Friday, January 6, 2017

The Magi’s Story (Matthew 2:1-12) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In January 2013, Sabine Moreau, a 67-year-old Belgian woman, set out on a trip to pick up a friend in Brussels, about 90 miles from her home.  But due to faulty directions she got from her car’s GPS, she drove all the way to Croatia—nearly 1,000 miles away. The journey took the woman across five international borders.  She stopped several times to get gas and take naps, but she kept pressing onward until she hit Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.  After a few days her son got worried and called the police, who located Sabine by following her bank statements. She told a Belgian reporter, "I was distracted. I saw all kinds of signs, first in French, then in German, and finally in Croatian, but I just kept following my GPS."  I think she was in what we call a zone.

Welcome on this Sunday January 1st, 2017, the beginning of our journey into a new year.   Whether you are ready or not, the trek begins today.  God says:  “I am a God of new beginnings!”    God says: “Last year is behind you, wipe the slate clean and begin with a fresh start.”   God says: “Don’t carry the burdens and baggage of last year with you.”    God says:  “Set a course, don’t be pushed and pulled and blown hither and thither by the exigencies and circumstances of life.”

In this context, we turn to the story of the Magi or Three Wisemen.  I think this story captures our imagination because we too are on a journey. No, we don’t ride camels, thank goodness, we have more comfortable modes of transportation, but we too are heading into uncharted territory.   What is this story saying to us?

The Magi’s story teaches that God calls us to lead purposeful lives.   Matthew says: “The wise men came from the East 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 worship Him.’"

The magi journeyed far for a single purpose, to find and worship the Messiah.  God calls us as Christians to live purposefully and intentionally.  We are to seek God’s priorities, God’s goals, God’s guidance, God’s will and light for our lives.  Start with hopes and dreams for the future. The Wise men’s journey was not an aimless and pointless meandering.  Ours doesn’t have to be either.   They moved forward with a sense of direction and with a destination in mind.  They could not predict where the journey might take them or what fortunes or disappointments or detours they would encounter along the way, but they relentlessly followed that star to the sacred place where they could worship the child born King of the Jews.

A poet said: “The future is an opportunity yet unmet, a path yet untraveled, a life yet unlived.  How our future will be lived, depends on the priorities and purposes of our lives today. The direction we take right now, determines where we will end up in the future.”

Having a direction certainly saves time, time isn’t wasted.  Having a direction reduces stress.  I would love a navigation app to get me in and out of hospitals without getting disoriented.  I am so grateful for my navigation app when I’m on the road.  I can reach destinations directly rather than driving around lost and confused, hunting for an address.  Except in those times when it says, recalculating, recalculating or lost signal.

Cecil B. de Mille said: “Most of us serve our ideals by fits and starts. The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly.” Hannah More said:  “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”  Proverbs 17:24 says: “An intelligent person aims at wise actions, but a fool starts off in many directions.”

You may already have a direction planned for this coming year.  You may sense that you are to continue the path that you walked last year.  Things are yet unfinished which need to be completed.  Or you may feel you have accomplished some important things, and it’s time to set some new goals.

In the book of Job we read: “We can choose the sounds we want to listen to; we can choose the taste we want in food and we should choose to follow what is right.  But first of all we must define… what is good.”  So a relevant question is, are my goals worth reaching for, are my goals worth pursuing, are they pleasing to God?

How do we set our goals?  How do we find our purpose or purposes for this coming year?  How do we figure out what we want to reach for or change or accomplish this year?   God says: “Life is more than thinking ‘I just want to be happy.”  God wants us to ask: “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life this year?”   Such a question always begins with prayer.  In the context of prayer, here are some practical ideas to consider:

THE INTELLECTUAL:  Ask yourself, “What do I want to learn this coming year?”  God gave you your mind.   Is there a subject you want to become knowledgeable in?  How about learning a new language?   Is there a new skill you want to acquire?  Maybe rock climbing, but then again, maybe not.  Proverbs 19 says: “Do yourself a favor and learn all you can.  Remember what you've learned and you'll prosper.”

THE PHYSICAL: What will improve your health this year?  A change of attitude?  Lose some weight?  Go to bed earlier?  Get a physical.  Get on an exercise plan?  Change your eating habits.  Find a way to relieve some stress.  Proverbs 17 says: “Being cheerful keeps you healthy.  It is a slow death to be gloomy all the time.

THE SPIRITUAL:  What will deepen my relationship with God?  Join a prayer group, join a bible study, get involved in a service ministry, worship faithfully, join the choir or Sounds of Worship.  The Bible says: “Grow in spiritual strength and become better acquainted with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

THE SOCIAL:   Whom will you reach out to?  Positive relationships are critical in life.   Rather than being alone or isolated, friendships meet deep seated needs.  You love God by loving others and serve God by serving others.  Whom would you like to spend more time with?  Write down someone who needs your encouragement.  God may be calling you to spend more time deepening a particular friendship.   Share your faith with someone, invite them to church.  The Bible says: “God has given you some special abilities; use them to help each other.

For example, you may decide to focus more on your family this year.  Last year you were very involved in the church or community but this year you think there are some family issues which need to be addressed.  

I recall the story of Rev. Robert Schuller who visited 14 cities in one week to promote one of his books.  His office notified him that when he got home, he was scheduled for a luncheon with the winner of a charity raffle for a “lunch with Robert Schuller.”  He prepared to squeeze the luncheon into his crowded schedule, and was stunned when he learned who had bid to have lunch with him.  He knew the $500 represented the individual’s entire savings; it was his own daughter.

Finally, the Magi’s story says God sends stars to guide us and we are to follow them to our destination.  “The Magi 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.”

God sends stars to guide us along our journey.  We are not heading out alone.  God desires to lead each of us to those destinations that are important.  What are some of these stars?  The words of the Bible, inspiration, prayer, talking with others, discovering something we are passionate about, dreams.  Sometimes stars take the form of needs, problems which arise, challenges before us.   Remember God’s purposes can be short-term or long term, a single purpose for the year or multiple purposes within a year.

And please here this.  When you face those times where there appears to be no light, no star, no direction, then fall on your knees and pray: “God help me to trust in you now more than ever.”

I close with this quote: “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown, and he replied:  Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” Amen!

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