‘The Search for God’
Matthew 2:1-12 Common English Bible (CEB)
Coming of the magi
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”[a]
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Searching for God
Picture this, it’s pouring rain, and I drive up to the house with Miriam and Lydia in the car. We just arrived home after a day of me working at the church, Lydia at preschool, and Miriam at school and just finishing her ukulele practice. I gather up all their items coats, backpacks, lunch boxes, ukulele, ukulele practice book, art work Lydia made including some homemade slime her teacher lovingly let her take home to, a bag of groceries, smoothies we just got at the espresso stand, and my coffee phone and keys. Keys are the important item here, remember them. Lydia is nearly in tears because she has to go to the bathroom and says that if she has to walk she is going to have an accident. So I pick her up too and hand Miriam as many items as I can to carry until all you see is are two small legs walking towards the house with a pile in her arms. I don’t want to have to go back out in the cold and pouring rain, so I am do a balancing act of sorts that would make for a good audition into Cirque De Soleil. I get in and throw everything down somewhere, including the keys, and rush Lydia to the bathroom. The next morning as we get ready to go to the car for school there is an item that I cannot find. Know what it is, yes, the keys. And, Miriam is late for school as I turn the whole house upside down looking for them. This story happened so many times until I discovered this, and with one push of the button on my phone, the keys are found. And if I loose my phone I can find it if I have my keys. I even have some on the way to attach to Miriam and Lydia when we go to crowded public places, just in case.
2000 years ago, some mysterious Magi from somewhere in Persia, modern day Iran, got an alert from their own way of looking for something extremely important to them in their lives. Of course they did not have Bluetooth or GPS technology back then, but what they had worked for them just as well, a star had appeared in the sky that informed them in their own way, in their own religion, that they had found a new revelation of where God was in their world.
Traditionally, the Magi have become called the 3 Kings, although, there is nothing in Matthew’s story to indicate that they were kings. The church began referring to them as Kings over time because the Old Testament had numerous prophecies about Kings flocking to Jesus. Yet, these people were not Kings. They did, however, probably work in royal courts serving as Magicians and Astrologers. They even practiced a very crude form of Astrology and were like modern day psychics or tarot card readers. These mysterious travelers from the East were not Jews, yet, God was speaking to them through what they knew and was leading them to a new revelation of God in the world through Jesus. What’s groundbreaking in the Jewish story is that God was revealing Godself not only to the insiders, the Jewish people, but to those considered outsiders. The Magi become the first outsiders in the story of Jesus who discover that they are truly insiders with God. Good to know if you’ve ever felt like an outsider with God. Sometimes, it is the outsiders who really have more to say than those on the inside. But, what’s most important is that they were constantly searching for God in the world they were looking for new ways that God was alive and active in their world. They lived life with this question before them all the time, where can I find God, what is God up to, and how can I get in on that action?
These questions are vital questions that you and I should be asking everyday in our lives. Where is God at, what is God up to, and how can I get in on that action?
Where do you find God in your life? If you are here today then you must find God in this place, in the people, in the music, in the sermons, in the prayers, in eating this bread and drinking this juice, in the work of the church. You must find God in this faith community and in this worship or else you would not be drawn to getting up on Sundays and coming here. But how about the rest of the week? The Magi teach us that our search for God in our lives is a daily event, an ongoing search for us that cannot be limited to one day a week. And, it’s a search that demands us to drop everything else in order to take the journey.
If we take the time every day to look for God, we will find God because God is all around us, but only those who choose to look in faith are the ones who will glimpse God’s presence in the everyday ordinariness of life. It was not the outsiders, the Magi in the story, who did not see God, but rather it was King Herod. And, the only reason I think that King Herod did not see God was because he was not interested in looking for God. He did not want to find God because finding God might have called him to change his ways, give up his power, and view the world differently. When we see God and discover what God is up to in our world, it can make us at the least uncomfortable, and at the most call us to make huge sacrifices. I’d venture to bet that the reason some people are not able to see God in the world and in their lives is because they do not want to see God as God is, but rather to see God as they want God to be. In other words, we want to find God on our own terms and in the ways that we tell God we want God to show up, but God will not have that, God is not controlled by our wants and our demands.
One person has said this, “A common mistake we make is that we look for God in places where we ourselves wish to find God, yet even in the physical reality this is a complete failure. For example, if you lost your car keys, you would not search where you want to search, you would search where you must in order to find them.” We have a tendency to want to find God on our terms. God help me to win or to succeed in life, God bless my children and my family, God let this situation in my life change, and even God get them for what they have done to me. When we are looking for God like this we are taking on the character of King Herod in this story. We are searching for God so that our lives might be better.
If we want to take on the role of the ones who find God in this story, the Magi, then we must look for God differently. They are open to God popping up outside of their lives and outside of their country – they are looking for God outside of their comfort zone. They are open to giving up their ideas of where God should be. They are willing to take risks to find God, and they do not expect to become the recipients of divine blessing in the story, but rather, they bring their gifts to lay at the feet of where God is already active in the world. In other words, the Magi were looking for God on God’s terms and not just looking, but actively getting involved in where God is at work in the world, and bringing the gifts they have to contribute to the work God was already doing. They do not set the agenda, but they step out into the river of God and let it carry them away to wherever God takes them.
And, this is probably the most difficult thing about searching for and finding God in our world. When we discover God’s activity then we risk the very real possibility that God has a job for us to do and sacrifices to make in order to truly discover God in our lives. Most of the time it means that we have to give up control and allow God to take over, but what’s amazing is how we see God in ways that we never expected to see God, and how God opens our eyes to new revelations of God at work in our world and uses us as part of that work.
Who do you think was the person who experienced God the most, discovered God’s activity in the world the most, was actively engaged in God’s activity in the world the most, who would you say? Jesus, right. But Jesus did not find God and experience God the most because he went off on some spiritual retreat to search for God. Jesus discovered God and experienced God more than anyone else because he was always giving his life away for others, he was always searching for the broken, the hurting, the lonely, the godless, the outcasts – and he was always doing everything he could to meet their needs. I do not think Jesus was able to do all of this because he had experienced God in some spiritual way and then was empowered to go and do the work of God, rather, he was empowered to do the work of God because he was actively looking for God at work in the world and was giving his time, resources, and energy to that work. It was in the act of loving others that he found God and it was in the giving away of his life that he discovered his life in God. So, if you want to find God, don’t go lock yourself in your house and pray, but rather, go outside of yourself and look for ways to give yourself away with the gifts that you have to those in need.