I have shared stories with you about my Dachshund Roxy.
When you own a wiener, as Doxy owners like to call them, you know that they were bred to hunt badgers.
If you know anything about badgers, you know that they are burrowing animals that shelter underground in what can be fairly large dens.
So, for your wiener to hunt badgers, you need to train it to go underground and find them.
I learned this when I was told about “Earth Dog” competitions.
The organizer of the competition will set up an underground course, don’t ask me how, and throughout the course, will insert a caged rat that is to be “hunted” by one of the competing wiener dogs.
So, you take your wiener to the competition, then let it loose at the opening hole that leads into the underground course.
I have never seen one of these events, but I’m told that if you are there you look out on an empty lot and hear a lot of muffled barking as the wieners run through the course.
The wiener uses its only tool to find the rat.
When it finds the rat, it hits the rat cage, and a flag pops up above ground and someone goes and digs up the wiener to see whose it is.
I laugh every time I think of such an event.
When we humans search for something, we need more than our noses.
We need other tools.
Mostly in 2021, we use GPS, IMaps or Google Maps.
It wasn’t long ago that we used actual paper maps.
And before that, we used compasses and landmarks.
Back in the really old days, folks followed stars.
Which brings us to our scripture reading.
It’s about star followers.
Searching for something.
Matthew 2: 1-12
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Today we read one of those Bible stories we all love.
The Three Kings.
We have several hymns in our hymnal where the kings and star are mentioned.
We all know the story well, right?
They come following a star.
They are searching for what it means.
The star leads them to a baby in a manger.
They kneel in adoration.
They give expensive gifts.
The way we see it in our family manger scenes.
They go back home by a different route.
But when we read the story from Matthew’s Gospel, don’t we have a lot of questions?
At our staff meeting this week, we read the passage and did have lots of questions.
Who were these guys?
Where did they come from?
Why did they come?
What did they expect to find?
And what about that star?
How do you follow a star?
How does a star point to something on the ground?
Was it really a star?
Well, here are some things that offer some answers.
These men were not kings.
We often refer to them as Wise Men.
They were probably Zoroastrian priests.
Zoroastrians believed in one god who created everything.
This god gave humanity free will and was going to judge everyone for the choices each made.
Happily, there was going to be a messiah who would come and “renovate” creation and save people from the consequences of their poor choices.
These Zoroastrians also studied the stars.
They were astrologers.
In those days they were considered scientists.
Wise men indeed.
They had another name.
They spent their time looking at the stars and trying to find meaning in them.
We don’t really know how many there were, but because there are three gifts described by Matthew, we assume there were three Magi.
They were from the east (which means the star was to their west).
Probably from Babylon, modern day Iraq.
They had seen something new.
A new heavenly body.
What was it?
A conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn?
Who can know?
But these astronomers called it a star.
Because everything in the night sky, other than the moon as a star to them.
And this was a new one.
And they wondered what this omen meant.
A new star in the sky would have been considered an omen of something.
A divine manifestation.
God doing something.
Such things were often said to mean that a new king was born.
So, they decided to go check it out.
They left when they saw the star and arrived in Jerusalem somewhere around two years later.
Somewhere along the way, they lost sight of the star, apparently.
Which is why they stopped in Jerusalem to ask directions.
Which must have been awkward.
“Hey Herod, current king of the Jews, where is your replacement, the new born king?”
Which brings to mind this question:
What made them think this star was an omen of the birth of a king of the Jews?
Following the star took them to Jerusalem.
Where the Jews lived.
Must have been their king, right?
They are told Bethlehem was where a particular prophecy located the birth of the “Messiah”.
We are waiting for one of those, too!
And so, they went to Bethlehem, and for the first time since they left, there was the star again.
And guess what?
Following it did take them to Bethlehem.
How did they find Jesus?
They likely asked around a bit.
“Any babies born since that star appeared?”
I think it probably took them a while to find Jesus if that is all they had to go on.
Ultimately, they found Jesus.
Presumably they were told the story of Jesus’ conception and birth and knew he was more than just a king of the Jews.
Here was what they had been looking for.
And the Magi knew, everything was different.
The kind of thing that would deserve a starry announcement.
This was the messiah.
Not just the Jewish Messiah.
That was all they needed to know.
Their search was over.
They found what they were searching for.
And what did they do?
Their messiah, their renovator, their savior was here.
They knelt before Jesus and gave him gifts.
Then they went home.
Never to see or hear about Jesus again.
But they likely went in peace.
No need for more.
They knew their messiah had come.
So, that is the story with a bit more historical context and some educated assumptions.
Why didn’t Matthew tell the story better?
Because Matthew was focusing on what all good Jews of his day would have focused on.
What does the story mean?
And we should apply that thought process to our reading as well.
Let’s break down the story.
Three men searching for meaning.
When they find the meaning, they honor it and kneel in homage.
Then they offer gifts.
When I break it down that way, it kind of sounds like me.
And many of you all, too.
We human beings have been searching for meaning since we left the garden.
We want a sign.
We want an omen.
We search for purpose, identity, and most of all eternal peace.
And while few if any of us have found such things in heavenly bodies, most of us here have fond it in Jesus.
The rest of us are still searching.
More and more people doing just that and some doing it here with us.
Some call themselves spiritual but not religious.
Just not religious.
They know there is something to search for.
Something that will give them purpose, identity, and most of all eternal peace.
Think I’m wrong?
Read this from the Pew Research Center in January of 2016:
[A]mong U.S. Christians, there has been an increase of 7 percentage points between 2007 and 2014 in the share who say they feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe at least weekly (from 38% to 45%). And there has been a similar rise in the share of religious “nones” who say the same (from 39% to 47%) – not to mention a 17-point jump among self-described atheists.
[A] deep sense of wonder about the universe…
A 17-point jump among self-described atheists in the last ten years!
I think these people are like the wise men.
They see creation and want to find meaning.
They are searching for something.
And we need to help them find it.
In the last 10 months, this congregation has had an average of over 300 “views” of our worship services.
More than twice the weekly average attendance we had before we started to life stream our services.
We don’t know who many of them are, ore even how much of the service they view.
But they are watching us.
Why did they come?
What were they looking for?
I have no idea, but I bet it has something to do with seeking purpose, identity, and most of all eternal peace.
They are looking at Jesus for it.
Just like every one of us who was once one of those.
Just like the Magi who found Jesus.
We all came here from different places.
Different world views.
Different generational cultures.
Each of us should ask ourselves, “What were we looking for”?
Like the Magi, were we searching for something new?
Or were we looking for something we had once, but lost?
And then, what did we find?
Did we find our Messiah?
Did we find Jesus?
Did our world change just a little bit?
Did our lives change just a little bit?
If so, our search is over.
How, then, do we respond?
The same way the Magi did.
We kneel in homage before our God and worship.
One way to do that is at this table.
Jesus wants us to respond by coming to him.
He wants us to join him at this table.
He wants us to join him in his story.
He wants us to know what his story means.
And what it means for us.
A renovated world.
A changed life.
Purpose, identity, and most of all eternal peace.
We give gifts.
Sure, but more than that.
Listen to the prayer of Great Thanksgiving this morning.
We offer our very lives as living sacrifices.
But most of all commitment.
Now let me ask you one more question.
Do you know people who are on such searches?
Bring them here.
Be their star.
You don’t have to say anything.
Just tell them that they might find what they are looking for right here.
Just like the wise men.
Just like the rest of us.
Let God take it from there.