I am going to tell two stories, two different aspects of the Gospel lesson for today.
The first story involves our Christmas banner, which you might have seen as you drove into our parking lot. The evangelism committee experienced much stress and anxiety figuring out what to put on our Christmas banner this year. At first, we thought we would put the times for Christmas Eve worship: 4:00 and 7:30 P.M., plus an invitation like “Please join us,” or “Everyone welcome.” But this did not seem to have much spice to it. I thought to myself, “We are a church. It's Christmas. Everyone knows that we want them to join us for Christmas Eve.”
So, what can we say that people might not expect so much to hear at Christmas? I thought it would be great to put a silhouette of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, with the words, “God with us.” yes. That would be fine indeed.
Others on the committee were not so sure though, so the anxiety and the uncertainty went on. Then I went away to see my mother over Thanksgiving. When I came back, the committee had made the decision, without ME! Not only that, but they had decided to do something that was NOT MY IDEA! They had decided to show the star of Bethlehem, which we hear about in the Gospel lesson for today. They decided to show the star along with the words with which we start our worship service: “Peace be with you.”
This was a really good choice. Now the thousands of people who drive by our church every day see a wish, not only for tranquility, not only for calm, but for wholeness and health of body, mind and spirit. In this hectic, crazy world, in this hectic, crazy season of Christmas, we were wishing people peace.
Good. So, I was putting up the banner one day in December, out there near the hospital entrance to our parking lot, and I heard somebody say something behind. me. I turned around and there was a well-dressed, Middle Eastern looking gentleman who had been walking by on the sidewalk. He had black hair and brown skin and brown eyes. He was good looking, chiseled features and a fit torso. I leaned forward to hear what he had said, and I could barely hear him but I think he said “Peace to you to.”
I had not realized that we were not only wishing peace to people in general. We were wishing peace to people of different religions. Wishing peace to Bethlehem, to a place in the world which has been beset by violence and hatred and un-peace for way too long. He had shown me another way to see this peace, this light.
When the Magi came to Mary and Joseph, they would have looked different, their accents would have sounded different. Their dress would have been different. Their religion was almost certainly different. They were Zoroastrian priests from Persia, astrologers. That's what the word Magi means.
Sometimes people who are different from us will open our eyes to aspects of the light, aspects of Jesus, that we had not realized yet, that we had not seen. Sometimes the magi come to us.
Second story: In 1933, American folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles attended an evangelical revival in Monroe North Carolina, where he heard a little girl named Annie Morgan sing a snatch of melody and maybe a few lines. They may have gone something like this:
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the savior did come for to die.
For poor ordinary people like you and like I. . .
Notice this simple wonder over the basic core of the Christian faith. Little, simple snatch of song.
Out of this, Niles wrote at least the final line, maybe more:
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.
Then he dove deeper.
When Mary bore Jesus all in a cow stall,
with shepherds and farmers and wise men and all.
So, both the poor shepherds and farmers, some of whom probably did not know how to read, as well as wealthy wise men, deeply versed in learning, both groups of people come to this wonder, to this mystery beyond our understanding.
And high from God's heaven a star's light did fall,
the promise of ages, it then did recall.
All these people, poor and rich, educated and not, over ages of ages have been yearning, aching for the presence of God, for the love of God. The promise, which had been hoped for all that time was coming to reality, the wonder was happening today.
And here is the nature of that wonder:
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
a star in the sky or a bird on the wing,
or all of God's angels in heaven for to sing,
he surely could have it, 'cause he was the king.
Jesus could have had anything he wanted. He could have forced all of us to bow down and worship him, and like it. He could have forced all of us to hop like a frog in a circle if he had wanted to. He could have forced us to cry out in joyful ecstasy about it. But he did not. What did he do?
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.
Oh, yes, it's a wonder.
How Jesus the savior did come for to die.
That's what he did.
For poor ordinary people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander. . .
Why did you come here this morning? What brought you hear? What star did you see rising in the east? What wonder have you glimpsed that you had to get just a little deeper vision of?
See, here's my second point: You are the magi. You are the different ones. We are the Gentiles. We are the nations. We come, seeking the Christ Child. God brings us here. And sometimes, God uses us to show the light of the Christ child to others.
So, come to the manger. Come to the Christ child. Come to the altar here, to communion where Jesus' body and blood becomes a part of us. Come, let this wonder touch you. Come, O Magi, let Christ embrace you, this peace which is with you always.