A Day of New Beginnings Matthew 2:1-12
New Year’s Day – it’s a day of new beginnings! New calendars, new year’s resolutions, new directions, hopes, and dreams for the year ahead. It’s often a time to reflect and take stock, to look back over the year that’s past before plowing ahead into the new. For some that taking stock has a focus such as work, family, or self-improvement. For some its more general, a noting of the changes and challenges of the past year, a giving of thanks, and some intentional thought and effort about what might or needs to be different in the year ahead.
Last night as I headed off to bed at 11:45 pm I had to chuckle. Not staying up for Dick Clark’s countdown? No midnight toast? No running out on the porch with the kids to yell “Happy New Year!” and band some pots and pans? As I watched the ball drop in Times Square from my bed I thought to myself – “What’s the big deal? Why all the fuss? New’s Year Day is a day like any other day.” And yet I realize it’s a turning point, one of those markers in time where we not only turn the page of our calendars and begin writing 2012 instead of 2011 we are also given a clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning.
And so it is with turning points and new beginnings that we find opportunities and invitations for change or transformation. In Matthew’s version of the Christmas story we find such a turning point. There are no shepherds or angels, instead there’s a star and there are magi. Matthew doesn’t call them kings and he doesn’t indicate how many there were. Instead he calls them “wise men.” These wise ones come from a priestly group in ancient Persia and Babylon who studied the stars, and the scriptures, and signs.
In Matthew’s story they were looking for a king. The star was the sign and the scriptures pointed to Bethlehem. Stars were their business, so they followed their hopes and dreams until the star stopped over the house where they found the child. At first they couldn’t believe their eyes. The star led them to a poor young woman, her husband and the child. Yes, the child. There was something about the child, something that brought them to their knees to offer their gifts and their worship. He would be a king like no other, the king of love and joy, of hope and peace.
And then Matthew tells us what I think is the most interesting part of the story. He says,
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they left for their own country by another road.
We never hear of the wise men again. But it’s here that we find their turning point. It’s here that the magi face a new beginning. No longer do they pay attention to the pull of the star, but instead to the pull of the child and all that he was to become. And in what may be the first act of civil disobedience in the New Testament, the magi choose to deceive the great and powerful King Herod. They do not return to his palace to give their final report but instead they choose to protect the child and take another road home.
At this turning point in their lives the magi pay attention to the warnings of a dream, and they pay attention to all they’ve seen and heard, and most of all they pay attention to the Christ Child, that tiny babe in Bethlehem. They chose the baby Jesus over the rich and powerful Herod. They chose Jesus over their own safety and possible reward. They chose to protect the child and the world has never been the same. It was a day of new beginnings.
In the flurry of the end of the year giving appeals I received an email from Jim Wallis and the Sojourners community. It read,
What is the greatest failure of Christians in this country?
When they don’t think and act as Christians first.
Instead, they act first as Americans, consumers, partisans, or sports fans. This kind of idolatry can result in very un-Christian behavior. These kinds of Christians sometimes forget that we are supposed to love the immigrant, provide for the poor, and promote peace among all nations.
The antidote is simple. Christians need to read their Bibles more. It makes a difference! At Sojourners, we’ve been promoting biblical justice since our founding in 1971. For 40 years, our supporters have stood by us to help us spread the message of the importance of a public faith.
And then the email continued with an appeal for a donation to the work of Sojourners. Much like the magi faced a choice to protect the Christ Child, this email reminded me of the opportunity to follow the Christ Child first and foremost.
On this New Year’s day, this day of reflection and taking stock, of new beginnings and invitations, will you recognize this turning point and claim it to continue the work of Jesus?
Having been to Bethlehem once again, having seen the baby, and offered your gifts, and sung with the angels, will you take the usual road home, the predictable and familiar route?
Or do you find yourself being pulled in another direction? Having let that baby into your heart do you feel a new stirring? Do you sense a restless urge to make some changes in your life? Do you feel a growing courage or commitment that will lead you down some new roads this year?
Now that Christmas is over and the new year just beginning, you may find God leading you down a new road to some unexpected place. God may be calling you to do some new things, to take some risks and welcome some new people in your life. God may be leading you down a road that you’ve been avoiding, a road you’ve been afraid to take before now. Perhaps it’s a road towards forgiveness or healing, towards wholeness and reconciliation, towards health and peace of mind, spirit and body. Perhaps it’s a road that deepens your connections to God, to this community of faith and to the world.
Like the wise ones of old, pay attention to the signs and the wonders, the warnings of dreams and the tugs of the heart. It is a day of new beginnings and God is leading us home by another road. Amen.
Meditation by Bonnie Kline Smeltzer
University Baptist and Brethren Church
January 1, 2012