"When The Good News Threatens Us"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 7, 2001
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
How about a woman who received her BIG promotion. At the age of 41, she stepped up to the job of her dreams. It would mean travel and making presentations at corporate offices all across the United States. Her husband was excited for her and very supportive. Two months later her physician says, "Congratulations! You are pregnant!" Ah, those mixed feelings as priorities clash.
This morning's lesson contains a perfect illustration where good news is not greeted with enthusiasm. Three Wise Men arrive in Jerusalem and ask King Herod, "Where is the baby to be born who will be the king of the Jews?" Verse 3 says, "When the King heard about this, he was very upset, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem."
Why should such a response be so intriguing? Some very powerful people in Jerusalem have just learned that the possibility exists that the long awaited Messiah has been born. Yet no one was smiling. Why is that? The story of the Messiah's birth had been in the imagination of every Jew for centuries.
We learn from our lesson that the authorities on Hebrew tradition were quite knowledgeable about the birth. Herod said, "Where will the Messiah be born?" Without hesitation they answered, "In the town of Bethlehem in Judea" and they quoted the prophet who said it. Yet it is clear from everyone's response that this news is very troubling.
Few readers know for sure why this was so. Perhaps many of the powerful citizens in Jerusalem had worked out a peaceful coexistence with the Romans and they were not in the least bit interested in having another King David arrive who might upset that arrangement.
One of the irritating elements of life-changing information is that its arrival forces us to re-examine what we were thinking, or the conclusions we have already drawn, or our personal plans that are in the process of unfolding. We cannot go on with business as usual. News that will personally affect us needs to be accommodated. If we have trouble identifying with Herod's negative attitudes, let us look at how the same resistance has surfaced in our own experience.
Have you ever tried to talk "sense" to your daughter when she appears locked into a toxic relationship? The signs of failure, unresolved conflicts, and unproductive attitudes are written in big letters all over the landscape of her boyfriend's life. Everybody sees them except your daughter. She makes it very clear to you that she is mature enough to make up her own mind. She tells you with great certainty, "Mom and Dad, I happen to love him!" In many respects she is like Herod, wanting to protect what she considers "her territory." She is not open to the thoughts and opinions of others.
Have you ever tried to change someone's mind concerning the amount of time they are spending in front of the television, computer or their new Sony Play Station II? They are becoming an expert at mastering various video games. "Just look at these incredible graphics!" they say. But you are looking at their future where their well-honed skills at playing games will be useless. Again, that person may be like Herod who does not want to consider the possible consequences beyond the pleasures of the moment.
Herod was right there and sometimes so are we. He could not recognize any truth other than his own. We are all guilty of this from time to time. When we are experiencing circumstances where we are in control it is very difficult to see clearly, and it seems almost impossible for someone else to change our minds. This is why potentially good news is frequently greeted with little or no enthusiasm and possibly with total blindness.
We remember well the story of the Prodigal Son. He had compelling fantasies of what life was going to be like elsewhere. When we are not happy, the grass always appears greener in any other place than where we are. Yet he had no experience with deceptive, manipulative people because he has been raised on the farm where everyone works as a team to get the job done. He imagined all that his wealth would give him. And for a while it did. Then he woke up to the good news that he could go home where love was waiting.
Where are we on this first Sunday in the New Year? Good news will always confront people and say, "Herod, if you were not so self-absorbed, if you were not so imprisoned by all that you want for yourself, you would see the opportunities I am placing before you." When we are in a very comfortable, secure place in life, a place where we are totally in control, just how sharp is our vision?
We have a wonderful road map for living successfully. Jesus gave it to us. Yet he also said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Very secure circumstances are wonderful. In fact, sometimes we desire them above all others. But remember, they produced a Herod who was prepared to kill a baby to protect what he considered his. The thought of losing our control may cause us to miss seeing correctly the direction of our greatest growth.
Jesus called each of us to make visible the qualities of God. Such qualities will light up the world. When we are doing that, good news will never threatens us. When we are confident that our lives are unfolding exactly as they should, our experiences will remain the grand adventure where our growth is constant and our spiritual awareness is forever deepening. That is always good news. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and always challenging God, we come to you desiring peace. Instead we struggle with our rough edges being made smooth. We have come to you seeking protection from pain, and you remind us that when we cannot forgive and let go, pain is our choice. We pray for guidance, and you invite us to look beyond our needs and wants. We come to you for wisdom, and you ask that we use more wisely what we already know. Thank you, God, for placing on the horizon that which we seek. Thank you for reminding us that life is a journey of growth and not a series of rewards. We pray in the New Year that our vision will be clear, our desires more loving, and our deeds less selfish. Mold and shape us into living examples of what you want others to be. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, that following the afterglow from Christmas morning, we may again resonate with the searching Wise Men. We, too, know what it is like to search. We, too, have known the longing to find that which will resolve our need for inner peace. We often experiment with new thought patterns, with study groups, with volunteering, with giving ourselves away, and we still find ourselves unfulfilled. The same fears return and habits, once dormant, come back to visit us.
Give us the experience of being energized by you instead of the feeling that we need to add one more project to our busy schedules. Show us the way to deepen our inner world rather than being so preoccupied with trying to save the outer one. Help us choose words that make your spirit visible through our voice. Teach us how our smiles surround others with our acceptance of them. Enable us to give people permission to be whomever they want to be, rather than insisting that they be like us. May we be humble enough to understand that you will save the world and all who have ever lived here in the time of your choosing, while we must remain only the instruments through which the music of your peace is played. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .