A sermon preached by Patrick H. Wrisley, January 3, 2021
The popular trend of gender reveals has taken off in our country. This is when a young couple is expecting a child and they throw a party to reveal whether the baby is a boy or girl. The big reveals can come with a simple cutting of a cake to reveal blue or pink filling but they’ve lately become quite elaborate and in some instances, flat out dangerous!
One couple used fireworks to reveal their baby’s gender and it resulted in the El Dorado fire in California this September that took the lives of 25 people and burned upwards of 8,000 acres. Another woman died when a piece of metal hit her in the head after her family’s exploding reveal party because they unintentionally built a homemade pipe-bomb! The favorite one I saw was a Florida Man who gathered his friends to circle around a ten foot gator. Florida Man kept swatting the gator on the nose to get it to open its mouth so the man could toss a Jell-O-infused watermelon into its mouth so when the gator bit down, either pink or blue Jell-O would fill the gator’s mouth. In the video I watched, the gator was none-too-pleased. I am not sure if these reveal parties say more about the parents’ ability to be parents or the revelation the child’s sex.
Our text this morning is a Story of a Big Reveal as well. It’s not a gender reveal but it is a revealing, an unveiling, that led to locally tragic events later in Matthew 2 but reveled wonderful cosmic revelations. We know this as the Story of the Magi. Listen to Matthew 2.1-12!
2.1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “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.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘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.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then 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.”
9When 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. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On 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. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Historically, Church has wrapped the Three Kings story up into the Christmas narrative which is unfortunate. First, it throws the timing off of the real events which took possibly a year or so after Jesus’ birth. The magi, or astrologers, from modern Iraq or Iran would have taken several months to travel on foot to get to Bethlehem. We tend to think they showed up the night after the shepherds did at the manger. Second, we tend to focus on the three gifts they bring the baby because we associate gifts with the Christmas story. This is unfortunate because it draws attention away from the real thrust of the Story which is the Big Reveal as opposed to gift giving. The Big Reveal has a technical name; the Church calls it Epiphany.
Let us look at the Epiphanies, the several unveilings and revelations in our text. We are going to do this by looking at the Story’s characters and then reflect upon how our personal epiphanies shape us. As we look at these, I want to plant the nagging voice in the back of your mind, “Where am I in this Story? What are the revelations, the unveilings, the ah-ha’s God has for me? How do my epiphanies affect my discipleship?”
The first key to unlocking our text is to look at the characters in our Story. There are essentially three main characters and they are the Magi, King Herod, and the baby Jesus. Three different realities are exposed in and through each of these characters. The Magi, pagan astrologers who were in search of Truth were led by God’s grace to discover that even they, if they are sincere in learning and worshipping God and not the stars, will be accepted and received into God’s covenant family. Our Story reveals that God takes people where they are, even those outside the covenant family of Israel, and they can be adopted into the family if they worship the Christ. The Story reveals the ultimate outsider can be embraced as God’s insider.
The next character is King Herod. When Herod hears these emissaries from the East are looking to worship a new king, you and I can begin to see how our human nature often responds to God’s Divine Intentions: We push back. God’s impending presence makes us squirm a bit; it should make us uncomfortable but sadly, most times it does not. At least Herod understood the ramifications of what a young, new king would mean for his own leadership! It forces you and me to ponder on how we encounter God’s presence and revelations in our own lives. Perhaps God’s revealing and unveiling his presence and purpose in our lives should make us quake in our boots a little bit. Maybe we need to think of what it means to have a new claim on our lives from a leader in but not of this world. The whole irony about Herod and his religious leaders is the people who should see what’s going on didn’t. Those to whom it would have been easiest to check out the facts, i.e. the religious officials in Jerusalem, did not go six miles to Bethlehem to find out for themselves. Those who should’ve been excited, the Jewish nation and their leaders, were instead afraid and anxious and their anxiety reveals the object of their true worship which is a corrupt king and safety of the status quo. It makes us stop and reflect on what our own anxieties reveal about what or whom we worship!
And finally, we have the character Jesus. Jesus gloriously reveals that God is with us. God has pierced time and space and now resides alongside his beloved children. Three epiphanies revealed in each of the three characters: God loves and searches for the outcast, the ‘pagan’; Herod reveals to us that our human tendency to push back on God’s new revelations and presence; and the cooing baby Jesus, nursing upon Mary’s breast, reveals to us that God is truly among us, not in the rich and mighty, but with the poor and the humble.
Next, let’s shift a moment a reflect upon how the Magi’s epiphany, how the Big Reveal they experienced shaped them as people and what it says about you and me. For the Magi, the unveiling and the discovery of who God really was changed their lives. Once they discovered the true Source of worship, everything in their lives were turned upside down.As scholar James Howell writes, “We have (before us) a blueprint for what happens in our discipleship. Once we find the Christ, we worship him and go back home a different way, (on) a different road. We have to roll out new maps to (in order to) look for new routes.”
To put it bluntly, when we encounter and see the revelation of Jesus in our lives, our lives will either remain the same and we become like Herod and the religious officials who are diffident and uncomfortable or our lives will be transformed and the old ways we live, see, encounter and journey in life will fall away. As Jesus is revealed to us, we become changed people and the old roads we once took loose their luster and need. We strike out on new roads because we know the old roads are not safe or beneficial anymore because Herod is on the prowl.
T.S. Eliot in his beloved poem, The Journey of the Magi, has one of the Magi reflect this way on his journey home after going to Bethlehem:
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
Beloved, our Story today reminds us that when God is revealed to us in Jesus, we are forced to respond in some way. We either remain cynical, crusty Herods or we become uneasy Magi who realize that meeting Jesus changes everything, even the roads we take home and the people we encounter on the way. God give us all a radical, transforming epiphany revealing the Lord Christ to each of us where we need to see him. Amen.
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) . Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.