Christmas Eve Meditation, Colchester Federated Church, (Matthew 2:1-12) December 24, 2017
On this holy night, this Christmas Eve night—we take a moment to contemplate Jesus Christ born into our midst. This night will always have its mysteries. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth to his young and brave mother and the compassionate understanding of Joseph to stay by their side. The announcement of angels to terrified and then amazed shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over the flock by night. Mary and Joseph receiving their own visits from angels both when awake and in dreams. And the foreigners from the East who come to find Christ a little later, following the puzzling Christmas Star to discover the baby with Mary and kneel down before him to worship. Jesus’ birth defies easy explanations.
Though from the way that Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth, we know that the coming of this child was good news for all people, including some foreign travelers. Magi were a class of Persian priests and renowned as astrologers. Lest we think that horoscopes are just a modern invention, people across various times and cultures have been attempting to interpret the stars, birth dates, and auspicious days in the calendar for eons. Magi would read the signs of the times in the skies and attempt to decipher them for people. These wise men were attuned to the heavens and observed the changes in the night sky to be able to observe the Christmas Star at its rising and follow the path to where it led.
Now we have often assumed in the Christian tradition that there were three magi because of their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—though there could have been more who showed up! In a rather funny comic that sometimes pops up at Christmas we can see a wiseman walking away from a glowing room with a package in his hands and an annoyed look on this face. The caption reads, “Unbeknownst to most theologians, there was a fourth wiseman who was turned away for bringing fruitcake.” The point is that we don’t exactly know some of these details.
Though Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth is timeless. Have you noticed that when you meet someone new sometimes you ask questions like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” We have a natural interest in where people come from. A person’s origins shape who they are now. And peoples’ occupations, how they spend their days, what passions and interests they have in their lives tell us something about who they are and what gifts they may have.
For the audience long ago to whom Matthew was originally writing, he gives a clear indication of the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth by telling people who heard about it and had to go see for themselves. “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” If we were the original audience we might gasp here in surprise. Those astrologer/magician/priests from Persia came to Jerusalem to go see baby Jesus who was born in Bethlehem. Really? Well they’re not from around these parts and they’re not even Jewish, they’re Gentiles.
Another way to think about this is that Jesus came into this world for everyone. Not just good, pious people living in Judea. But for “wise men from the East” too! And you know what that means? Jesus came into this world for people who go to church almost every single Sunday and are good, practicing Christians. Jesus came into this world for people who never go to church. Jesus came into this world for people who may be somewhere in between. Jesus came into this world for you and for me. And not because we’re always so awesome, but because God is full of grace beyond measure or understanding.
We can confidently believe this on Christmas Eve night and every day hereafter. Why? Because the magi who followed the signs and came to find Jesus and went back to their own country by another road to keep this baby safe show us that God is for everyone. No matter what human labels and boundaries and barriers we may put up in our own lives to separate from one another or even from God, God breaks through those when the light of Christ breaks forth into our world tonight.
As the poet Ann Weems wrote: “When the Holy Child is born into our hearts, there is a rain of stars, a rushing of angels, a blaze of candles, this God burst into our lives. Love is running through the streets.”
May we live our lives knowing that God is for everyone, including us. And that God will indeed burst into our lives in amazing and unexpected ways when we let the Holy Child truly be born in our hearts. Thanks be to God. Amen.