A New Dawn
January 03, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12
We don’t often take the time to sit and watch the sunrise but when we do, we are often rewarded bountifully for our patience. This is especially true if we are in a place where there is an unobstructed view to the east. Recently, Patti and I went to South Carolina to attend our nephew’s wedding and on the way, we stayed at a hotel in Myrtle Beach in a room that faced the beach. Getting up just a little bit early, making a cup of tea, and sitting on the balcony watching the dawn was almost as memorable a moment as the wedding. The beauty and serenity of the sunrise, combined with the sound and movement of the surf, was a life-giving moment that fed my soul.
It’s a little odd that a sunrise can be so staggering because it happens every day. Every day, for millions upon millions of years, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It seems as if it should feel as ordinary as every other moment of every other day. But every sunrise is different, and every sunrise, just like every New Year’s Day, is meaningful to us because it represents a new day, a moment filled with possibilities, a moment saturated with our dreams and filled with hope. It is for exactly that reason, that dawn is often used in literature, biblical and otherwise, to represent hopes, dreams, and new beginnings. And that is what we find as we read Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming messiah, a vision for the future that would, for hundreds of years, fill God’s people with hope. (Isaiah 60:1-6)
60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
Isaiah describes the coming of the messiah as if the entire world had been living in darkness and was now experiencing the dawn for the first time. But rather than seeing the rising of the sun, the world would stand as witnesses as the Lord himself would rise over them and the light that they would see would be the glory of God. Kings would be drawn to that light and they would bring gifts of gold, and incense as they bring praise and worship to God.
And hundreds of years later, we see Isaiah’s vision fulfilled in Matthew 2:1-12 as the Magi see the glory of God in the heavens and follow his star to the house in Nazareth (not Bethlehem, because this was a year or three later) where Mary and Joseph and Jesus lived.
2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Just as Isaiah had said, the future ruler and shepherd of Israel had been born in Bethlehem, and after Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had returned to Nazareth, the Magi found them and again, just as Isaiah had foretold, they recognized Jesus as a king, worshipped him, and brought gifts of gold and incense. But look at how they arrived there. First, they stopped in the capitol, assuming that a king would have been born in the palace. From there, they likely started toward Bethlehem, but we don’t really know that Jesus was there. Since Joseph’s home had been in Nazareth, it seems reasonable to assume that they returned there after the census was over.
But even if they had chosen to stay in Bethlehem, we would be right to ask how the Magi found them, but Matthew’s answer leaves us with even more questions. Matthew says, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” Listen to that again, “the star they had seen… went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” That’s the only explanation that Matthew offers. But clearly, since stars, and even planetary conjunctions, simply do not, and cannot, guide us from one town to another, and certainly do not lead us to distinguish one house over another, we have no idea what it was that the Magi were following. Except that in some way, they were following God. And we see that every step led them to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies.
And the arrival of the Magi fulfilled one more prophecy that is a little less obvious, but which is of vital importance to you and me. Paul recognized its importance, and explains it to the Greek church in Ephesus this way (Ephesians 3:1-12):
3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
The arrival of the magi signifies the fulfillment of God’s promise to break out of the confines of Israel, to break out into the world, to adopt the Gentiles into God’s family as well as the Jews, and to become the rescuer of all humanity. Paul says that the miracle that is revealed in the gospel is that the Gentiles have become heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ. The arrival of the magi is indeed the moment of a new dawn, the beginning of God’s new work in the world. It is at this moment when our families, and we ourselves, were invited into, and indeed adopted into, God’s family. And, with the adoption of the Gentiles, we can easily visualize the vast number of nations, kings, presidents, prime ministers, and others around the world who have, and who now worship Israel’s king.
But why? As impressive as it was, and as impressive as it still is, why did it happen and why does it matter?
And Paul provides the answer to that as well saying, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
His intent was that now, through the church, the wisdom of God would be made known because it is in him, and through faith in him, that we have the freedom and confidence to approach God, to share our joys, our troubles, our sorrows, and our prayers with him, and to become, and to participate, in our new family.
It is a new dawn.
And today our mission remains the same. God intent, God’s mission, is for us to make the wisdom of God known to rulers, to authorities, and to everyone that has not heard the Good News.
Because it is, indeed, good news, of great joy… for all the people.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/t-yzH9sS9xs
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.