It’s the New Year. How many of you made resolutions?
Well it’s that time of year, isn’t it?
When the Gyms fill up for a month or so and the diet section at Chapters sells out the latest fad diet.
I have a friend who doesn’t so much make resolutions as she makes a theme for the year.
Her name is Jacquie and so for instance last year she named her year “Frugal Jacquie.”
And during the year that was her guiding principle in everything she did and learned….”how can I be more frugal?”
She says that she learned so much last year that this year she wants to name 2017 “Frugal Jacquie Continued.”
To me that seems a lot easier than making a list of stuff.
If I did the same thing I would have to say last year for me was “Skinny Rick.”
It was my guiding principal and this year is definitely going to be Skinny Rick Continued.”
Sociologists who study fear and Behaviorists who write about how to keep New Year’s resolutions say that the secret to keeping resolutions is not to make a list.
When we do it that way we usually focus on the areas of our lives where we feel deficient, inadequate, or unsuccessful, and then we try to devise a quick way to correct that…as we know…that rarely works out well in the long haul.
Instead, the experts say we need to confront the fears that keep us from achieving our goals—confront them, figure out if the fear is rational, and then take steps to overcome the fear.
Overcoming fear gets us on the path to meaningful change.
For me the fear of becoming Skinny Rick was that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would fail miserably…and I had to overcome that, before I could start down the road to success.
This year my fear is that I won’t be able to maintain it….I’m working on that fear every day, kind of like the little engine that could.
One day at a time; today I can do this….forget about tomorrow…today I can do this.
Whether or not we’ve made new year’s resolutions this year, whether or not confronting our fears can help us keep them, what we hear in today’s Gospel lesson, is an example of “fearlessness” in action.
We get to see how fearlessness in seeking the holy and the spiritual, leads to freedom and joy.
Fearless wise folks come from the east seeking the holy child.
You’ve heard me and other preachers over the years fill in the background of who these wise ones may have been….were they kings, were they astrologers…blah blah blah…none of that really matters.
What matters is that these are the first Gentiles, the first non-Jews, who come to worship Jesus, the one in whom all humanity can know the grace, mercy, joy, and perfect love that casts out fear.
That perfect gift that comes only from God.
These Magi, these wise men, these fearless ones came a long way and the journey was long and arduous.
Fearlessness is required for those who resolve to seek and find.
And these magi were fearless in the resolution they made, to find the Christ Child, to find answers to eternal questions that intrigued them and excited them and propelled them to find meaning and purpose in the universe and in their lives.
How do I know they were fearless? Well think about it.
First: they were not afraid to stop and ask for directions.
Yes…ladies think about that…not one but at least 3 men who actually stopped and asked for directions!!!
That’s huge right there!!
They were not afraid to ask for help, to get more information.
They may have special abilities, like noticing and tracking an unusual star, but they don’t neglect the use of basic common sense.
Looking for a king? Go to the king’s house and ask for help there.
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” they naively ask, “We observed his star, and here we are, ready to do him homage; to worship him.”
Most of us guys are afraid to ask directions because we’re afraid we’ll ask the wrong person, who will give us the wrong information and we’ll end up more lost than we were before.
Well they certainly asked the wrong person!
When Herod hears this, he thinks, “King of the Jews? I’m the King of the Jews! The position is filled!”
“If there’s a young pretender to my throne out there somewhere, I better get to the bottom of this and take some corrective action.”
You can almost see him stroking his beard and brooding on his plan.
The Magi know something of God’s grace through nature.
Through the appearance of the star, they know that the Christ has been born, but their knowledge from nature alone is not complete.
They, like us, they need scripture for guidance.
They need the foretelling of the prophets to tell them where.
By the star’s guiding, they’ve gotten close—they’re about nine miles away from Bethlehem—but experiencing God through nature isn’t enough.
They don’t know enough to get to the full manifestation of God.
They don’t know enough to be able to truly worship the newborn king.
That’s why it’s so important for us to study scripture and worship together.
Herod can get a room full of Bible scholars together and he does.
But just cause you know where to find the scholarship doesn’t mean you can truly worship.
You can memorize verses from the Bible, but miss the Good news of God’s redeeming love for all people in Jesus Christ.
When I was studying English at UBC students were required to read the bible in order to understand the many references in English literature and they did, some rather reluctantly but it doesn’t mean they got the message…the Good News.
Herod doesn’t question the authenticity of the star or the authenticity of the scripture.
He is so certain of his own importance that he won’t even go with the magi to see the child for himself.
He is so worried about safe-guarding his own power, that he won’t even go and see the one who may be the long-awaited Messiah.
He would rather send others to do his bidding, turn his magi guests into servants—go, do this and that, and then come back and tell me.
He would rather have second-hand hearsay than risk losing his place, his power, his resting as the still point of his own universe around which everything else must turn.
He’s not really seeking God’s truth, so he spends his time and energy stroking his beard and his ego and scheming and deceiving.
The wise men, not afraid to ask for help, direction, guidance, and not afraid to trust the witness of scripture, continue on their way, filled with great joy.
They follow the star and the guidance of the scripture to Bethlehem where they find the Christ child.
They worship and offer their gifts – gold, for a king; frankincense, to honour his divinity; myrrh, because this divine king will die and myrrh is used to anoint the body of a king.
The wise men achieved their goal: and worshiped the true king.
And then? They show fearlessness in two more ways.
First, during the night, they receive word in a dream not to return to Herod.
And they obey; They don’t second-guess the divine; They follow their dream.
The wise men are not intimidated by worldly power, and they’re not drawn by it either.
They aren’t afraid that Herod told them to come back and they’re not obeying him.
They don’t get caught up in Herod’s intrigues or see if maybe there could be something in it for them if they go to Herod, or if maybe they can change Herod.
Second, they return home by another way and, Oh My God…that might probably mean asking for directions yet again!!
They’ re not afraid to incorporate new information when it’s given to them, even if it changes their plans.
With their departure by another way, the wise men exit the story.
But they don’t have to exit our lives as witnesses and examples.
After all, they were the first of all people, through the generations and throughout the world, who worship Jesus Christ and find that, perfect love casts out all fear.
They were fearless;
they looked for direction,
they followed their dreams,
they found a different way.
What word will you use this year?
Perhaps it will be “fearless.”