Sermon: Christmas for Outsiders

The children and the choir did an excellent job of telling the Christmas story. Briefly, I want us to zoom in on one part of the story, the story of the magi and Herod in search for Jesus. It’s Matthew 2:1-12, but before we hear God’s Word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him?”

When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. When he has called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

But you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah,

for out of you will come a ruler,

who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod called the magi secretly and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard from the king, they went on their way and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The children and the choir have already done a wonderful job in telling the story of Christmas. But as we zoom in on the magi’s search for and encounter with Jesus, we will briefly notice the two different responses in this passage to the news of the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Those on the outside responded to the first Christmas with joy. But those on the inside responded to the first Christmas with fear.

The Magi responded to the first Christmas with joy and adoration. When they saw the star, we are told, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Joy and adoration upon seeing the child Jesus.

It is amazing that the people who most fully grasp the significance of the birth of Jesus, who respond with the greatest awe and wonder, are the Magi. The Magi were outsiders. They came from somewhere in the east, most scholars guess Persia, but we don’t know. They might have been magicians, practitioners of the magical arts, but it is more likely they were astronomers and scientists. They would not have been Jews, would not have grown up hearing the promises of God and longing for the Messiah. They may have never heard anything of the God of Israel. They were about as far outside of the people of God as we can imagine, but they saw a star.

Whatever it was they saw and however they knew to interpret it, these magi realized that what they saw in the heavens indicated the birth of the king of the Jews. So they must come and see. They are not completely sure what they are looking for, not entirely sure what they expect to find, not even totally sure where to go, but they only know they must see this king. Somehow, far east of Israel, the Spirit of God moved these magi to head west in search of a king. When they finally see him with his mother Mary, they respond with joy and praise.

I don’t know exactly what brought you here this morning. Perhaps you have been here every Sunday without fail since 1953. Perhaps you came, not to see the Christ child, but your own child share with us the Christmas story. Perhaps you are not even sure what you are looking for, only that you had to come and see. Whatever brought you here this morning, my prayer is that you, like the Magi, would see Jesus.

In this little child born long ago, God came for those on the outside, those lost and wandering, for those hurting and needing hope. He came and was wrapped in cloth and lay in an animal trough. In the grimy much of a stall was where the Savior of the world first made his home. He got dirty so that we might be made clean. He stoop down in order to raise us up. He was born outside the city, praised by those outside of Israel, and then died on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem, so that those who are on the outside might be brought into the family of God.

I hope that in word, song, and prayer this morning, you have been able to see Jesus. The child who is king. I hope that, like the magi, you are filled with awe, wonder, and praise. But that was not the only response given to that first Christmas.

For Herod and the people of Jeusalem, the birth of Jesus is a disruption, a threat. When the Magi come and ask where the king of the Jews was born, Herod was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. Perhaps the people of Jerusalem were disturbed because Herod was. After all, a habitually insecure man with far too much money, power, and cruelty is a dangerous person to be around. For Herod, Christmas was not good news. It was disruptive and even threatening.

One of my favorite aspects of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is how it captures the threat of Christmas. In the story, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy enter a magical land called Narnia, where it is always winter, but never Christmas. It is ruled by the White witch, but Aslan, the true king, is on the move. The coming of Aslan sends tremors through Narnia. The forest creatures who have long lived under the cold oppression of the White Witch begin to stir with hope. But the Witch and her brood tremble. While the story ends well, the trembling of the powerful and wicked is dangerous. The Witch knows that Aslan’s coming, if not stopped, means an end to her reign. For her, Christmas is a threat, because it reveals that she is not the true ruler of Narnia.

For each of us, the coming of Christ serves as both a gift and a challenge. Christmas is the dethroning of the Herods and the enthroning of Jesus. It is a reminder to every power that seeks to have its way in the world apart from God, a reminder to every part of our hearts that wants to be king instead of God, a reminder to every tyrant and despot, that there is only one true King of the World. It is also a reminder to everyone who has longed for Christmas after the long winter, longed for light after the long darkness, longed for hope and joy and peace after the long struggle, there is only one King of the World.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshipped him.

May all of us see Jesus this Christmas season and may we join with the Magi in bowing and praising the King.

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