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The Wise Men

Christmas bauble
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. Matthew 2:1

The birth of Jesus was a decidedly closed affair by most measures.  He was born a Jew to Jewish parents in the Jewish town of Bethlehem in the Jewish nation of Israel.  He was visited at His birth by Jewish shepherds and was destined to live by Jewish laws.  By appearances, there was not a whole lot about Jesus’ entry into this world which signaled that it was for the world, outside of a small, homogenous region.

Then the Wise Men came.  Many scholars believe that they were from Persia, perhaps modern day Iran or Iraq.  The term “Magi” has those kinds of linguistic origins, and the earliest renderings of the Wise Men picture them with Persian clothing.  They were not Jewish, nor from a Jewish nation, nor did they have any connections with Judaism.  And yet, God summoned them.

The visit of the Wise Men indicates the global scope of this birth of Jesus.  Are you German?  The visit of the Wise Men demonstrates that Jesus came for you.  Are you of African descent?  The visit of the Wise Men demonstrates that Jesus came for you.  Are you Middle-Eastern?  Asian?  Native American?  Of course, the Bible frequently says that Christ is for all people.  “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only Son.”  So even if the Wise Men didn’t come, we would know for sure that no matter who we are, we are included in God’s plan of salvation.  “Make disciples of ALL NATIONS…baptizing…teaching…”  Again, even if the Wise Men didn’t come, God has assured us that we are all loved and invited into His family.

But thank God the Wise Men did come.  It’s visible, personified evidence that what was unfolding in Bethlehem was worldwide in reach; reaching, in fact, all the way to 2021 America and you and me.  This is the church, after all.  It is diverse, borderless, colorful, and broad.  This is how vast the love of God is.  It is a love which sent Jesus to be born, die on a cross, and rise from the dead.  It is a love which reached out to Persian Wise Men and Midwestern Americans alike!

Prayer: O Lord God, we thank you that the visit of the Wise Men further assures us that your sending of Jesus was for all people…most importantly…even me.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Clothed by Baptism

white and green flower bouquet on brown wooden table
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Galatians 3:26-27

It’s time to wear your new sweater. You know, the one you got for Christmas and, though it’s maybe a little too nice for everyday wear, you need to get it out of the box at least once by now. Also, last week and still this week, it’s time to notice all the new clothes other people are wearing. It’s can be a little risky commenting on someone’s new clothes, unless there’s a tag still hanging onto the sleeve. What if it’s not new? What if they’ve worn it 9 times this fall already? Even so, you’re going to have to risk it and say, “Is that a new sweater? Got it for Christmas?”

It’s time to wear our new clothes. In baptism we got new clothes from Christmas. As our verse says, we are clothed by our baptism. There are two wonderful aspects to this gift of new clothes. First of all, it’s a daily newness. Wear the new sweater more than twice and you won’t hear any compliments on it anymore. It’s not new anymore. But baptism doesn’t wear out, never stretches out of shape and won’t go out of style. It is a new covering every day. It washes of us, clearing out our sins, and is perfect every day. No one is going to compliment your baptism today, but you can be thankful that in God’s sight, you’re perfectly covered with new clothes.

Also baptism clothes us like Christ. Perhaps you got clothes for Christmas that follow someone else’s fashion taste. In a good way, your new sweater is supposed to make you look more like your sister or brother who has always looked sharp. Good news. You do look like your older Brother in baptism. The covering we have in baptism is putting on Christ himself. God chooses to see us in baptism as he sees his Son. That is all pure grace, but what a gift! In baptism we have a life-long covering that is always new and always looks like him. It’s time to wear our new clothes.

Our Heavenly Father, thank you for how you cover and clothe us in baptism. Wash us each day and send us out in the world, remembering what baptism has done for us. See us as you see your Son, in His name we pray, Amen.



brown camel Christmas tree decor
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” Matthew 2:1-2

That honesty doesn’t sound very wise to me.  You have these men, from a far-away country.  They traveled through barren and sometimes hostile lands…past robbers, through inclement weather, through areas they did not know.  Is that wise?  They met up with the King of Israel and essentially disobeyed him by not reporting what they had found when they saw Jesus.  Is that wise?  They brought valuable gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh to present to…a baby!  How “wise” does any of this sound?

Today is Epiphany, the day that we celebrate the visit of the Wise Men.  Actually, that is probably the best translation of the word “Magi.”  Some have suggested that these Magi were experts in any number of things.  They were said to have known medicine, astronomy, geography.  So, by some standards of this world, they would qualify as wise.  But to risk life, expend capital, disobey a foreign king, and all the other things that went into this trip, I’m not so sure “wise” would be the way most would classify them.  In fact, weren’t they even kind of foolish?

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men…” (1 Cor. 1)  How instructive all of this is to us.  You and I get labeled as foolish for the things we do as Christians.  We are foolish for believing in a God we cannot see.  We are foolish for believing that the crucifixion of a man 2000 years ago somehow forgives our sins.  We are foolish for giving our hard-earned resources to a church.  We are foolish for trying to live our lives in unconventionally kind and sacrificial ways.  How like the Wise Men we are!

The visit of the Wise Men highlights what the calling of God does to people.  We do things, think things, believe things that the world does not understand or respect.  And yet, because we have been summoned by God, this is who we are…just like the Wise Men.

Prayer: O Lord God, thank you that you have made us as foolish as the wise men.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Faith in Jesus

woman in white sleeveless dress holding book
(Jesus) also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:36-39 (ESV)

The people were amazed as Jesus began His public ministry.  They were amazed that He spoke with such authority.  They were amazed that He could heal the sick and cast demons out of the possessed.  This was new!

What was “new” about this wasn’t so much the acts involved in Jesus’ ministry, but the words He offered them. 

These people had been told they needed to earn the love of God.  When bad things happened to them they were led to believe it was God’s judgement against their bad behavior.

Jesus’ talk about forgiveness and God’s love was new.  It was exciting!  It was life-giving!

But it didn’t fit into the theology they had been taught for years.  This new wine wouldn’t fit into the old wineskins.

What have you been led to believe?  Are you struggling because you fear your sinful life will prohibit the Lord from loving you?  Get rid of that old wineskin!  Do you think you need to work your way to heaven by good works?  Get rid of that old wineskin!

Faith in Jesus is the new wineskin that opens our eyes to the fact that Jesus loves everyone—even me and you!  Faith in Jesus opens our ears to hear our Savior cry out forgiveness from the cross.  Faith in Jesus opens our arms to welcome the outcast into our community of believers.  Faith in Jesus gives us hands to serve.

Blessed Lord, thank You for Your sacrifice on the cross, which showers me with forgiveness and provides me with the grace to forgive others.  Allow me, each day, to see myself as a servant, ready to honor You by loving others.  In Your name I pray.  Amen.  


Touched by Jesus

brown cross on green grass field during sunset
And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” Matthew 8:1-3
Sick of new rules yet? Masks, physical distancing, limits on how many people in stores, shopping online, not seeing family or friends. Isolation. You probably feel like a leper from the time of Jesus.
They had similar rules placed upon them: they had to stay outside of town, not touch anyone or get too close. They had to announce their presence and their disease whenever they got close. And they had to have a priest declare them “clean” before they could return home.
Jesus encountered quite a few lepers in his time on earth. One of those meetings is recorded in Matthew 8. The man came, probably terrified, deeply depressed, anxious, and nervous. He fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
He knew what Jesus was capable of doing. Jesus could change his situation entirely. This leper trusted Jesus, and prayed that it was Jesus’ desire, too, to see him be healed. We know the same thing, don’t we? We know what Jesus is capable of doing. Wiping out COVID, eliminating all that is happening in our world. We know that Jesus could fundamentally change everything.
But the first thing Jesus did was touch the leper. A man who hadn’t felt the touch of another for a long time. Jesus reached out and touched the man. This first act of Jesus was a profound move, to be willing to take upon himself the disease of this person so that he would know how deeply loved he is.
Willing to take upon himself the disease of us all. Not just ailments, but the spiritual sickness we call sin. The physical reality of bodily death. Jesus has taken upon himself the ailments we bear, and he gets close enough to touch us and remove the weightiest things our souls face.
After lifting the heaviest burden- the burden of isolation and separation from God and people, Jesus then speaks clearly: “I am willing! Be clean.” Jesus shared that he wanted the best for this man, and he restored him both in the sight of man and God by sending him back to the priest to be declared officially “clean.”
In this New Year, let us consider how Jesus comes to us, taking our infirmities and diseases, bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows (Is. 53). We know he will work for our good. You might be frustrated, or scared, or both. Whatever is on your heart, whatever is keeping you from dear relationships, whatever sickness is affecting your soul, let us draw close to Jesus. Let us kneel together at his feet. Let us pray, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make us clean.” Let us wait for him to reach down, touch us, and change our situations. Today and forever.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, if you are willing, you can make us clean. We carry to you all those things which trouble our bodies and souls, asking you to purify us, touch us, and lead us as we walk in your love. In your name, AMEN.