The God Who Is There
God wants to be involved in our lives day-to-day.
Note: this message follows the lectionary reading for December 27, but obviously can be preached before Christmas if you change the introduction.
Do you realize that there are only 363 shopping days until next Christmas? Do you also realize that even though the season just ended for us, the next Christmas season is beginning THIS WEEK for thousands and thousands of business people—from distributors and manufacturers to marketing and advertising executives? They are all beginning to make plans for Christmas 1999. In fact, many will spend the entire year focusing on this one particular month.
I used to work in retail; I was the manager of a record store. There were more than 100 stores in our chain. Dozens of those stores lost money 11 months of the year, but were ultimately profitable due to the strength of Christmas sales. There's no doubt about it: Christmas is big business, and many businesses spend their entire year focusing on the single month of December.
This week I began to think: Wouldn't it be great if we could be so focused on the Christmas message that it consumed our entire year as well? Today's Scripture is found in Matthew; it is the story of the journey of the wise men to see Jesus. We consider this a Christmas story, yet it is this Sunday's (December 27) suggested reading for all Christian churches, as outlined in the New Common Lectionary.
Today, even though Christmas is behind us, we're going to look at this story of the Magi for the following reasons: One, we need to remember that Christmas has year-round significance in our lives. Two, this story teaches truths about God that go far beyond what we see in the average Christmas pageant. It presents a radical view of God that challenged the belief systems of first-century Jews. For many of us, this story will offer a whole new way of looking at the nature of God and how he relates to us. Let's look at three things this story teaches us. First of all we see that...
1. God reveals himself to those who seek him.
(vs. 1-2) 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."
Astronomers tell us that for a period of time around the birth of Christ, there was in fact a star which shone brightly in the Eastern sky. That star was there for everyone to see. The Jews could have seen it. The Pharisees and Sadducees could have seen it. Herod could have seen it. Anyone who looked into the sky could see this magnificent star shining brightly, yet only the Magi followed the star in order to find Jesus.
It is important for us to examine who the Magi were. We sing "We Three Kings of Orient Are," but the Magi weren't really kings. They were priests—wise men, holy men, seekers of spiritual truth—and as they sought God's truth, God revealed himself to them. God led the wise men to the Messiah, because that's what he does: God reveals himself to those who are looking for him. And the amazing thing about this story is that the Wise Men are not Jewish—yet God led them to the Messiah. By this God is telling the world that Jesus is not just the King of the Jews, but he is the Savior of all of humankind. It doesn't matter if you're Jew or Gentile; it doesn't matter if you're black or white; it doesn't matter if your rich or poor, male or female, smart or "intellectually challenged"—none of this matters. This story teaches us that God will reveal himself to anyone who seeks him.
...When you search for me, you find me; if you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
Also, we can see in the story of the Wise Men that...
2. God speaks to those who will listen.
(vs. 12) And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The wise men had a dream, and then they had a choice to make. They could believe that God was speaking to them, or they could decide it was their imagination. It takes faith to believe that God is speaking to you—and it takes faith to act on that belief.
There are two ways to look at this subject. One person might say, "God spoke to me in a dream," while another says, "I dreamed that God spoke to me." Do you see the fundamental difference in these two individuals? The first is a believer; the second is a skeptic. In order to have a dynamic relationship with God, we must embrace the belief that God speaks to those who will listen.
How does he speak to us? First of all, obviously....
a. God speaks to us through the Bible.
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105)
God speaks to us through his Word. When we read the Bible, God reveals his will to us...he gives us direction for our lives...he shows us the way we should go. But there's a catch: We must be willing to listen. Secondly...
b. God speaks to us through the preaching/teaching of his Word.
Peter Lord tells a story about visiting a church while on vacation. He was hoping to hear a dynamic sermon, and was disappointed to discover that a young and inexperienced associate pastor has been invited to preach that Sunday. And, Peter Lord states, the young man didn't appear to be a very good preacher. But something surprising happened during the sermon that Sunday morning. God spoke to Peter Lord through the sermon. He revealed his will to him; he gave him direction for his life.
The preaching and teaching of the Bible is sacred. Most preachers and most Sunday school teachers recognize that even our best efforts fall drastically short of the mark as we strive to communicate God's goodness and majesty—yet God is able to use these feeble attempts to speak to those who are listening to his voice. Thirdly...
c. God speaks to us through many other sources.
We cannot limit the way God chooses to speak to us. He may speak to you through the counsel of a close friend, or through your parents, or through your children, or through an event, or through a book, or during a time of meditation, or while you're watching the news...or anytime that you are listening for God's voice to give you direction.
About 10 years ago, Bob Geldof, a British musician, was home watching the news and a report about the famine in Ethiopia came on the TV. Bob was moved when he saw the devastation in the lives of innocent victims, and decided something must be done. He enlisted the help of some friends and a movement was launched that ultimately raised more than $100,000,000 toward famine relief in Africa.
If we are willing to listen, God will speak to us. Last of all, we see in the story of the Wise Men that...
3. God leads those who will follow.
(vs. 9-10)...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.
The star led the Magi to Jesus. It was there for anyone to follow; only these men had the spiritual acuity to be led by it. If you are willing to let God lead you through the day-to-day events of your life, he will do it. The road may not always be easy, but God will lead you—if you're willing to follow.
E. Stanley Jones tells of a missionary who got lost in an African jungle—nothing around him but bush and a few cleared places. He found a native hut and asked the native if he could lead him out. The native said he could. "All right," said the missionary, "show me the way."
The native said, "Follow me." They walked and hacked their way through unmarked jungle for more than an hour.
The missionary got worried. "Are you quite sure this is the way? Where is the path?"
The native said, "Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path."
There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in situations which offer no clear-cut answers. It is at these times we can trust ourselves completely to God, knowing that he will lead us each step of the way. The truth is, he wants to lead us more than we want to follow.
Today's Scripture is certainly not new to any of you. It is a story we have heard since we were children. But it's a story that bears repeating. It has a powerful message. It offers into the nature and character of God—and how he relates to us. This story should be not told only once a year—and shouldn't be directed only at children. It is a message for all of God's people, reminding us that he wants to be involved in our lives day-to-day—revealing himself to us, speaking to us, leading us step-by-step—in order that we may faithfully follow his son Jesus Christ, and live lives that bring him glory.