Here we are on the first Sunday of the year. Congratulations! You currently have perfect attendance for 2018. Is that anyone’s New Year’s resolution? To attend church every Sunday, be it here or elsewhere?
There is something compelling about the New Year and making resolutions to transform your life. Two-thirds of Americans make New Year’s resolutions and the number one resolution is losing weight. But that means getting up early to exercise and giving up eating the things we love, right? But what if I told you there was a resolution that could transform your life without having to get up early or give up your favorite food—would you be interested? If so, then resolving to search out and follow Jesus more fully and more completely, just might be a compelling resolution for you. And who better to guide us in this consideration that the very ones who did it themselves. The Wise men. The Magi. Who visit us at Epiphany.
The Magi were spiritually hungry seekers, searching the stars night after night in hopes of finding answers. They spent a lifetime on a journey to understand the meaning of life. They resolved to spend a lifetime seeking a truth that was worth living for. More than anything, that’s what we know about them.
We don’t know for sure how many wise men there were. Church tradition says three, that’s because of verse eleven, which says: “… they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”
It doesn’t say, however, “Jesus opened his gift of gold, and then he opened his gift of incense, and finally, he opened his gift of myrrh.” For all we know maybe there were five kings with gold, two with incense and three with myrrh.
Not only do we not know how many Magi there were, we don’t know if they were kings, or scholars or astronomers. A predominant theory is they were astrologers from Iran, a group known as the Magi. Others say they were from China.
We know they came from some distance, and traveled a long way from the way the story begins—“Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” The expression from the East usually meant outside of Palestine, a long way beyond the borders of known travel. But from the east also meant beyond the arena of God’s truth, beyond the boundaries of God’s people, beyond the Promised Land where people had no idea who God was.
Bottom line, the Magi were gentiles; pagans without religious affiliation. So their long journey gives testimony to who Jesus was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to the people Israel.”
And because of the gifts they brought, and because they traveled so far, it was likely a huge caravan of camels and servants carrying all of the supplies. Which no doubt caught everybody’s attention—especially the attention of Herod, and most especially when they began asking,“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star and have come to worship him.”
It is testimony to the size of their entourage, and the influence they projected, that Herod didn’t have them immediately arrested and put to death. After all, Herod was an egomaniac and a sociopath. He lived a lavish lifestyle and bankrupted Judea with his extravagant building projects. He built shrines and idols to all sorts of gods, just in case. He was known for his murderous impulses for fear of a coupe. But before all that, Herod was the declared King of the Jews and expected any worship to be offered to him.
And just like the Magi who resolved to search for truth, Herod too had made a resolution. He had resolved to stay king—by any means necessary. Even by having killed young boys under the age of two.
Herod’s resolve comes through when he sends these Magi to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” But of course he wasn’t going to worship him. He wasn’t interested in finding a Savior. Herod was only interesting in eliminating his rival. So, having been warned in a dream to do so, after the Magi found Jesus, they “went home another way” to avoid Herod.
For all of the awful things about King Herod, he offers a great piece of advice for those of us who are working on our New Yeas resolutions. He says, “Go and search diligently for the child.” He says this to lifelong seekers on a journey to find truth. But he could just as easily be saying it to you and me.
Once you resolve to seek out, find, and then permit Christ to lead you, everything changes, you live a different way.
The Magi returned home by another way to avoid Herod. But it is symbolic of what meeting Jesus does. He sends you home different; you now travel in a completely different way. You are a different person because you met Jesus. You are forever changed because you met Jesus.
If you want 2018 to be different, if you want to be different in 2018, the easiest way for that to happen is to resolve to search out Jesus.
“Go and search diligently for the child” is a better resolution than perfect church attendance or losing weight. It is another way of saying you are resolved to follow Jesus more fully, to make him king, to take yourself off the throne and put him there. Herod knows this is what he needs to do but he doesn’t do it. We know it’s what we need to do, but too often we don’t. But resolving to search for Jesus will transform our lives.
So how would it look if you truly resolved to do that more fully this year?
The first step in making any resolution is to consider how you got to the place that you are right now.
A person resolving to lose weight ought to ask, “How did I gain this weight?” The answer to the question can be the answer to being successful in keeping the resolution. “I ate a lot of fat greasy food, therefore I am fat greasy dude!” “I didn’t exercise at all, therefore I have high cholesterol!” There’s your answer— Eat better and get off the couch! So if you want to resolve to follow Jesus more fully—then ask yourself “Where did I start in the first place?” “How did I begin my journey with Jesus?” “What caused it to start?”
Did you get surprised or did it happen slowly?
Was it a quick introduction or has it been a lifelong journey?
Was it someone saying to you, “Hey, come check out my church”?
Whatever way it was, go back to where it all started, and live out of that moment again.
I’m not suggesting you recreate your childhood and join our children’s choir. And I get that if it was with family some members of your family are no longer with you. What I am saying is to remember where, when, how it all started for you. Remember what ignited that spark of faith that led you to find Jesus.
Answer that question and you will have begun to find your answer as to how you can once again, and more fully than ever, search out Jesus and allow Jesus to again send you home a different way.
So what would that mean if you truly resolved to search diligently for Jesus more fully this year?
What difference might that kind of resolution make in life?
It might mean we are in worship more regularly, praising God for the gift of Christ Jesus and worshiping the one who gives us life.
It might mean we take seriously the reading of scripture, where we truly find Him in the Word.
It might mean our prayer life is just that, a prayer life, and not something we keep meaning to do.
It might mean our commitment to the church takes a more prominent role in our life, and no longer is something “If there’s time.”
It might mean being part of the work days coming up over the remaining Saturdays in January, or coming to the Congregational Conclave next month to dream, envision, and discuss where God is leading us as a church in the coming months.
It might mean sending me an email to tell me of the idea you’ve had marinating for some time about a ministry you’d like to start.
It might mean you resolve to be the star by which people are led to find Jesus.
If Jesus is the Light of the World sent to shatter the dimness of the world, that light can shine through you. You can be a “witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone…”
Just like lots of us resolve every year to lose weight, all of us need to resolve to let the light shine through us.
Author L.R. Knost writes in her book, “InHumanity: Letters from the Trenches”, “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”
May we all begin this year resolving to search for Jesus more fully, to let His light shine through us—wherever that takes us, even if it means going home a different way.