Sermons

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas

Jan 03, 2021

Preacher: The Venerable Chris Wrampelmeier

Series: Christmas

Category: Discipleship

Detail:

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

January 3, 2001

One of the best presents I got for Christmas was having New Year’s Day fall on a Friday. I got to get up when I wanted. I spent much of the day on the couch, trying to start the new year with more organization than I have enjoyed recently. 

Among the tasks I chose was to start writing my new year’s resolutions. By their nature, these resolutions are an annual ritual. Sometimes mine are very detailed. One year I must have had about thirty resolutions with specific steps for meeting each goal. This year I am going to allow my resolutions to evolve, to come to me over a week or so. I have a few written, but I am contemplating others. I want them to be good. I want ambitious goals, but goals I can meet.

Making new year’s resolutions is a search process. The resolutions are more than what we want our new year to be like. In part, they express a wish to be someone we have never been. In another part, they are a cry to return to how we used to be.

New year’s resolutions say something about our character. They show, in part, what we want to become: lighter, healthier, kinder, richer—or not so poor, etc. The resolutions also tell us something about present selves. On reflection, we think we could use our time better. We worry about our health, including our weight. We look back on how we have treated others and do not think it reflects how we should be or could be.

However much you may scoff at new year’s resolutions, the search process teaches you about yourself. You take a look at your life from higher than ground level. What ambitions are important enough to you to list? Which are so important that you keep those resolutions? As you try to change yourself, you can learn things, unexpected things. In your life’s journey, you create a fork in your road. You try a new path, a new direction.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew describes a search. Wise men—we do not know how many—come from the East to search for the child who has been born king of the Jews. These wise men are not kings, but astrologers, perhaps even sorcerers, likely from Persia, modern day Iran. They do not study the Scripture for God’s word; they study the sky for divine signs. A star has guided them to Jerusalem, where they stop by King Herod’s palace to ask for directions. 

King Herod is not a good person to ask. The founder of a new dynasty, he is an Arab, whose family converted to Judaism comparatively recently. By luck and skill, King Herod negotiated Roman civil wars and politics to be acknowledged as the Roman client king of Judea. He fought rivals to get there and to stay there, executing in the process one of his wives and some of his children. Despite his ambitious construction projects, including the Temple, King Herod and the lifestyle of his court are not popular with his subjects. Now, toward the end of his life, Herod is unamused that there is a new kid in a nearby town who could take away all that he has built.

King Herod tries to use the wise men to find his new rival. Being no scholar himself, he consults with the chief priests and scribes to learn where the Messiah is prophesied to be born. Herod then directs the wise men to Bethlehem. 

The wise men have responded to a star in the sky to journey west. They respond to the Biblical prophecy, which gets them to their destination of Bethlehem. Finally, they respond to the child they find there. They honor the child as a king. Our translation says the wise men knelt and paid Jesus homage. Other translations say they bowed down and worshipped him. After adoring the child, the wise men travel home on a new path, symbolic reflection of their changed lives. What they gained beholding the Christ child outweighed any reward King Herod could have given them had they returned to Jerusalem.

With this story, Matthew shows us there is nothing too great for God to initiate. Regardless of why the wise men started their pilgrimage, the birth of this child changed them. They came open to change, bringing gifts and readily submitting to this baby. The wise men are Gentiles—sorcerers—as far off geographically, culturally, and religiously as they could be from the Jews. Yet these wise men, not the Jewish chief priest and scribes, not King Herod, are the first to recognize the Messiah and the first to worship him. 

In Jesus, all creation will be gathered, not just the Jews. With Jesus, salvation will occur from the most unexpected means.

For those who looked up, those who searched, grace was there to be found. From this beginning of the Gospel, we see it again and again. Jesus says, “Follow me” and people drop what they are doing and start new lives. As with the wise men, Jesus’ disciples—fisherman, tax collectors, common folk—are a far cry from the religious authorities who should have recognized the Messiah, who should have been first to Bethlehem. For Christ’s followers, there is no worthiness test or rank. All searching for God are welcomed.

As the body of Christ, this church welcomes all. It does not matter how or why each of us started the journey that got us here. It does not matter how worthy or suitable others might judge us to be or how we might judge ourselves to be. In the midst of suffering and conflict, we are a community of sinners trying to make life easier, kinder, and more grace-filled for each other and for those outside of us.

At the beginning of this new year, may we respond to the birth of Jesus in our new year’s resolutions. Maybe we can look up more to see the grace of God that is all around us. Maybe we can reflect that grace by being servants to those in need. Maybe we can share more of ourselves, lending an ear to listen, a tongue to speak words of encouragement, and a shoulder on which to cry. Maybe we will look for new ways to give to our neighbors, particularly those less fortunate, having learned through the pains of last year what matters and what does not matter.

New year’s resolutions are notorious for being broken. We laugh that it is not a matter of whether, but how fast, we will forget them. But that is not always the case. As the British poet Sheenagh Pugh wrote,

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,

from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel

faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,

sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;

elect an honest man; decide they care

enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor

Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go

amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.

The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow

that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.