Advent: Guided by a Star to a King Born in Bethlehem

3WiseMen

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Advent: Guided by a Star to a King Born in Bethlehem’ 

©December 8, 2013 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin December 8, 2013

 

BLCF Call to Worship and Prayer:

Responsive Reading #615 (Adoration of the Magi – Matthew 2r of Prayer); Prayer

Opening Hymn #100: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel                                                         

 Today’s Scriptures: Scriptures: Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-7; Matthew 2:1-15

Let us pray…

Today we celebrate the Second Advent Sunday prior to Christmas Day.

On this day we light candle commonly called the Peace Candle, also known as the Bethlehem Candle. Bethlehem being the birth place of the Christ child was foretold in Micah, chapter 5:

          Micah 5:2 (ESV)

2 [a] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.                                                                                                                                               

    Footnotes: a. Micah 5:2 Chapter 5:1 in Hebrew

You may recall from accounts from the Scriptures, which are also expressed in Christmas Hymns or Carols, and portrayed in both paintings and diorama like the Nativity Scene, several significant events occurred in the early life of our Lord Jesus Christ in the town of Bethlehem.

Having worked as a field supervisor for the last Canadian Census, I have observed quite a different way to collect information for the government today than in the time of Jesus. For the census today, instead of returning to our respective place of birth, all we have to do is fill out a government survey/questionnaire either online or submit a hard copy by mail. And in Canada, most of today’s census form surveys were the short form, but roughly one in seven, including me, were given a longer form to complete. In spite of the relative ease and convenience of filling out a modern census form today, there is a greater resistance or reluctance to complete the census than in the time of Joseph and Mary. I think that perhaps the penalties given by the government of Rome at that time for refusing a decree from Caesar were far more severe than those given in Canada, today. That is why Joseph obediently brought Mary who was due to deliver her first born to Bethlehem so close to her delivery date. And unlike today, Imperial Rome had no Charter of Rights to protect its population.

In Luke 2:1-7, we see that due to a decree from Caesar Augustus, everyone in the known world under the rule of Caesar had to go to the town of their birth to register, Luke 2:1-7 (ESV):

 The Birth of Jesus Christ

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.                                       Footnotes: a. Luke 2:2 Or This was the registration before b. Luke 2:5 That is, one legally pledged to be married

So Mary, being aware that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, was likely was unaware of God’s timing of her pregnancy and delivery of the Christ child in Bethlehem was a fulfillment of the prophecies. And speaking of the prophecy, we have the account of the visit of the Magi, or the Wise Me, as we see in today’s second Scripture verse, Matthew 2:1-15 (ESV):

 The Visit of the Wise Men

2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”                                                                                                                       

           Footnotes: a. Matthew 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16  b. Matthew 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9

3-wise-men

So what conclusions can we draw of infer from the Scripter’s account of the Magi found in Matthew 2?

The Wise men came to Jerusalem from the east, apparently outside the jurisdiction of Rome and were not participating in census registration decreed by Cesar Augustus. Arriving in the city, the Wise Men were granted an audience with the local King Herod, which indicates that the Magi had an elevated status from commoners, who would not likely be able to go into the royal court to talk to even a minor king. It troubled Herod that the Magi had observed the star of Christ and had come to worship the new born king of the Jews so greatly that he consulted the chief priests and scribes of the Jewish people and found  that the prophecy was to be fulfilled in Bethlehem of Judea.

Here Herod conspires to kill the Christ Child, who posed a possible threat to his local rule, by asking the Wise Men to let him know the location of the Christ child under the ruse of worshiping him as well. But the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but instead go home by another route.

And though only in the Matthew’s Gospel, do we find the story of the Wise Men, which does not diminish its significance to Christianity. For many Christians, the Matthew 2 account is included in their respective Epiphany Observances. Epiphany is a church holiday which ranks third importance on the Christian calendar, ranking behind below Easter and Christmas, respectively. So what is meant by Epiphany? For an explanation of Epiphany, and particularly how it relates to the story of the Wise Men, let us look at a posting on the subject, courtesy of the web site, sharefaith.com:

Epiphany Observances


Observed on January 6th, the Epiphany celebration remembers the three miracles that manifest the divinity of Christ. The name “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word Epiphania, and means “to show, make known, or reveal.” The celebration originated in the Eastern Church in AD 361, beginning as a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Later, additional meanings were added – the visit of the three Magi, Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, and his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. These three events are central to the definition of Epiphany, and its meaning is drawn from these occurrences.

While some Greek Orthodox Churches still observe the Epiphany celebration as the Nativity of Jesus, the majority of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Churches focus on the visit of the Magi and Jesus’ baptism. The significance behind the visit of the Magi is the revelation of Christ as “Lord and King.” The Wise Men were the first Gentiles to publicly recognize the divinity of Jesus, by way of their offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River revealed his divinity as the Son of God. John the Baptist, according to Matthew 3:16-17, testifies of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Several Russian, Coptic, and Greek Churches also focus on the Cana wedding miracle as part of the Epiphany celebration observance.

The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River revealed his divinity as the Son of God. John the Baptist, according to Matthew 3:16-17, testifies of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Several Russian, Coptic, and Greek Churches also focus on the Cana wedding miracle as part of the Epiphany celebration observance.

For the Church, the Epiphany represents a responsibility to reveal Jesus as the Divine Son and Savior sent by God the Father to atone for the sins of mankind. It is a time of healing and fellowship, where the Church comes together in the covenant of brotherhood to love one another as Christ commanded.

The Church observes a variety of Epiphany rituals and traditions. In places throughout Europe and Latin America, Christians commemorate Three Kings’ Day by offering prayers, burning herbs that have been dried and blessed, sprinkling entryways with holy water, and inscribing the initials of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) on structures in order to receive a blessing.

Many Protestant Churches observe an Epiphany celebration that extends to Ash Wednesday, with the last Sunday of the season honored as Transfiguration Sunday. The tradition of Twelfth Night, which marks the end of the Christmas season, occurs the night before Epiphany. On this night, Kings’ Cakes are baked in preparation for the coming winter season.

Many Protestants mark Epiphany by taking down Christmas trees and burning them in bonfires. The related tradition of children “raiding” the tree of candy canes and other sweets before it leaves the home is popular throughout Europe and the United States. A favored custom in Central Europe involves “star singers”. Children dress as the three kings and go caroling from door to door carrying a large star. In reward, they receive money or sweets, which often go to church charities and relief organizations.

For many Christians, the definition of Epiphany is a reminder of God the Father’s unlimited love and mercy, which He has extended to all of mankind through the revelation of His Son, and of the hope of salvation that is now manifest for all who come to him in faith.                                                        http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Holidays/definition-of-epiphany.html

Now sharefaith.com does take some liberties in the explanation of the Magi. Matthew’s gospel does not give the names of the Wise Men or directly say how many Magi visited Bethlehem, though three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh imply the number to be three. And Old Testament prophecy tells of a visitation by Kings, which is why they are also called the ‘three kings’.  But what other information is available about the Magi? And our friendly Wikipedia gives the following anecdotal accounts of the Wise Men:

Traditions identify a variety of different names for the Magi. In the Western Christian church they have been commonly known as:

  • Melchior (also Melichior), a Persian scholar;
  • Caspar (also Gaspar, Jaspar, Jaspas, Gathaspa, and other variations), an      Indian scholar;
  • Balthazar (also Balthasar, Balthassar, and Bithisarea), an Arabian scholar.

Encyclopædia Britannica states: “according to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.” These names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500, and which has been translated into Latin with the title Excerpta Latina Barbari. Another Greek document from the 8th century, of presumed Irish origin and translated into Latin with the title Collectanea et Flores, continues the tradition of three kings and their names and gives additional details.

Martyrdom traditions

Christian Scriptures record nothing about the Biblical Magi after reporting their going back to their own country. Two separate traditions have surfaced claiming that they were so moved by their encounter with Jesus that they either became Christians on their own or were quick to convert fully upon later encountering an Apostle of Jesus. The traditions claim that they were so strong in their beliefs that they willingly embraced martyrdom.                               

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Magi

Lighting the Second Advent Candle: Bethlehem/Peace:                                                                                                              

Inside today’s bulletin is a few paragraphs from Wikipedia giving a synopsis of the Christian practice of lighting candles on the four Advent Sundays just prior to Christmas Day. I would like to direct you to the paragraph, which reads as follows:

In Protestant churches it is more common to use four red candles (reflecting their traditional use in Christmas decorations) because rose vestments and decorations are not commonly used in Protestant churches. Blue is also a popular alternative color for both Advent vestments and Advent candles, especially in some Anglican and Lutheran churches. This is in keeping with the liturgical seasons; blue means hope and waiting, which aligns with the seasonal meaning of Advent. Other variations of the Advent wreath add a white candle in the center to symbolize Christmas, sometimes known as the “Christ candle.” It can be lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. White is the traditional festal color in the Western church. Four red candles with one white one is probably the most common arrangement in Protestant churches in Britain.

At the beginning of today’s message, we described the second candle, which is lit on the second Sunday of advent along with the first candle, as the Bethlehem or Peace candle, reminding us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and reminding us that it was a King Who was born in the manger and as we read in Isaiah 9, Christ brings light into a dark world as the Prince of Peace. Let us read from Isaiah Chapter 9, as we light the Second Advent Candle:

Isaiah 9:2-6 (ESV)

2 [a] The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[
b] his shoulder,
and his name shall be called[
c]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.                                                                       

Footnotes: a. Isaiah 9:2 Chapter 9:1 in Hebrew b. Isaiah 9:6 Or is upon c. Isaiah 9:6 Or is called

May we thank God for the Prince of Peace, who gave the promise of salvation, forgiveness and peace in the little town of Bethlehem underneath the guiding light of a start of Christ.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #121: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Benediction – (Romans 15:13)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

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2 comments on “Advent: Guided by a Star to a King Born in Bethlehem

  1. Dorothy Usher says:

    I need to to thank you for this great read!! I absolutely loved every little bit of it.
    I have you saved as a favorite to check out new things you post…
    Dorothy Usher

    Like

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