The 12 days of Christmas are among my favorite, beginning with Christmas Day and continuing until Epiphany, which is celebrated every January 6. A powerful Epiphany question is answered by the Magi in Matthew 2:1-12. What are we waiting for?
These Magi were likely Zoroastrian priests, characterized by their knowledge of philosophy, history, geography, plants, medicine and the heavens. When they noticed the new star in the sky, they did their homework and learned that it meant a King had been born in the neighboring country of Israel. They felt led to make a journey across the desert to honor him.
Undoubtedly these wise men were at the top of their class intellectually. In today’s world they would have been academic types who as high schoolers aced AP classes and scored in the top percentiles for ACT and SAT tests. However, they did not have the political savvy to recognize that telling Herod the news of the birth of a future King of Israel would threaten all the little boys born recently in Bethlehem, including young Jesus. So they blabbed to Herod everything they had learned about the coming King. It was only after God intervened in a dream explaining the ins and outs of Middle Eastern politics that they realized Herod’s motivation behind the questions about the whereabouts of the newborn King. Herod did not want to find Jesus’ address in order to send a note of congratulations to Mary! His intentions were to kill Jesus!
Once they realized Herod’s plan, the wise men kept their distance from him and his soldiers. Matthew's Gospel says that after the wise men had seen Jesus, presented their gifts and received God's warning that they "went home another way." That is both a geographic and spiritual statement! Not only did they choose a different highway home that didn't go through Jerusalem. They went home changed people because their souls had found a new way. They were not the same wise men who came to Bethlehem.
This child . . . the baby who had drawn them from their comfortable homes in Persia on a long and hard trip across the desert . . . the little one whom they had patiently and systematically sought- had been found. Their wait was over and they could begin to live differently than they had previously. More than that, they wanted to live differently than before. Because when they encountered the Christ Child they came face to face with God Incarnate. Nothing would be the same for the rest of their lives. No longer were they waiting. Surely the experience of meeting the living Christ made such a difference in their lives that they in turn made a difference in the world in which they lived.
That is one of the outcomes of an encounter with Jesus. He affects us so profoundly that we become difference-makers ourselves. This One who made a difference in the lives of the blind to whom he gave sight, the deaf who he caused to hear again, the downtrodden who were lifted by his encouraging words, the guilt ridden who through him experienced a new start in life and the seekers who finally found God . . . does the same for us. You and I are like the wise men in that way. Having met Jesus, we are different inside, and thus we make a difference in the world in which we live.
Today’s Scripture passage reminds us of news that is both great and challenging. The waiting period has ended. Jesus Christ has come. Oh, we are still waiting for the second coming. But the initial wait is over! Like the wise men of old, we have encountered the living Christ.
Just as the wise men left the Christ Child changed people, so do we. Souls changed by Jesus make a difference. Churches changed by Jesus have new life, vibrancy and ways of doing things! The good news is that we can make a difference now, today. The challenge is that we are called to take action now, today.
Jesus has come. So what are we waiting for? Like the Wise Men of old we do well to worship Jesus and then go make a difference in the world. Not tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. But now, today, with every situation that we encounter, every person we meet. It may be in small or large ways. It may require much or little from us.
What are we waiting for? Jesus Christ came to earth 2000+ years ago to make a difference in our lives. We, in turn, are to make a difference in the world.
So this is my word to all the wise women and men who are reading this blog today. If you met Christ this past Christmas season, in one fashion or another, as I feel sure many of you have: well, then, let’s go home another way in 2020. The wait is over. The time has arrived for us to make all the difference we can in this world in which we live. So be it!
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference