The Way of the Wise
Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12
Rev. Alan Claassen
January 6, 2007
Good morning. I am one of the men that visited the newborn baby Jesus when he as lying in a manger. I am also one the men wise enough not to go back to King Herod as he had instructed us to do. Once I saw Jesus I saw a new authority that deserved my deepest allegiance.
I am here this morning to clear up a misconception that has developed of the years since I first saw the baby Jesus. I also want to share some things that I and other wise men and women have been thinking about over the last century. We like to stay current.
So first, the misconception: I am not a king, my two friends were not kings. I know that you all just sang the chorus from the song, We Three Kings. I know the song has a wonderful melody, and I love the words of the chorus just as much as you,
Star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us with thy perfect light.
I would have no problem with the song if the words were about the wisdom of the stars… but we were not kings. We were magi, astrologers, star-watchers, and wise men from the east. Over time the stories got a bit expanded and people wrote hymns calling us kings and so it goes.
The significance of our being there, as the gospel writer, Matthew, rightly understood it, was that we came from a long way away, from a different country, from a different culture, from a different way of thinking, to see this who this star was guiding us towards.
We came from Persia, Babylon, and the place where the ancestors of Jesus, were exiled hundreds of years before. Our ancestors were affected by their ideas and we also had a hope for someone who would come and set the world back on its proper course. ; a course that is in line with the universe, in line with the stars, in line with creation.
Our being there said, and still says, something about Jesus, something about God. Which is, that God is not the property of any one nation, any one people, any one culture. This was an entirely new way of thinking about God. It’s a way of thinking about God that seems to be forgotten quite often, it’s a way of thinking about God that seems hard to understand.
And it’s not because it’s a difficult concept; it’s because it’s just such another way of thinking from others that we also get taught as we grow up. This is the way that Jesus would later teach his followers when he grew up.
Jesus says in his society there is a new way for people to live:
You show wisdom by trusting people
You handle leadership by serving
You handle offenders by forgiving
You handle money by sharing
you handle enemies by loving
In fact you have a new attitude toward everything, everybody. Toward nature, toward the place you live, toward women and men, toward the poor, toward every single living thing.
Now this isn’t the way of the world at large is it? In fact if you start talking about trusting people and serving people and forgiving, sharing, and loving people you’re likely to be considered foolish or dangerous.
And you know that’s what happened to us. To us wise guys I mean. We were so profoundly moved and changed by seeing a vision of God in the form of a human baby that we understood why this new child was a threat to King Herod. So we didn’t go back to him as we said we would when we first came into town. We went home by another way. Another way. Being a disciple of Christ means looking for and following another way. Sometimes this requires a lot of imagination; sometimes it just takes freeing up your God given common sense.
And so we have been traveling the world ever since that day, passing along the story of being guided by a light to the village of Bethlehem, to see the perfect light of a child. And that light is still proceeding, and that brings me to other thing that I wanted to share with you this morning.
When we sent to see that Baby Jesus two thousand years ago we were guided by a light and a prediction, a hope, of the birth of someone who be a light for all humanity. Do you all know what’s going on in science these days? The scientists of your day are actually looking at the birth of stars and galaxies!
And they are looking at nothing, emptiness. When they use those tools they have nowadays to look at atoms and into atoms the physicists are seeing elementary particles fluctuate in and out of existence. Elementary particles, leap into existence and then leap out. A proton emerges suddenly- where did it come from? Who made it? How did it sneak into reality all of a sudden? Particles come out of nothingness. That’s the way the universe works. That’s the way it worked in the beginning. Physicists are just seeing this now but it’s the way that the spiritually wise have always seen the universe.
We three wise men, from the Orient were, ahead of our time.
May I recite a quote familiar to you all? In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. The God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
Scientists from a couple of hundred years ago wanted to reduce the universe to a machine that followed certain logical rules. Well to a great extent it does. But now they are also seeing the mystery of the universe and consequently seeing the universe and the earth as a living entity that is held together by mutual attraction, which we can either call gravity or we can call allurement or we can call love.
May I recite a verse from a hymn? “Bless be the tie that binds.” That is true not just for communities but for all of creation. God’s blessing ties everything in the universe together.
Please excuse me for going on so long about these scientific discoveries, but I just love talking about stars. The elements, such as carbon and iron that were made in the explosions of supernovas billions of years ago are what make us, and the earth, and just about everything we know. We are stardust. We wise men knew that centuries ago. But thanks to the discoveries of modern science you all have seen it with your own eyes.
Thank God for Evolution.
But I hope that you see that when we begin our thoughts with the way of creation it has a profound affect upon how we view our world, our little place. And remember that this is the perspective that Jesus taught from.
There are many indications that Humanity has forgotten its connection with creation because we have so many ways in which we can destroy it. Whether it’s the slow destruction of pollution or the mismanagement of limited resources or the immediate destruction that we can inflict with our weapons we have come upon a power that we do not seem to know how to control. Our ability to destroy has made some members of the human community aware of our need for healing and living our lives in another way.
When we don’t realize the source of our life we stumble in confusion and sorrow. But when we realize where we came from, we become naturally tolerant, amused, and kind-hearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. Immersed in the wonder of God we can deal with whatever life brings us. For our strength, our wisdom comes from God.
Another way: We came to see Jesus as the Prince of Peace not of a nation but of all creation. And how does this prince rule his kingdom? Just as the Psalmist sang in Psalm 72: His power is felt as naturally as the rain that nourishes the earth. He does not stand with the powerful but with the poor and the needy. He comes to the aid of those who have no helper. His people are precious to him.
It’s as if, like those elementary particles that come out of nowhere, there is someone or something that comes to our aid when we are knocked down. We are in a period in history where there is great potential for uniting the parts of ourselves that have been separated, such as science and religion, such as men and women, such as people of different cultures.
But sad to say, what was true in 2,000 years ago is still true today; this way of partnership with God, the stars and humanity is a threat to those who would rule by domination over others. This way of peace is still a threat to some kings and presidents. But you have also had visionary leaders, such as Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel who understood that there is an other way to lead, based upon truth and reconciliation. As far as I can see it, that is the light that is still proceeding. That is the light that will not be overcome by darkness, not matter how strong the darkness might appear.
I’ll leave you with one last thought. I hope that you consider it wise.
Another wise man, his name was, … let me see, Caspar, Bathalsar, Melchior, that’s me!, …Galileo, Copernicus, … Einstein, that’s it! Einstein had a theory of relativity that’s hard for a lot of people to understand.
Well Melchior’s Theory of Relativity is easy to understand, and it is, simply, that everything is related. We are all relatives. We are all made of the same stuff. We all came from that moment when God said, “Let there be light.” You can’t separate us from each other, human from nature, body from mind and spirit, poor from rich, Muslim from Christian.
So many of our problems come from believing that we are separate from God. When you see God in the face of a baby all notions of separation just go away.
So when your intended route seems to be taking a turn for the worse; take a word from the wise; try another way.
I know that isn’t easy, in fact I wouldn’t suggest trying it by yourself.
My two buddies and I, we are still proceeding on that journey. Making our choices based upon the vision of a star, the vision of the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes it’s all a question of who are you following. Are you following in love? If you are then you will learn and understand the mystery of life and learn what you are meant to do and be. (Howard Thurman/Jim Strathdee, I Am the Light of the World)
Think of your life as a gift that you take to God, the one who gave us the gift of life in the beginning. Everything we do is giving gifts back to God.
Each one of us can choose right now to go another way. It’s not the way of the crowd. It is, what Jesus called the narrow way. When we make that choice, be ready for some elementary particle to pop out of nowhere and say,
I care about you. I will walk with you if you will walk with me.
Come; follow the star, the light of the world.
In my journeys I have discovered you don’t need to look to the stars to see bright lights shining, you just need to look into someone’s eyes and see the magnificence of the universe.
Well, being a wise man, I know when it is time to stop talking, and that time is now.