Texts: 1 Kings 10:1-7, 10, John 7:31-32, 45-51, and Matthew 2
Bill used to be a minister. He left the ministry and God, went into business, and was quite successful, amassing assets of hundreds of millions of dollars. In recent years Bill rediscovered faith and God and church. A family event brought him to Seattle and because he attended Green Lake Church 35 years ago we had coffee together. He talked of his personal journey and of his current work on mega-projects to help the disadvantaged.
A few days later I spent time with a Green Lake family facing a sudden, shocking diagnosis. We talked together of the terror of death and of a business dream that didn’t work out and the threat of bankruptcy. Being sick is expensive.
Two wildly different lives brought together here in this place.
I thought of these two stories as I meditated this week again on the story of the Wise Men from the East.
According to ancient legend there were three men living in Persia. Old men. Deeply religious and philosophical. They saw a vision of a star in the west. They understood the star to be the sign of the birth of the Jewish Messiah King.
Their convictions were so strong and their resources were so deep they organized a caravan to travel west to pay their respects to the newborn king.
The caravan headed west across the desert in Iraq then south through Syria and Lebanon to the city of Jerusalem. There, they inquired of the whereabouts of the new king. No one knew anything.
Finally, they get a hot tip. The baby was supposed to be born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. They rode the few miles to Bethlehem and found the child. They were ecstatic. They had traveled a thousand miles to find this baby. And here it was. The fulfillment of a lifetime of hoping. The satisfaction of months of seeking.
We looking through their eyes–we, too, delight in the Christ child. And influenced by the teachings of the adult Jesus and by 2000 years of Christian theology, when we think of baby Jesus, we are reminded that every child born to woman is also a child of God.
The Wise Men give us eyes to see the divine light that shines in the face of every baby.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you . . .
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God
. . .
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am
Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? . . .
Songwriters: Buddy Greene / Mark Lowry
Mary, Did You Know? lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Capitol Christian Music Group
One of the great traditions of Green Lake Church is baby showers. When a baby is born, we place a white rose on the communion table. And we hold a baby shower. Donna van Fossen knits (crochets?) a baby blanket. People buy gifts. People give money. Sometimes the mom and dad are well-known to us. Other times the connection is rather tenuous. But if the baby can be called a child of Green Lake, we hold a baby shower because every baby reminds us of Immanuel, God with us.
We looking through the eyes of the Wise Men see Christ in every baby. We see God among us.
Just yesterday I met one of our members here at the church. I asked about her new grandbaby. She eagerly pulled out her phone and showed me a picture of the most beautiful little girl in the whole world. If the picture didn’t tell you that, grandma would be happy to spell it out in so many words. The Wise Men on their camels had nothing on this grandmother in fiery passion.
Because it is Christmas time, we easily see God in the person of babies. Of course. Baby Jesus was the divine son of God. And every baby boy and girl is thus an invitation to see the face of God.
We pull out our cameras and take pictures of these beautiful exemplars of the glory of God. We look through the eyes of the Wise Men and see in the baby the face of God.
But what if we turned the camera around? What if we point the camera at the Wise Men? Where is God then?
Right in front of us.
Just as the Baby is Immanuel God with Us. So these Wise Men themselves are portraits of God. These rich Persians who have traveled a thousand miles in a camel caravan to see the baby, they, too, are exquisite pictures of God. Their adoration of the baby is the adoration of God.
And by extension, Grandma’s adoration of her grandbaby is a mirror of the adoration of God for every baby.
In the passage in Matthew that I quote probably more frequently than any other, Jesus urges us to show indiscriminate kindness, because doing so mirrors the habits of God who sends his rain on the just and unjust, his sun on the good and evil.
God gives out of his wealth, making every act of generosity by those who are wealthy, a mirror of God. God is the generous father, the loving mother. Every impulse of love that arises in our hearts toward the little ones is a mirror of the heart of God.
Baby Jesus is a picture of God. And so are those three Persians in the manger scenes, dressed in their luxurious robes and holding out their extravagant gifts.
And the reality is that the Wise Men and their wealth are an indispensable part of Jesus’ story. Later, Jesus’ life and ministry was dependent on the action of a rich man. In John 7, we read that the Sanhedrin was moving to formally condemn Jesus, prematurely ending his ministry. Their efforts were thwarted by Nicodemus, a wealthy, powerful man.
At the beginning of my sermon, I mentioned Bill, a church member who is very wealthy. And I mentioned some other church members who are struggling financially and are now facing crisis. We are all part of one family. Church is a place that teaches us to hang onto one another.
It is Christmas season. Everywhere we can see creches, imaginary scenes of the birth of Jesus. Some purists might point out that the Wise Men and shepherds arrived at different points in the story. Yes, of course. But the creches capture the essential truth–adoring middle class parents, excited shepherds (who would have been at the bottom of the social ladder), and rich Persians–all crucial actors in the story that is our story.
Jesus brings together all in one story, one community, one family.
Just as the story of Jesus would not be complete without the dramatic wealth of the Wise Men, so church is not whole without some among us who possess extraordinary wealth. And just as the Wise Men found their highest purpose in life in using their wealth to connect with a peasant baby a thousand miles away, so we who have means find our highest purpose in using some of our wealth to touch the lives of people who appear to be insignificant. We are bound together in one family. We have one story together.
So let’s mount our camels and ride. Let’s find babies who need our help and deserve our admiration. And let’s lie back in the manger straw and know that we, too, are precious beyond words. All of us are indeed, Immanuel. God in the flesh.