by David Baer, January 11, 2015
Text: Matthew 2:1-12
I was sitting with some folks from my extended family not too long ago, and we were watching some college football—it was Texas A&M versus LSU. The Aggies scored a touchdown, and before I knew it, some of the folks with me were on their feet, making a series of sharp shouts, followed by a whoop. Apparently for the Aggies, cheering is a very serious business. There are certain cheers that are appropriate for freshmen, and some that are only for seniors. It’s part of the culture of the school, a set of stylized rituals that developed over a hundred years or more. If you’ve gone to Texas A&M, you know the culture, you know what you should or shouldn’t do or say. And if you didn’t go to A&M (like me), it all seems fascinating but very strange. But it’s part of a culture that sets Aggies apart, helps them remember who they are. They come together through this shared culture that includes football cheers.
When Jesus was born, the Jewish people were also a people set apart. They had their scriptures. The Torah told a story of liberation, God freeing them from slavery, establishing them in a land of their own, and charging them to live as a holy people, God’s cherished possession. The Prophets warned of the costs of falling away from God’s teaching, and related a story of disobedience, exile, and miraculous restoration. Lastly, the Writings passed down songs of praise and accumulated wisdom and stories. But just like with the Aggies and their cheers, it was very clear who was in the know and who wan’t, who was in and who was out.
The magi, sages from the Persian east who discerned wisdom about the world through the stars were clearly out. The prophets took delight in the downfall of the Babylonians who had conquered their people, mocking the rulers who turned to astrologers for guidance. Isaiah jeers, “Let those who study the heavens stand up and save you” (Isaiah 47:13). For the Jewish people, the stars were God’s gift to show the times and seasons, but they couldn’t tell you the future, since the future belonged only to God. This was only one of many, many things that set the magi apart from God’s people.
But still they came, seeking the one born to be king of the Jews, drawn by a star. God spoke to the magi in signs that they could understand, beckoning them, drawing them in to the Christ child. So they came. They didn’t get it quite right. They showed up at Herod’s palace and needed to ask for directions. But they came. They came to Jesus in Bethlehem, where they were seized with great joy.
And they worshiped him. They bowed down at his cradle and offered their gifts. These outsiders became some of the first people to be brought in on the new thing God was doing. They became part of the new community formed by those gathered around Jesus. They were connected to Mary and Joseph, not because they shared the same culture or scriptures, but because of Jesus himself, the tiny baby in the manger.
This doesn’t diminish the Torah or Jewish practices at all. Mary and Joseph didn’t cease being Jews. They had Jesus circumcized. They brought him to the Temple for Jewish festivals. They kept the Torah, and they remained in community with their fellow Jews. But in Jesus they were part of something new as well, an outreaching of God’s grace and goodness to those who had previously been on the outside.
We are here to celebrate a baptism this morning. Baptism is the sign and seal of our connection to each other in Jesus Christ. We belong to God and to one another through Christ. We are part of the community gathered around the cradle… and the cross… and the empty tomb… and risen Lord… and one day, one day gathered at the wedding feast of the Lamb. What a blessing it is to me as a father that in Christ Timothy belongs not just to be and Amy and Johanna, but to all of you as well.
In Christ, we share our joys and sorrows, as we did yesterday when we celebrated George Zumberge’s life and entrusted him to God’s care. In Christ, we struggle together toward the wholeness he promises. In Christ we belong to each other, no matter what our other differences might be—differences of ethnicity or politics, differences of age or education—it’s not these things that knit us together, but our baptism in Jesus Christ.
So with the magi, with wise men and women through the ages, let us look for Christ together, and pay him homage, and see what a good and glorious new thing God is doing among us. Amen.