Taking the “Wise” Chances
Sermon Title: What Chances Will We Take this Year?
Good News Statement: God encourages us to take chances
Preached: Sunday, January 02, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (NRSV): Matthew 2:1-12 Today’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew chapter two verses one thru twelve. Listen to the words of Matthew…
The Visit of the Wise Men
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “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.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They 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.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then 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.” 9 When 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. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Every year when the crystal ball falls in New York, thousands, maybe millions, of Americans share about their New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions range from exercising more to losing weight, to spending more time with family or friends to reaching out to the once forgotten, to having to do something with work, to wanting to quit a bad habit, and to simply just wanting to be a better person. There is no limit to making or having a New Year’s resolution. However, it has been reported by Forbes Magazine that a majority of Americans will focus on six specific resolutions in 2022 that involve some sort of self-improvement. Do you know what they are? They are living healthier (23%), being happier (21%), losing weight (20%), exercising (7%), stop smoking (5%), and reduce drinking (2%).
In addition to this list, Forbes Magazine also shared with its readers that when it comes to resolutions, it is common knowledge that they do not often come true. Many give up on their resolutions fairly early into the New Year; it is seen more as a tradition and less of something to actually stick to. But how early do people typically give up on their resolutions, if they do give up at all? 22% of resolutions fail after the first week, 40% of resolutions fail after a month, 50% of resolutions will fail after the first three months, and 60% of resolutions fail after six months.
Furthermore, statistics say that about 30% of people don’t bother to make a New Year’s resolution because they know they won’t keep the resolution. Are you of the 30% who think this about yourself? Or are you part of the 8% of people who do actually keep their resolutions for the year? Those who keep their resolution most of them have a plan! Those that do make a New Year’s resolution are ten times more likely to achieve their goals when they vocalize their plans and ideas. Those who do not vocalize the goal as a New Year’s resolution, often fail. Sometimes, putting it out into the world helps. Sometimes, putting it out into the world helps.
In addition to sending His angels to inform both Old and New Testament Prophets about their calling and to informing Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds about the birth of Jesus Christ, God, with the use of a star, made known to three individuals plus the world about a resolution that will come to change the world. The only thing the three individuals and the world have to do is take a chance and follow the star: take a chance and follow their heart. These three individuals are known as the Three Wise Men; and they teach us what it means to take a chance on the resolution that God has placed on our heart.
Let us pray… Dear Heavenly Father, help us to follow your star so that we are able to become the Christian and church you need us to be. I pray that my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In your name we pray, Amen.
The Three Wise Men, or Magi as they are often called in the New Testament, make their way onto the scene of Jesus’ birth after he has been born. Some scholars note that they could have arrived six to nine months after the birth of Jesus or quite possibly several years after the birth of Jesus. As significant it would be to accurately depict the date when they arrived, it is more significant to realize that time had passed from Jesus’ birth to when the Wise Men appeared before Mary and Joseph. And as the text suggests, when the Wise Men saw that the star had stopped, “they were overwhelmed with joy.” And upon entering the house, they saw the child with Mary. The Wise Men did not enter the stable; and they didn’t see what Luke predicted to the Shepherds: you will see a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger (Luke 2). Instead, the Wise Men entered a house which suggests that time has passed since the birth of Jesus.
When they arrive to the palace of King Herod, they ask, “Where is the child who has been born King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising…” (Matthew 2:2). The Wise Men weren’t approached by an angel who told them to go to Bethlehem. The Wise Men weren’t told to “not be afraid.” And the Wise Men weren’t studying the texts of the earlier prophets. As a matter of fact, the three Wise Men were not only wise, but they were magicians, astrologers, astronomers, and Zoroastrian Priests who studied the universe and who put their faith in the alignment of the stars and planets. Which is why they focus so much on the star. Today, we, as Christians, would not classify the Wise Men as Christian because of their Zoroastrian faith; and yet, they somehow knew that Jesus was born. God spoke to them through their own faith. What does that say about God’s ability to choose people to live out His word?
Moreover, these three Wise Men were not from the same country. It is reported that one was from India, another from Arabia (Saudi Arabia), and the last one from Persia (Iran). Three Wise Men, from three different countries, happened to be following the same star at the same time and who ended up at the Palace of King Herod searching for the Christ child. What are the chances of this happening in today’s life, especially for those who are not considered Christian? Not only are they from three different countries, are not “Christian,” and were not approached by an angel, but they seem to be carrying three specific gifts that are not similar to one another: there is gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And on top of all this, these gifts represent the life and death of Jesus.
First, gold, a symbol of wealth and authority and power, represents and fulfills the title of what the Wise Men and the Romans give to Jesus, “King of the Jews.” Second, frankincense was offered by the priests with certain sacrifices. This gift of frankincense alludes to the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary at Bethany before Jesus was betrayed. Lastly, myrrh was used in preparing the dead for burial; myrrh could have possibly been used when preparing Jesus’ body for the tomb. The gifts from the Wise Men symbolized the life and death of Christ.
Three different individuals, from three different countries, from three different origins and possibly ethnicities and races, who brought three different gifts, who followed the ways of the universe instead of the prophets, all followed the rising star of a child who they did not know. And after arriving to the house in Bethlehem, they were warned in a dream to not “return to Herod” (Matthew 2:12); so they left for their own country by another road (Matthew 2:12).
What I appreciate about this text, about the Epiphany—the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles and Magi—is not only the realization that Jesus was visited by both the humble and dirty shepherds of the field and by the wealthy and wise Kings of other beliefs and countries, but that a group of people took a chance and followed the star, they followed what God put before them. They followed their heart. God took a chance on three unknown people. The Wise Men, in their brief appearance in the Bible, similar to Joseph, prove to all of us that in order to make any chance possible we must learn to listen to God. We must learn to follow through with what God wants us to do as individuals and as a church.
Relating the story of the Wise Men to the idea of making New Year’s resolutions, we learn that the Wise Men represent the 78% that follow through on the their resolutions past the first week, they represent the 60% that succeed after a month, they represent the 50% that will keep their resolution past three months, and they represent the 40% that keep their resolutions for more than half a year. On top of this, they represent the will-power and strength that God gives us as we search to build His kingdom and his church here on earth. We all of some sort of resolution to better ourselves. But at the same time, God has also put resolutions in our life to better the lives of others. And we can only do that, we can only better the lives of others, if we take chances and follow the star that has been placed before us.
God took a chance on Moses. God took a chance on Jonah. God took a chance with David, Elijah, Rachel, Ezekiel, Mary, and Joseph. God took a chance on the lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. And God took a chance on the Wise Men, who didn’t even follow God’s teachings to begin with. And in return, the Wise Men took a chance on what God needed them to do. What is it that God needs from you in 2022? What is it that God needs from our church in 2022? What sort of star should we be following in 2022 so that we can help better the lives of others?
Every year millions of Americans set aside some time to think about what it is that they want to do in the New Year. These things are usually thought with intentions of bettering one’s self or those around them. For some, these things are kept; and for others, they aren’t. Today, I am asking you to partake in this thousand year old tradition of making resolutions—of becoming the Magi and choosing to follow the star of Christ with the intentions of building both His kingdom and church. Similar to the Wise Men, these resolutions might take time to complete; however, they are still in your mind and in your heart.
If God can bring together three strangers, from three different countries, possibly of three different origins, than think what God can do when we, together, consider what is needed to help build what God has laid on our congregation. Just think about what this church can be if we choose to follow the star. Think about the possible gifts that we have to offer to our community. Think about what sort of resolutions this church can have for 2022.
Last week, and last year, I encouraged you to think about what would happen if the Advent wreathe stayed up all year round. Now think about, how Advent can help build our resolutions. How can hope, peace, joy, and love guide us toward Bethlehem? How can our gifts, ideas, visions, and mission help build our church in 2022 so that it continues to be a lighthouse for others? What sort of chances should we take in 2022?
Like the Wise Men, Jesus invites us all to follow the star. Jesus invites us all to make a New Year’s resolution that puts him first in our life. Sitting around a table with his disciples, Jesus, through his blood and body, reminds us of how important it is to take chances, to trust him more, and to learn to lean on him when building his Kingdom resides on our heart.
In your bulletin is a notecard. And on this notecard, I would like you to write down some New Year’s Resolutions for the church. These resolutions can be related to structural improvements, possible events, getting together outside of Sunday’s and Bible Studies. They can be things which you want me to start doing or stop doing. They can be things related to you: as in thinking about baptism or confirmation or becoming a member of the church. The resolutions are endless and open.
Once you complete these cards, feel free to drop them off at the church this week, or bring them next Sunday, or you can text, email, or call me with your ideas. Once I collect them, I will put a hand-out together and share it with all of you.
As you think about 2022, I encourage you to ask yourself, “What do I need to do in order to keep Jesus first in my life?” and “What do we need to do as a church to follow His star?” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, go, following his star, as you live well and wisely in God’s world. Amen. Amen. Amen.