Sermon transcript for January 6, 2013
Did You See the Star?
Belmont UMC—January 6, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching
Audio - MP3
Lake Junaluska, North Carolina is the home of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Headquarters for the United Methodist Church. It is also a beautiful retreat center located on the eastern side of the Smokey Mountains. Many of us have enjoyed meaningful retreats there over the years. There is a lake and a trail that takes one around the Lake and across a foot bridge.
I recall Bishop Ken Carder’s story of one visit to the Center. He is an avid walker and he set out the first morning to walk the trail around the Lake. Soon after setting out he noticed some litter on the ground and he picked it up. He saw more litter and picked that up, and he became upset by the amount of litter he was finding. So the next day he came with a bag so he could pick anything he found. Now mind you, this was Methodist litter so there were no beer cans or spent whisky bottles. This was sanctified litter, but litter none the less.
One morning as he was picking up the litter he looked up to see the beautiful rose garden that graces one side of the Lake. He had not noticed it on the other days because he was looking to the ground for things that needed to be picked up. The rose garden took him by surprise and he realized that he become so obsessed with cleaning the grounds that he had missed the beauty of the retreat center. Ken noted that in life we often see what we are looking for.
Our text today reminds us that in the dark of night some saw a star. For the people of Israel, in the days of King Herod, the night must have seemed especially dark. For centuries prophets had been dropping hints about a Messiah, one who would come from God, one who would come with power and redemption. But the years slipped by and except for a brief flutter of independence under Maccabees in the mid-second century, the nation had been subjected to one conquering empire after another. Darkness and despair were easy to see.
There were some though, who in the midst of that darkness, saw a new star at its rising. The Greek text can be translated, “a new star in the east,” but what they were seeing was much more. They were seeing a new beginning, a new hope, the gift of God.
These stargazers, called Magi (a word which has its roots in the word we use for “magician”) were not likely kings as our hymnody suggests. They were more like astrologers, those who watched the heavens for changes and signs. We know they brought 3 gifts, but we do not know how many Magi there were. Matthew doesn’t tell us that. But scholars have suggested that they likely came from the east, maybe from Persia, some 1500 miles away. It’s likely that they traveled with a large entourage of servants and belongings and they may have started this journey long before Jesus was born. It’s likely that they came some time after Jesus’ birth though we like to depict them in our nativities and Christmas pageants, standing there in the stable in sharp contrast to the shepherds.
They searched the darkness and saw a star, a new star at its rising, and they believed that something was up. It was a discovery so startling that they could not sit still but set out on this long journey to seek its origin.
They tried to get information about the star asking for a baby “born King of the Jews.” Herod and his cronies found their questions disquieting and Herod could barely disguise his fear of losing power. “Go and find him and come back and tell me where he is, so I, too, can worship him.” It was a lie! And we know Herod’s dark paranoia had been stirred up once again.
They found the baby and his mother and offered him gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream of Herod’s plot they returned home by another way. In the dark of night, some saw a star.
I’m not suggesting that we ignore the reality of our world by being stargazers. I’m not suggesting that we close our eyes to the litter along the way, that we ignore the reality of human suffering and human need. I’m not suggesting that we look at the world through rose colored glasses.
The Magi were fully aware of Herod’s dark side and their keen discernment of the very real and cruel world was an important component in this story. And as people of God, whose consciences have been enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are completely incapable of ignoring the harsh and dark realities of this world. There was plenty of darkness in 2012 to cause us to feel overwhelmed and it is exactly at that point when we need to see some stars, some reminders that God has not abandoned us, that God is still making a difference in this world.
I promised myself that I would be more attentive in this New Year, that I would keep my eyes open to hope and possibility; that I would be open to seeing those places where the divine intersects with our world. I doubt we can be much help to those in need unless we are able to see the stars, those bright moments of the sacred breaking in upon our darkness.
Christmas Eve was a wonderful worship experience here at Belmont UMC, as always. We had planned the service down to the last detail, but I saw God in so many places we had not thought about. I saw God in the embrace of a father and his grown son as they celebrated his Christmas homecoming. Ruby Truett, our dear friend, has processed the Baby Jesus to the altar for several years on Christmas Eve. As Ruby stood in the back with us before the processional, she held the small carving from the African crèche in her hands and look at the baby with such love and joy. Watching her I understood the words, “O come, let us adore him,” in a new and profound way. Listening to the words of the Christmas story read from Luke is always profound, but this year, hearing Nancy Whitehouse’s strong and confident voice reading this text, after a year of cancer treatments and pulling her way back to health, and hearing the voice of her granddaughter, Jordan, finish the text in her sweet but articulate voice. God was in your faces as you came forward for communion. And God was in your generosity as we raised funds to build parsonages for pastors in Malawi. I saw God at work among us in all of these things and more.
There will be plenty of darkness in the year to come, but we will need to see the star that shines in the night in order to make a difference in this world. We will want to be those people who have seen the star and followed it to the Christ Child
Sermon transcript for December 24, 2012
The Promise in Bethlehem
Belmont UMC—Christmas Eve 2012
Ken Edwards, preaching
I’ve always liked small towns. I grew up in a town of less than 10,000 people—a place where everybody knew everybody or was just a couple of steps from knowing them. When my older sons were in high school we went to a small, county seat town east of Nashville for a street fair. I loved the quaint feeling of the town and I kept saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to live here. I could pastor the United Methodist Church and we could walk to the drug store, post office and the barber shop.” My sons were not thrilled with the idea. My oldest said, “Feel free to make that move once I’m in college.” The other son said, “Dad, I love you, but you do need to get a life.”
Small towns have character and small towns have characters. They have s strong sense of community and identity. Bethlehem was a small town, a quiet place, the Mayberry of the Middle East. It was know as a good place to raise grain. Hence, its name means “House of Bread.” But in any real appraisal of the area, Bethlehem was a quiet and insignificant place.
But it was in this sleepy little town that David was born and chosen to rule over Israel. And David loved his home town. He had fond memories of being a shepherd boy, of cool drinks of thirst quenching water at the well at Bethlehem’s gate.
In David’s adult years, as King of Israel and a leader of soldiers, he would once again come near Bethlehem. This time the town was under siege, taken over by the Philistines. He looked longingly toward the town of his youth, and thinking aloud, he shared his wish to once again be refreshed by the water at the Bethlehem well.
His soldiers, who loved him and were extremely loyal, overheard his longing and made their way through the enemy lines and filled a container with water and brought it to David. David was deeply moved by their actions and the risks they took on his behalf. He did what seems to us a peculiar thing. He said, “I cannot drink this; it is not water but the blood of the men who risked their lives for me.” He poured the water out as an offering to God. (2 Samuel 23:15ff)
Micah, the prophet, points to another time, a future time, when God would visit Bethlehem. At this visit God again would break through the enemy lines of our resistance and bring us water that would spring up into everlasting life, water that would forever quench our spiritual thirsts. God would do this wonderful thing in Bethlehem, in a person we call the Son of David.
On this night Bethlehem is a small town with big news--wonderful, joyous news that came first to a band of shepherds minding their flocks and their own business on a nearby hillside. But this news if for all people, for you and me: “a savior has been born in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you. You will find the baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” On this night we, too, go to straight to Bethlehem to see this thing that God has done!