king and savior, as the fulfillment of God’s promise. They trusted what they saw with the eyes of faith, not what they saw with their physical eyes.
It’s difficult to know if the gifts they gave Jesus had any more significance than showing their desire to give Jesus the best that they had. Some suggest that they gave gold because Jesus is a king, incense because he is God and incense was used in temple worship, and myrrh in view of his suffering and death, but it’s hard to imagine that they would think of all those things. The bottom line is that God was at work through their gifts. Mary and Joseph would have to leave Bethlehem quickly, probably with not much more than the clothes on their backs and these gifts given by the Wise Men. God made sure that he provided for them as they had to escape to Egypt in a hurry.
When we hear that God works in all things for our good, especially when things in our lives aren’t good, we are tempted to say, “I don’t see it.”
Don’t be blinded by sinful desires, false expectations, or short-sided impatience. God is at work through time and eternity, despite the evil opposition of Satan and men like Herod. He accomplished his purpose. Jesus lived and died and rose again to pay for all your sins, your doubts, your sinful desires, your short-sided impatience. He continues to work in all things with the goal that you will spend eternity with him.
Sit back and see God at work in history, in the lives of Mary and Joseph, and these Wise Men. Even if you can’t see it with your physical eyes, look with the eyes of faith and trust that he is at work in your life too, making everything that happens serve your eternal good.