Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 5, 2014

2014.01.05 “True Happiness” , Epiphany Sunday – Matthew 2: 1 – 12

Central United Methodist Church

True Happiness

Heewon Kim, Student Pastor

January 5, 2014

Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2: 1 – 12

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘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 shepherdmy people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise menand learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.” 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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.And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” Matthew 2: 1 – 12

 

Epiphany, which marks the end of the Christmas season, is 12 days after Christmas. It comes from a Greek word meaning “appearance” or “manifestation.” Epiphany marks the first manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles. We celebrate Epiphany on the first Sunday of January. Easter, Pentecost, and Epiphany were important holy days for the early church.

We know that Epiphany is a day to celebrate the birth of Christ. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, asserted that “if we are real Christians, we cannot help but be happy because Christianity is a religion of happiness.” So today, we gather to express our happiness through worship and a potluck, which I look forward to attending.  It is because God’s Son came to earth.  

However, at the time of when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it seemed no one celebrated the birth of Christ. The gospel of Luke mentions shepherds who came to see Jesus and worshiped. And yes, we know about Simeon and Anna who celebrated the birth of Jesus as well. In Matthew, however, the good news was delivered only by foreigners from the east, whom we know as the Wise Men. Through their journey, they found the king and rejoiced and worshiped him. At the same time, Herod was the ruler of the Judea, the territory where Jesus was born, and when he heard about the birth of Christ, he was threatened and terrified! Not only Herod alone, but all of Jerusalem as well.

If you think about it, the Jewish leaders of that time and place should have been happier about the birth of Christ than anyone else, because they were familiar with the prophecies of the birth of the coming Messiah. They knew where the Messiah was supposed to be born. When Herod the king asked the high priests and religion leaders, they answered at once, “I know, “Bethlehem, in the Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

‘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.”

The religious leaders of the time knew this by heart! Nevertheless, they did not welcome the good news. They knew about it but they were not expecting it. Rather Herod threatened and ordered his soldiers to kill all the babies in and around Bethlehem, who were two years old or under.  Some thirty years later, other Jewish leaders said ‘Yes’ to crucify Jesus. They closed their hearts to the revelation, even though it was occurring among them. Why? It’s may be that they did not want King Jesus to rule over their lives.  Indeed, they preferred the status quo, and rejected the revelation meant to change their lives.

I am a seminarian and a student. In fact, I have been living as a student for the past twenty-four years of my life; I hope to finish my student life this year. One of the privileges of being a student is to have a break. During my break, one of my favorite moments is to watch a movie with popcorn and soda. If Jesus were sitting next to me, I would be disturbed and would probably say: “Hi, Jesus! This is my private time. Why don’t you go somewhere else?” While watching a movie, I prefer to exile Jesus to somewhere else by forgetting his presence. I do not want Jesus to my king, because I do not want to be ruled by Jesus during my break!

There is nothing wrong with having a hobby like watching movies. In fact, it can be fun! But, when we attempt to section off parts of our lives, some to God and some as our own, we must admit that we are doing the same thing as King Herod and all Jerusalem did.  We choose not to regard Jesus as our king to rule over us, but choose to rule over him.

For that reason, I am grateful God sent angels for me to grow in faith. For me, the angels are my two young sons. There is no time for me to watch a movie anymore, and even if I have the time to watch a movie, my son runs quickly to the TV and turns it off and says, “Father!! Play with me!!” They just won’t allow me to watch a movie.

Even if we believe in God through Jesus Christ, what if Jesus comes to us to rule over us now?  Do we welcome him as our king? Are we ready to say, “Come, Lord, be my king and reign in me.”?

In response to these same questions, consider the wise men, who did receive and welcome the king of the world. The Greek word “magoi” in this story has been translated in various ways, such as “wise men” (too generic), “kings” (incorrect), “astrologers,” and “magi.”  But whatever we call them, they were the only ones in Matthew’s Gospel who rejoiced at the birth of the Messiah. How did they receive Jesus as their king?

First, they were willing to follow what they had seen into an unknown territory. Their journey took them outside their country and their comfort zone. We do not know what distance they came from, or how long their trip took, but certainly they left behind everything familiar to them.

Second, they were committed to whatever journey on which the star might lead them. In other words, they obeyed God. The wise men set out to find a newborn King by following the star and ended up finding a baby born to young and poor parents! Not exactly what they expected, and not exactly what befit their own dignity as priests.

Third, when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. When they found the king, they found true happiness! I would like us to focus upon this, because joy and happiness is what we are supposed to have. At the end of their journey, there was joy and happiness. In addition, they worshiped the baby by bringing precious gifts as well: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The wise men were the first gentiles to perceive that Jesus is the king of the world. Because they recognized that Jesus is for everyone, they gladly gave their precious gift to him. The good news is for everyone, not just for a select few.

We are in 2014; a New Year has come. We might have our own plans as to how to live this year. We might want to stay in familiar places, living our familiar lives, like Herod and all who lived in Jerusalem. Their familiarity, however, dimmed and blocked the God’s revelation from them. But, as we go on our journey, let us remember the wise men’s journey. They followed the star by faith in the midst of uncertainty. Even then, they experienced true happiness and joy.

John Wesley pointed out about what it happiness means in his sermon “Spiritual Worship” He appeals to those who attempt to find happiness outside of God, when he says:

“You seek happiness in your fellow-creatures instead of your Creator. But these can no more make you happy than they can make you immortal. If you have ears to hear, every creature cries aloud, ‘Happiness is not in me.’ All these are, in truth, ‘broken cisterns, that can hold no water’. O turn unto your rest! Turn to him in whom are hid all the treasures of happiness! Turn unto him ‘who gives liberally unto all men’, and he will give you ‘to drink of the water of life freely’”.

Like Herod who tried to find happiness in political power, we too may attempt to find happiness by ourselves, outside of and apart from God.

Beloved brothers and sisters, let us start our new year with this faith. Let us strive to break free of familiarity, when necessary. Let us open our hearts to God and look forward to what God will do for us in this new year. In order to do so, let us go on our faith journey with willingness to follow. And let us commit to this journey more fully – through worship, Bible study, fellowship, and other means of grace. Let us give our precious gifts to God, who deserves to receive them. I pray that we may all experience true happiness and joy, as the wise men found. I am convinced we will find true happiness, by following the star as we continue on our journey.

Finally, the wise men “left for their own country by another road.”  In response to God’s inspiration in a dream, they courageously took an alternative journey.  As the New Year begins, many of us may not be where we thought we would be. We are dealing with changes in our families, finances, health, and relationships.  We are traveling on a road we may not have expected. Yet, like the wise men, we can experience God’s revelation even on these alternate and challenging paths of life.  For we know that as long as we follow the star, we will find true joy and happiness. May God fill your life with joy and happiness in Christ Jesus throughout this year.  Amen.

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