Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, May 20, 2019
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A New and United Humanity

Matthew 2:1-12 and Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew’s Gospel is the only one which tells us about the visit of the Magi. What makes that interesting is that Matthew’s Gospel is the one written especially for a Jewish audience. And he’s the only one who talks about these foreign pagans coming to worship the Christ child. But he’s trying to make a point: God’s Anointed One came to the Hebrew people, and their leaders, especially, rejected him. And so God’s promises became available to all.

Who are these Magi? They are astrologers from the east. They probably came from the Parthian Empire, which is Iran today. They may have come from Babylon, which was a place renowned for the abilities of its astrologers. The belief was that the future could be determined by studying the stars.

How did they know anything about these prophecies of a Messiah? Well, because of the Diaspora, the dispersion of Jewish people throughout the world after they were taken into exile in the 6th century BC. They would have had access to the Old Testament.

They say that it is a star that leads them to come searching for the Christ child. And people have wondered ever since what it was that they saw. Some think it was an alignment of three of the planets that happened in 6 BC. Others think it was a supernova, or a comet, or some similar event. And still others wonder if it was something miraculous that God placed in the sky. We don’t know and we never will. And it’s not terribly important.

They end up in Jerusalem, and through the Jewish religious leadership, they learn of Micah’s prophecy that the child will be born in Bethlehem. King Herod the Great is not too happy about this. By the way, this tells us that Jesus was not born in the year 1 AD. The creators of the Gregorian calendar started with 1 AD, thinking it was the year of Christ’s birth. But later research showed they were wrong. Herod died in 4 BC, so it’s more likely Jesus was born in 5-7 BC.

The irony of the whole situation is that religious leaders don’t act on this information. They’re supposed to be waiting for a Messiah, they hear he has been born, and they don’t do anything. Maybe they refused to believe that foreign pagans could get it right and they would not. Or maybe they were afraid to act because of Herod. Whatever the reason, it plays into the ironic picture that Matthew relates to us: The people of the promise ignore it, and “foreign pagans” grab hold of it. God’s promises are for all people.

They bring the Christ child three gifts, which are appropriate to him. Gold is a gift for royalty. Frankincense was burned in sacred rituals. And myrrh was used to embalm the dead. Christ is a divine king who will die to bring God’s salvation to all people.

In Ephesians 3, Paul also speaks of how God’s promises are for all people. He reminds his readers that he is in prison for preaching good news to the Gentiles. He is talking about his arrest in Jerusalem that led to his eventual imprisonment in Rome. He argues that the Jewish religious elites were especially opposed to him for proclaiming God’s promises to pagan Gentiles.

He says that God revealed his mystery or secret to him. The word mystery especially refers to God’s plan and purpose for history. Paul says that God’s ultimate purpose for history is to create one, new people who are united in Christ, to bring together Jew and Gentile.

And Paul was chosen for the task of spreading this message. Paul was a good choice for this, because of his Roman citizenship and his knowledge of the first century world. But he was also an odd choice because of his background as a Pharisee, one of the strictest sects that did not care for Gentiles. Perhaps God chose him to show that it was really God at work and not Paul.

This was God’s plan all along, to unite humanity into a new people. We can see it from the very beginning. When God first spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12, he told him that all nations would be blessed through him. But in the Old Testament, the entrance of Gentiles into the covenant people was more an exception than the rule.

But now the Church is called to be a people of all nations and races. And any way of thinking that divides or excludes people based on their birth or their appearance is anti-Christian.

And let’s be honest and admit that it is an issue. The Church has not yet fully embraced God’s calling, and racism remains a problem. You can’t solve problems if you pretend that they don’t exist. God’s purpose is to create a new humanity, made up all nations and races, united by faith in Christ. And we want to be on the right side of God’s purpose. And we do have a serious responsibility to oppose anything that divides or excludes people based on their appearance.

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