Rising To Action

December 27, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 2:1-12

The People Filled With Joy

1. "The magi saw the star and were filled with joy." That's what's written in the text. This is an expression that means, "They were joyous with a very great joy." A joy that they had never experienced till then. It seems to me to be saying they were filled with a joy that was on a different dimension than that of anything they had ever felt joy over before. It was not simply the kind of joy one has upon finally reaching one's destination [after] a long journey. Please consider it with me. It was a commonplace home to which they had arrived at long last after a long journey [for] visiting the messiah. It was a big difference from that of Herod's royal palace which they had visited first. What's more, in visiting the one who had been born king of the Jews, they had traveled over a long distance and then the ones whom they then met were so common, ordinary members of the masses, a mother and an infant. It was perfect grounds for disappointment, right? While joyous to the extent of having finally reached their destination, [their joy] must have ended blown away and deflated. Yet, "the very great joy" which had been given to them was not of that sort. The figure of these magi as it is written briefly here in this text clearly shows us this [about them and true joy].

2. The first thing the Bible is telling us is that they bowed down and worshipped the child. In addition to that, it says they opened a treasure chest and presented gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts. It is one of the scenes we can see without feeling any sense of discomfort as one part from the Christmas pageant. Yet, when you think in realistic terms, it seems strange. They were scholars in astrology. In calling them astrologers, they were men of a considerably high position in the world of the ancient Orient because in their world everyone thought that the movement of the stars was in control of a person's destiny. Those with the ability to read and interpret destinies had substantial power to control [others]. We can see that they were men respected by even foreigners because they were easily able to have an audience with King Herod the Great. It says these men bowed down before a quite ordinary infant and worshipped [him].

3. It also goes on to add that in obedience to the announcement in a dream [of theirs], they did the opposite as to what they had promised Herod and returned home through another way. Normally [no one] would do a rude thing like kicking against the request of an authority over a territory. We can see that from Herod's getting quite angry. Though, they would have been well received had they gone back to Herod. They might have even received a good deal of rewards because, for one thing, they would have been hand-delivering the news to Herod that he had been wanting. But, simply in obedience to the announcement in the dream, through a different road, they returned home without even sending back any farewell greeting.

4. To begin with, the story itself of their having been led by a star is curious enough. In a certain sense something more impossible than that is being described here. All of it shows one thing. It is that they were not merely coming into contact with events from this passing world. Rather than that, it is saying with certainty that these magi were coming into direct contact with events in which the work of God was being revealed. Therefore, it speaks of "the very great joy" [they had], not as the joy that comes from this world, but a heavenly joy, so special, so much so that it filled them, it caused them to take action that normally was not possible. That's right. They were filled with a great joy at the end of their journey. They were filled with the joy from heaven, which they could not have known when they were living as astrologers in the Orient.

5. The magi from the Orient. If we were to ask why are they here in this text, we could say it is because they foreshadowed the Gentiles who would soon believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we too are among them. Their figure is also our figure. We too are being invited to participate in this joy. As we do that, we will find ourselves reflecting and looking back over the year again. What [will we see]? Hopefully, we have been participating, not in the ordinary joy of this passing world, but in the great joy that is from heaven. Hopefully, filled with the great joy from heaven, we have been conducting ourselves to action.

6. Please imagine it with me. How would it have been if the magi were not filled with the joy of heaven, but were only thinking of worldly matters? How would it have been if they had kept looking only at the lowliness of the house, possibly even a shabby one at that, when they were shown one of the houses by the star, and if they had said, "What, is this the messiah's house!? It's poor-looking!" Or, upon seeing Mary and the child, how would it have been if they had murmured, "The gold, the frankincense, [this stuff] is too good for the child in this commoner home!?" Don't you think this scene is a bit messy? But, listen everyone, not suspecting it ourselves, we do just this very thing. Keeping our eyes on just worldly things, keeping our eyes on what the people of the world are doing, we take offense, we get disappointed, we complain, and if we ever do feel there is something we like and are happy about, then the next day that happiness is completely blown away to bits. We do just this very thing.

7. This kind of thing won't do for you, will it? You're not going to quit at it, are you? Let's look for something from heaven. Let's seek to come into close contact with a heavenly work, a working from God. Let's look for the joy from heaven that is with Jesus, the joy of the faith practice. And let's let God abundantly give us experiences of this heavenly joy. When we are filled with the joy from heaven, at the end of a long journey, this unrewarded hard work is hardly likely to turn into grief and complaints at all, like [some] shabby house waiting for us. Shall we not look for and seek to become people who can bow down from the heart and offer up all that we have with hearts overflowing with joy?

To Move On To Specific Actions

8. We can see from this scene something important for that purpose. We are to move on to specific actions and not concentrate on looking. They could have remained in the east as "persons with an interest" in the messiah. In fact, they could have given it a full investigation with their interest in it. They could have investigated the messianic star hitting every possible book. In addition, since many Jews were taking up residence in Babylon, through them they could have investigated the traditions regarding the coming messiah as the king of the Jews. While continuing as usual their lives as astrologers, they could have spent their entire lives just being interested like that, and not doing anything differently.

9. But they did not remain there. They actually arose [to action] and went on a trip. They took their first step in a specific concrete way. Their long trip began with that first small step. They made the decision to step out and then did it.

10. Come to think of it, many stories of persons who began a trip can be found in the scriptures. It was that way for Abraham. It was that way for the Israelites when they were led by Moses. It was that way for "the prodigal son" in the parable from Jesus. The prodigal son did not just worry over his wretched way of life. The scripture says, "He arose from there and went to his father," (Luke 15:20). Some leader in the Eastern Church wrote this, that "Faith is not obtained by thinking, but by doing. Words and wondering do not teach us God, experience does. As long as you don't open a window, fresh air will not come into the room. As long as you're not sunbathing, your skin will not tan. Obtaining faith is the same way. As the church fathers said, we can never reach the objective by just waiting and sitting at ease." -- That's exactly right, I agree with [this Eastern Church leader].

11. In just a short while we will be welcoming in the new year. Let's be careful each step of the way in a specific way this coming year. Let's give form to each thought in a specific way, the thought to look for God, the thought to look for Christ, the thought to look and yearn for things from heaven. There is surely something we can do. The great joy that we ought to receive, the heaven sent joy, lies right ahead of our own specific steps, one by one, just like the way the great joy was waiting ahead of [the magi] in their specific journey.

12. While we're on it, what guided them was one of the stars they had seen in the east. Of course, we know that the star did not guide them by its own will, but it was God who guided them by using the star. But it seems they had lost sight of the guiding star from God. Then coming to Jerusalem they had made inquiry, "Where is the one who has been born as the king of the Jews? As we have seen the star for him in the east, we have come to worship [him]," (verse two). We see their making inquiry, and so at this time the star had probably stopped being visible to them.

13. However, through this [development] the birth of the messiah had come to be communicated to both Herod and the people in Jerusalem. As a result, a definite shape has come into view, in which the contrastive figures of Herod and the people of Jerusalem are brought into bold relief with that of the magi from the east.

14. Looking at a map, Bethlehem is not that far from Jerusalem. It is at most a distance of about ten kilometers. We know that the magi scholars in astrology were just about to head in that direction after that moment [of inquiry]. But, the scholars of the law, the scribes, were not about to accompany them. Of course, neither was Herod. When Herod heard about the birth of the messiah, he felt uneasy, says the scripture. The people of Jerusalem were in the same condition. What's more, Herod not only became anxious, but he had even plotted to try to murder the messiah by locating him.

15. Why didn't they accompany them? Why did he become anxious? Why did he want to wipe the messiah out? Do you wonder why? The reason is simple. They wanted things to stay the same. They didn't want to change. They wanted to stay in the place they were. After all, the greatest obstacle that keeps people out of heaven, that keeps people from the heaven-sent joy is the notion, "I want things to stay the same. I don't want to change."

16. So if we put it the opposite way, to have the mind in which "I want to change" is a joyous thing. When we get to the point of feeling "I want to change. I don't want things to stay the same," by various trials and tests, or even if we've gone through suffering, that is a blessed [place to be]. -- Because the true journey begins from there.

17. The magi from the east might have temporarily lost sight of the star. They might have been lost. But they had no need to worry at all. -- Because they were different from Herod. -- Because they did not want to remain in the place they were in. Even though they might have lost sight of the star and were lost, they kept looking for the Christ all the same, and as long as they were willing to take the next step, they were all right. The star will re-appear for people like that. Guidance will be made plain. God will perfectly guide. When they began walking, the star had gone along right ahead of them. And at the last they were filled with joy.

18. The coming year two thousand and ten. Let's be [open to God giving] us [his] great joy from heaven, like we've never experienced before! Let's be [open to God giving] us that great joy which we can only experience in the presence of the messiah! Let's keep looking and seeking for [this]! Let's give our looking and seeking a specific form! A long journey begins with a small step. Let's have the Lord guide us in [our] first specific steps!