Jan 7th: The Inclusive Grace of the Magi, with Rev. Tyler McQuilkin.
A Part of the Series:
The Inclusive Grace of the Magi with Rev. Tyler McQuilkin. Series: How Does a Weary World Rejoice? A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12.
Join us this Sunday as Rev. Tyler McQuilkin explores the inclusive grace shown through the Magi’s visit. Based on Matthew 2:1-12, he will examine why these foreigners were the first to worship Jesus and how their response differed from Herod’s threatened reaction.
epiphany is the day in the church calendar, when we celebrate the good news that the gospel is for the whole world. The story that we’re going to read today is told in Matthew’s Gospel chapter two, and tells the story of the manifestation of God’s revelation being for all people. So let us hear God’s word for us this morning from Matthew chapter two, verses one through 12. It says, After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem, and asked, where’s 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 had called together all the peoples chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. In Bethlehem, in Judea, they’re applied, for this is what the prophet has written. But you 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 found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.
He’s 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 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 worshiped 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. In this first chapter, in the first chapter of his gospel, the evangelists Matthew tells the long story of Jesus’s family history.
He names 42 generations of ancestors, starting with Abraham, all the way to King David. And then continuing from King David, all the way to Jesus. Chapter one of Matthew continues telling the story of Jesus’s birth from Joseph’s perspective. We are told that his fiancee Mary is pregnant with a child conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. So Joseph plans to privately divorce her to help her not be disgraced in their community. But before this plan becomes a reality, an angel of God comes to visit Joseph in a dream and tells him not to be afraid of staying with Mary. The angel continues saying Mary’s child is going to be a Savior, and they’re to name this child Jesus, and that Jesus will be called Immanuel or God with us.
Joseph wakes up from the dream and does as the angel tells him, so he marries, marry and raises Jesus as his son. I imagine this is a pretty familiar story for many of us as we look at the Advent season, preparing for Christmas. And then we get to chapter two, where Matthew writes on the first visitors of Jesus, three Magi, or they are often referred to as the three wise men come from the East to meet and worship Jesus. The text says the first person they encounter is King Herod, where they tell Herod of the birth of Jesus, the King of the Jews. Now Herod immediately hears this as a threat, and shortly after orders all male babies under the age of two, to eliminate this new king that could threaten his throne and his power. But the Magi see the star rising out of Jerusalem, and they immediately leave the comfort and familiarity of their home to come and worship Jesus.
These were literally astrologers or magicians, or Wiseman, people with a worldview that did not mesh well with that of ancient Israel. Not only did they have practices that Israel did not agree with or believe in, but they were Gentiles, people On the outside of God’s grace and love, they were not chosen by God, to be part of God’s chosen people. So naturally, they were viewed as lesser than the Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel. And yet, despite all of this, the Magi are named as the first to come visit and worship Jesus, the King of the Jews.
Why would Matthew do that? Why would he include these people? And another question is, why is it that the Magi felt the urge to travel such a long distance? Why did they bring such expensive gifts? To a little baby that cannot even appreciate the value and meaning of these gifts? And why is it that they were willing to risk the dangers of travel, and the dangers of entering a country that is not theirs, to bend their knees and bow to this infant? Because they knew this was no ordinary birth story. They knew there was something of historical significance happening in Jerusalem. So much so that they happily traveled the long distance from the east, bringing their expensive gifts and putting themselves in harm’s way. All to see Jesus, God with us in the flesh.
The power of God’s grace called the Magi out of the east to come and worship, crossing cultural and religious boundaries. Because God does not like to play by by our rules and systems of who is in and who is out. Instead, the God of grace revealed to us in Jesus Christ is one that invites and welcomes the Magi all by grace. So if the Magi are compelled by God’s grace, and respond to this grace, and worship and gratitude, why is it that Herod responds so different to the news of Christ’s birth? We know that Herod also hears the news that Christ has been born in Bethlehem.
He calls the chief priests and teachers of the law to tell him where the child will be born. But then, rather than responding to the news like the Magi do with worship and gratitude, Herod first chooses not to go, he tells the Magi come back to me after you find the baby, and tell me where he is. So I can come worship Him. Herod or one of his staff could have made the probably two or three hour trip to Bethlehem to see for themselves, that the Magi were right that God had been born into the world.
Instead, Herod stays home, telling the magi to let him know the verdict after who knows whether it was a lack of faith or laziness. But nothing can move him to respond to this news in the way that the Magi did. And later, once he perceives Jesus, the new King of the Jews to be a threat to his own reign, he orders that all the baby boys under the age of two to be killed. And this is just to eliminate this threat and to remain in power and to have control. For the Magi, the incarnation of God and Christ, God with us, is a blessing and a reason to change their life and their way of existing. For Herod, though, God with us is a threat, because he fears this might change his way of life, his power and his control, in a way that he does not accept. The Magi willingly accept the change, but Herod resists it as much as he can.
The end of the Christmas season often makes me ask if the event of Christ’s birth happened 2000 years ago? Was God just with them while Christ had his earthly existence? Or does this idea of God with us stop after Jesus left the world to be with God the Father? In short, is God still with us today? The Swiss theologian Carl Bart answers this question saying, God with us tells us that we ourselves are in the sphere of God. It applies to us by telling us of a story of a history which God wills to share with us. and therefore an invasion of our history. What unites humanity to God is that God does not will to be God without us. God creates us to share with us our life and being with God’s own life and being.
So the special truth about the heart of the Christian message and that and this idea of God with us, is that God chooses to bring heaven and earth, and God’s life and our life into communion with one another. I mentioned earlier that Matthew telling the story of the Weizmann would not have been ideal for a lot of his audience at the time. Gentiles from the east coming to claim part in the story of Israel, to worship their god would not have been an easily accepted act. It would have raised questions about their validity, and the stories validity, because people normally stayed within their own tribes and people and religious groups.
And yet, the first people to come worship Jesus, and to bring him gifts, are these Gentiles from the east. Now, most of us probably don’t need much time to think of the person or groups of people that we would be surprised to see included in the grace of God. Maybe it’s a relative that you struggled to see eye to eye with. Maybe you struggled to see how someone with a different worldview or ideology, or even just a view on a specific issue, could ever be included in the story of God. But this is the reason we read this story, the story of Epiphany, and why we celebrate it after Christmas every year.
The tradition of Epiphany, Sunday is to honor the wise men or the Magi. They received a sign and the word of God with us being brought into the world. So they came and when they saw the child, they worshipped Him. And this is the good news of epiphany that the gospel is for the whole world. The gospel calls people who do not typically belong and invites them to respond to God’s grace with gratitude.
So whoever might be the person or group of people that you would find difficult to include, God’s grace moves beyond those walls and barriers that we build up. The inclusion of the Magi in the story shows us that that all people, even the ones we struggle to love, have a right to worship, love, and receive love from God. The good news that draws the Magi near to God is not an idea or an attribute of God. It is a person, it is God coming down to earth to be with us. So let us participate in that. Let us participate in God’s work in the world in Christ.
So as the Christmas season comes to an end, and we think about this story of God with us, the Incarnation, or as Eugene Peterson, the author of the message puts it, he says God put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. So how can we live? Like the Magi in light of all this? How can we be moved out of our place of comfort and familiar familiarity, and come to meet Jesus with gratitude? And maybe an additional question to, to continue to ask is, how can we avoid making the same mistakes as Herod Herod hears the news of Christ’s birth and responds with an unwillingness to change. Herod responds, unwilling to receive this good news and grace. He shows us what humanity is under the power of sin, because he does not accept the reality of the incarnation and the revelation of God in Christ.
And under this power, he thinks his best option is to kill But the Magi embrace the power of grace, which moves them to leave their comfort and respond to God’s revelation with gratitude. epiphany and the Magi remind us that we need grace and that God wills to be God for us.