January 5, 2023 (The Eleventh Day toward Epiphany)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“…and a little Child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11.6d)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Magi came to Jerusalem from the east. They asked those in the seats of governance, ‘Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’” (Matthew 2.1-2)
Have you ever experienced what you thought was the end of a journey only to find there was something yet to do? Even in the days of GPS, if the information isn’t programmed correctly, you may not get exactly where it is you were intending. Sometimes our “epiphany” is the challenge to accept what is beyond our comprehension and ability and trust in what God has done, is doing and has determined to do in completing the work which He started at creation. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why all of this?” When you look at the world, especially as it is now, it seems to beg for the “end to come!” If we are reading and watching carefully, “the end” is more present than many will allow themselves to accept. Yes, it is easy enough to say “we have seen all these signs and portents before.” Many will as easily dismiss them as no big deal in the grand scope and scheme of things. Still, we have to admit that we are further down the road of destruction than of peace. Jesus warned of “wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, kingdoms against kingdoms, famines, earthquakes, faithlessness, persecution, wickedness and love growing cold.” (Matthew 24. 6ff) In Matthew’s “Little Apocalypse” Jesus also says “but do not be alarmed by this things because the end is yet to come.” In other words, as bad as it is there is worse yet to come. Fortunately, we have His promise recorded in the gospel of John. Jesus says to the eleven gathered in the Upper Room on the night when His arrest and trial leading to His crucifixion would happen, “Fear not, for I Am overcoming the world.” (John 16.33) There is, as long as we are in the world, something more we have to do. We must move on. We cannot allow ourselves to become sedentary, rooted, staid in life by fear. All of this happens in us and around us to the grand conclusion of this world. There will be a day when the final question will be asked. It is one we should be preparing to answer every day of our lives. The Magi from the east (representative of the lands and nations where the captives of Israel had once been taken during their history) asked it this way, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews?” Their inquiring minds didn’t want an answer to this question alone. What they were seeking was a direction in which they would go and then be able to perform their sacred duty. That duty was to “worship and serve Him.” They had made a choice as to whom they would believe is the King of kings, Lord of lords, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and the head of all the world’s governance which would ultimately and finally fall on His shoulders. In all of the descriptors which were given in the prophesies of Isaiah this one may be most significant and telling, “…and a little Child shall lead them.”
One day Jesus was teaching in “Judea beyond the Jordan.” He had already wrestled with the wrangling of some Pharisees on the issue of divorce. Jesus responded to them “divorce was allowed because of the hardness of your hearts.” The absence of any desire for reconciliation, relational healing and building up a faithful community made divorce in some instances the only option for peace. Generally, this was experienced when the objective of marriage to honor God and serve one another was not the first consideration of choice, choosing and chosenness. In other words, when one didn’t marry with the proper intention then marriage was only a matter of convenience, opportunity and self-service. No wonder there are so many un-marriages and divorces in today’s world. But, that was just one step in Matthew’s remembrance of that particular day. It moved from marriage and divorce to what I believe was the consequence of divorce: abandoned children. There is much debate about where “Judea beyond the Jordan” actually existed. In truth, geographically speaking, there was no such place. But, if we were to consider a different paradigm in identifying such a place such as “socially speaking,” how many of Judea lived beyond the Jordan which was east of Jerusalem? There were many communities, you can call them cities or even a kingdom of cities, which were like “spiritual refugee camps” where the outcast gathered. And they were outcasts for all kinds of reasons: leprosy, deformity, scape goats, abandonment, crime and other such “set apart” identities. Among them were the children of broken hearts and broken homes. In many cases they would have been seen as less acceptable than even Samaritans. Of course, none of that would have deterred Jesus who had come “to seek and save that which is lost.” (Luke 19.10) When these lost children, and what age mattered in that description for we are children of God as well, were brought to Jesus to be blessed the disciples were put out. There were so many of them! The disciples had already shown their penchant and disdain for the burden of crowds. Crowds were a challenge to their “care giving” ministry because they still saw their own needs first. [Even when they couched it as a care for Jesus’ needs much like when His own family came and urged Him to stop pursuing a course that opposed His own health and welfare.] But, Jesus stopped them from keeping the children from Him. He actually used the opportunity to speak to everyone there saying “Do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. If you want to draw near to the Kingdom, then you must become like one of them.” In that moment, Isaiah’s prophecy might have been fulfilled as it said “…and a little child shall lead them.” Out in the wilderness of life where the lost had been allowed to go and die a leader would rise up from among them. Consider the biblical leaders who had that same experience of “lost in the wilderness of sin” but return to lead their people into a promised land. In the days of Jesus there was no better example than His cousin John who preached in the wilderness while eating locusts and wild honey and dressing himself in clothes made of camel hair. I hear an old hymn playing in the back of my mind, “Savior like a shepherd lead us, much we need Thy tender care. Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be. Thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and pow’r to free.”
So, believing their quest would find its resting place in Jerusalem, the City of the One True God, the Magi approached the governor’s court and asked “Where is the One born King of the Jews for we have come to worship Him?” As much as they knew from the scriptures of the exiles which they had read and studied, they had missed their true destination. Even with the “guiding light” of the Heavenly Star which led them and which seemed of no consequence to those in Israel over whom it stood, they still did not know. They were like lost sheep wandering in the wilderness of life seeking a shepherd, green pastures and still waters. There was something more to do and somewhere else to go. And the answer was found in nothing less than God’s Holy Word. The angels directed the shepherds “born to you this day in Bethlehem.” And now the biblical scholars would place the final piece of the puzzle and thus give true direction to the wise men seeking Jesus: Bethlehem. And what could be more poignant to fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy than “a little child shall lead them.” They had something more to do with their lives and so, too, do we. Let this be our epiphany in 2023!
Father, lead us, guide us, show us the way so that we will be best able to answer the final question: who do we choose to believe in with all our heart, soul, mind, body and strength. It is You who has shown us the way, the truth and the life in Jesus our Lord, Your Child who leads us. AMEN.