The Fourth Sunday of Advent – There Were Three Kings
- Prelude – Harpsichord Carols and “Three Kings from the Orient,” Jackson Berkey, harpsichord piano; Kathy Bundock Moore, harpsichord
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 254 – “We Three Kings,” by John H. Hopkins, Jr.; Janice Parks, vocal; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Advent candle lighting – Eva and Wayne Lundstrom
- Prayer time – Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Special music – “Offering,” by Paul Baloche; Janice Parks, vocal and piano
- Scripture reading – Matthew 2:1-12; Nancy Baer
- Advent drama – The Magi; Barbara Hughes, Neva Smith, Dave Herr, Phil Mortenson, Dennis Western
- Sermon – “Yes, There Were Three Kings,” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 245 – “The First Noel,” traditional English carol; Janice Parks, vocal; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Sung Benediction – Hymn 206, “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” by Kathleen Thomerson; Janice Parks, vocal; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Postlude – “Masters in This Hall,” traditional French carol; Donna Grubbs, Piano
From the overwhelming and powerful light that emanated from the heavenly realm for the shepherds; now moves in the opposite direction. And it’s not just geographical, although that plays a part. The light changes. It is no longer filling the sky. It has reformed itself into a single star. The light has moved from the West (Nazareth and Bethlehem) now to the East in what used to be Babylonia. It, at least for a brief time, departs the land of Israel and moves toward where the origins of life first appeared. A different place with different people who have a different understanding of heaven, of light, even of God.
And like so many other aspects of this strange story, the population where the light is moving is totally wrong. The light was not supposed to be shared with these people.
This is that point in the story where folks would say, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Enough is enough and now you’ve just gone too far. You can’t be serious…can you?” Remember, we’ve moved from some really obscure prophecies, through the choosing of the absolute wrong person who lives in the wrong place, isn’t even married but she’s pregnant, from the wrong part of the country. And if that wasn’t enough, last week we explored that the news of what was coming was given to the wrong people, if you can even call them people. Shepherds, really? But this takes the cake. Now you’ve moved not only out of the region but out of the country, from Jewish to Gentiles, from shepherds to philosophers who believe they find answers in the stars. They’re not Jewish. They don’t live in Judah, or even in Galilee.
Babylonia? That’s where the Jewish exiles were taken. That’s where another set of conquerors lived. That might as well be on the other side of the earth. Nah, I just can’t stretch this far. It doesn’t make any sense.
Okay, so let’s try and understand why this part of the story is so important. First, the East was considered a place of wisdom, and a place from which all other things emanated. It was from the East where it was believed God created the Garden of Eden. It was from the East that Abram heard the call to come to the promised land. It was from the East that those who had been in captivity had been released to return home. And now, here, it was from the East that the light became a star that guided the wisest of men, the Magi, toward the West and that place where the future light would be born.
Magi were kings, but so much more than kings. They were philosophers. They were astrologers. They were not Jewish, and were not even remotely related to being Jewish. They were followers of Zoroastrianism. Yes, they believed in one supreme being but that supreme being was not the God of Israel. According to their faith, their god had created, not just one Spirit, but twin spirits. The first of those was a spirit of light and truth. It was the positive, creating, orderly and loving spirit. The other was a spirit of darkness and untruth. It sought to create chaos, darkness, confusion, and disorder. These two spirits fought with one another, one seeking constantly to overpower the other. They believed that one of the spirits would win the heart or mind or soul of a human being. They also believed that the spirit of light would send someone, a prince of light sent into the world to overcome human darkness. They believed that the spirit of darkness was already at work in the world. They would soon meet him.
These kings were constantly looking for signs in the heavens; stars that would point toward the time and place that the light of truth would come into the world. Finally, they saw the sign of his coming. It was a star; brighter than any they had ever seen. They followed the sign and journeyed long and far as they were led by the heavenly light. It led them to a land to the West, along the same path as Abram, into a place and people of darkness; a place led by an evil king, and a country under significant oppression. On their journey, given that they were kings from a different land, certain protocols were to be followed. So they stopped and paid homage to the King of Israel, Herod. What they found in Herod was easily recognizable.
Herod was a person of darkness, of manipulation, and untruth. How odd to think that the country where they found themselves was ruled by a person filled with the spirit of darkness, and yet they were to visit the son of light and peace; a king in his own right.
So, yes, here we have three kings, but not the three sung about in the famous carol.
These three kings represented something more. They represented three significant populations of the world. One represented darkness, insecurity, power, control, fear, manipulation, and untruth. Another represented light, security, a different kind of power; that of love, peace, and truth. The third were those who had recognized the signs, and traveled to find the king of light, and then worship and honor him. Three very different kinds of kings each representing different types of people. And even in finding the light, the darkness grew as Herod, in his insecurities, sought to kill the one the Wise Men found. Notice, the Wise Men didn’t question the location. They didn’t question the humble nature of this birth. They didn’t question why there were shepherds, nor did they question anything about this young mother.
They accepted each piece of this unusual assembly, and then simply knelt and worshipped this child. It was then that they offered this baby, born in the humility of a manger, gifts that would represent who this baby would become. They seemed to know.
So, they offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And yes, they returned home a different way, but they returned celebrating as they had found what they were looking for. It changed their lives, this child of light, and somehow these foreign kings felt the spirit of light begin to grow. They somehow knew that he would change the world.
So, once again we have another group of people who don’t fit. They, like those before them, came from the wrong place, worshipped the wrong God, and practiced the wrong kind of faith. Beyond that, they are as opposite as can be from others in this story. Where the shepherds are poor, these kings are rich. Where Mary is from humble birth, they are of royal blood. Where Joseph practices Judaism, or at least some aspects of it, these kings practice a different kind of understanding. So, why would Matthew write a narrative like this? It certainly wasn’t to create opportunities for us to write Christmas carols or create Christmas pageants. There has to be another reason…and there is.
The purposes of these stories are to show that God chose to redefine everything previously known about Him and about creation. In this new creation with what would become a new covenant, God was able to show that this child of light would not just be coming for Jews; and not just for the priests and Pharisees or Jewish royalty. God brought this child into the world for everyone, including these wisdom seekers from another land. God chose these wealthy leaders to bring signs and symbols of who this child would become. He would become a priceless treasure for the world (gold). He would become a fragrant offering for the world (frankincense). He would become one who would die for the sake of the world (Myrrh). So yes, gold, frankincense, and myrrh were the three gifts given to this child of light, and the gifts would prove to be true. This child would become a priceless gift, a fragrant offering, and would die for the world. And so we sing again, O Come, O Come Immanuel, and hear again that unto us a child is born, and unto us, a son is given. And finally, next Thursday, we will hear the rest of the story, as this child of light will be born in the wrong place and, what should have been a place of royalty, instead is something else. But that is not yet here. Let’s pray…