“Discerning God’s Plan” Matthew 2:1-12
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, January 6, 2013
[Clip from The Nativity Story:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Lpv77EdxF4]
What a night that must have been for Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar, these three wise men from the east. Though there are some historical issues with putting the wise men at the manger at the same time as the shepherds, this movie–The Nativity Story–does the best job I have seen depicting what it must have looked like for them to meet Jesus that night. You see on the faces of Joseph and Mary the dawning realization of the prophecy they had both heard about this baby. You see the wonder and joy of treasure discovered in the eyes of the wise men. What a glorious intersection between humankind and the divine.
The real story here, I suggest, is what led up to this night. While we often refer to the wise men’s discovery of Jesus as Epiphany, I believe that it was, for them, the apex of epiphany events and moments taking place long before they arrived with gifts for Jesus. Epiphany for them was a process of careful discernment of what God was doing in the stars as well as the world. We can learn a lot from these wise men about discerning what it means to discover God’s plan in the world. It is at this time of year that we tend to think about it the most; a time when we consider the things we could do better in this next year; when we make resolutions to improve our lives. I think it is also a time when we are more sensitive to seeking, wanting to know what God’s plan is for us in the New Year. How does this happen, though? How can we truly know what God wants for us and for our world in this next year? How can you know what steps to take with your career, what choices to make for a mate, what school to attend, what role to play, what budget to make, and what path to choose? The wise men’s search and discovery provides us with some wise things we can do today to find God’s plan.
One thing we often neglect to consider is the men’s ongoing search for wisdom, long before they ever arrived at the house of Joseph and Mary. These men were from east of there, in Persia, yet able to see well beyond the walls of their village. Their eyes were on the skies, watching to see how the alignment of the stars connected with the events of earth. If there were majors in school back then, theirs would have been a double major in Astronomy and Political Science, with a minor in Incense Management. They were not passive students, not mere scientists, but wholehearted seekers of truth. Their ears were constantly open, their minds fully receptive, and their eyes mindfully looking to what they could discern about the relationship between their world and the heavens.
How watchful are you? We practiced our watchfulness in Advent, learning from the prophets of old and the parents of Jesus about what it means to wait for God. God for them was not genie in a bottle, ready to grant their every command. No, God was God and God sometimes requires waiting. We so often find that we are sitting in God’s waiting room, desperately needing to see Him, wondering if we ever will. We look around and see that there are others ahead of us, others who are seeking God’s plan for their lives, for the world. We all want to know how our lives relate to God’s overall plan. There is a restlessness within us that increases as we become less discerning, as we get so caught up in the rat race of life. This season of Epiphany provides an antidote to that restlessness with watchfulness. Our discernment of God’s plan and will for our lives begins with and depends on our level of watchfulness. How watchful are you these days? How can you become more observant to God’s revelations taking place all around you?
When Epiphany rolls around each year, I can’t help but think of that Elizabeth Barrett Browning quote that expresses the meaning of Epiphany so well, Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes. (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/elizabethb387342.html) It is a great reminder that we don’t have to go very far or get highly trained to see heaven in our midst. Your life and mine is filled with bush afire with God. Just take off your shoes and watch. Turn off your phone, log out of your Face book and Instagram, turn off the TV, throw out some of your activities, and watch. Watch.
What we also learn from the wise men is that their discernment came from searching. They were not only watchful; they acted on what they were seeing. They had spent years in preparation of this discovery, seeking for truth in writings and, especially, in the stars. They were so committed to the truth that they were willing to travel out of their comfort zone to get to the place where they would find an answer. They were true, persistent, and unstoppable seekers. Not even King Herod could prevent them from getting to where God was taking them.
As you desire to discern God’s plan, be a seeker. Move beyond contemplation to action. Talk to people whom you admire spiritually. Read books that relate to the questions you are asking. Join or–better yet–start a Sunday School class or small group of people who seek to know God’s plan together. Commit to being in worship every week. Get involved in a missional ministry team, which will you provide you with many an opportunity to see Christ in all of his distressing disguises. However you seek, know that the light of Epiphany will continue to illumine the path ahead of you. The more you step out, the more you find. Keep going.
The watchfulness of the wise men led to seeking. Their seeking led to the third help for us today as want to know God’s plan: offering. The wise men didn’t search with empty hands. They brought to the Christ child the very best of what they had to offer–frankincense, myrrh, and gold. These were expensive gifts, ones fitting for a king. The men were wise enough to see God’s plan in the baby, even as the bling of the gold and the aroma of the oils contrasted with the simple drab of the common dwelling of Joseph and Mary. God’s revelation to them in the child had become clear. We don’t know much more about them, other than they steered clear of the murderous King Herod on their way back home. But, I can’t imagine that life was ever the same for them again. They, too, had become a part of God’s plan.
The discernment of God’s plan in our lives also involves an offering. We are to approach Jesus with the very best of what we have to offer. As we see what God is doing in us and in our world in Jesus, we can’t help but want to offer expensive gifts. Just as each of the men had different gifts, so each of us has something different to offer Jesus. What will you offer to this King as you enter the New Year? What will you continue to give as you go throughout 2013? I invite you this morning to consider what this next year could look like with you. I say “with you” rather than “for you.” We tend to get caught up in personal appearance, personal goals, and personal development. It is ok to work on ourselves, but we must place a higher focus on what we can give to Jesus in this next year. What distance are you willing to travel in your life to honor the King of kings? What sacrifice are you willing to make for the Prince of peace? What service are you willing to offer for the Kingdom of God you have seen in the life of this incarnate deity who took the form of a servant, not as one to be served? What new spiritual habits are you willing to incorporate into your daily routine in order that you might shed some unwanted spiritual fat and develop a healthy spiritual constitution? What reputation are you willing to risk by bowing your knee to Jesus in this next year?
Watchfulness. Seeking. Offerings. These are what the wise men did and what they provide to us as helps for discerning God’s plan in and for the world. They are indeed helpful, but perhaps what they would say to us is what we can learn from the words of a Japanese poet, Basho Matsuo, “Do not seek to walk in the footsteps of the wise men of old, seek what they sought.” (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/wise-men) Now that is a wise word to end on. Let’s spend 2013 seeking what they sought–he to whom the universe pointed long ago and today still.