Another Way
Another Way
January 6, 2002

by Linda Kraft

Matthew 2:1-12

This morning's Gospel reading is very familiar to us. We talked a couple week's ago about how the whole Christmas story is so comfortable for us that we've embellished it and personalized it and made it our own. For example, when you heard me read about the Magi who knelt in homage before Jesus and his mother, you may have thought of three Kings. You may even have given them names: Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior. You and I have become comfortable with these adaptations to God's basic message in scripture.

But, there are a lot of people outside these walls who haven't heard even the ORIGINAL message. All they've got to go on is the embellishment of secular/ commercial Christmas or Easter traditions. Or maybe the public stories on TV or the radio are their only exposure to what Christ's Church is about. Think of what you've heard in TV news stories about corruption in the Church or battles between radical religious groups and government regulations. Would you feel drawn to find out more about what the REAL message of Christianity is about?

The first people drawn to pay homage to the Christ Child didn't really know what he was all about either. The outcast shepherds, shunned because they smelled like their beasts and they handled blood with butchering and assisting at lambs' birthing, were the very first drawn to kneel at Jesus' feet. According to the Gospels, it wasn't the high priest who first sought out the Baby Jesus. It was the people society pushed out. It was the dirty, the sinful, the unclean. They were drawn to Jesus' cradle, and they went out and shared what they'd felt, what had been revealed to them: this small child was God's own presence among humanity. The redemption of all creation was first spread around by the most unlikely of ministers — dirty, smelly people no one wanted to be around!

And, then, Matthew tells us, even more unsavory characters approached. The Magi, we're told, came from the East, following a star, looking for a king. Now, in our tradition, we've cleaned them up and polished crowns to place on their heads. Even one of our hymns for this morning continues the embellishment. "We Three Kings of Orient Are" is a favorite song that recounts the visit of the Magi. But, at the time when the visit first occurred, these three travelers would not have been welcomed into polite Jewish society at all.

In all honesty, their visit to the house where Mary and Joseph were staying would not have been very comfortable for the Holy Family OR for the neighbors. The Magi, you see, were not only foreigners, non-Jews, but they were known in religious Jewish society to be sorcerers, astrologers, fortune-tellers, inspired by all that was UN- righteous and UN-holy.

But, these travelers came because something had drawn them to investigate a peculiar event. Perhaps without knowing the real reason they were drawn to this particular house at this particular time, they came. These outsiders, these shunned and rejected people came to find out what had changed about the world they knew.

Now, I say they didn't really know why they had come because remember they went to the wrong place first! Their divinations, their spell castings, their astrological charts merely indicated to them that a royal birth had occurred. They were led by the star or comet that started in the East. It traveled over Persia (today's Iran) where these fortune- tellers probably lived, and it seemed to stand in the sky above the cross-roads of the Middle East. The Magi found out that the King of that area had his palace in Jerusalem, so that's where they went to find out about the royal birth.

But, when they got to the palace, remember, the King was confounded by their inquiries. He tried to save face by saying that he, too, wanted to find this special child. Of course, he told them, he'd want to be sure to recognize this new king, too! But, we all know he was shaking in his boots, or sandals as the case may be.

Herod's ancestors had been ruling this land for nearly 100 years. He had had to depose a foreign pretender to the throne to put his dynasty back into power. He'd had to sign a deal with the ruling Roman authorities to assure his own reign. He had to be careful that no improprieties among the people he was to rule would force him from his throne. Now, these outsiders, these soothsayers and wizards, come to him with a new threat to his security.

Herod was determined to get to the bottom of this. He had to find out the truth. So he sent these travelers on their way, asking them to return to him when they found the child they were seeking. And, we know from last Sunday's lessons what Herod did when the Magi went home by a different way. It was a dark time in the history of humanity.

But, in reality, it was a bright shining time in the history of God's plan. The word Epiphany means "becoming manifest." God's plan for the salvation of all creation became manifest in the baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus the son of Mary. You and I are so familiar with the story that we're comfortable adding to it, giving names to Magi, calling them kings, polishing their image and making them wonderful additions to polite society.

We need to step back from the polishing, though, and look at who our Lord Jesus attracted, right from the first days of his life. Outcast shepherds and outlawed fortune tellers were among the first humans drawn to find out more about this little baby. And, they may not have even realized, at first, why his birth was all that important. But, as time went on and Jesus grew and began to teach about the love of God for all people, the outcasts became important. They were the first preachers and teachers.

Think about John out there in the wilderness thirty years later, shouting to everyone to change their ways. He said, "whether you know it or not, God walks among you. Shape up! Come here and I'll tell you the REAL story. You're not going to find out about God's love from the public stories you've heard. You'll only find out how unworthy you are. But, take it from me, someone who's not worthy to even carry his sandals, God's own son walks among us and LOVES us."

People flocked across the Jordan into the Wilderness to hear what John had to say. They were hungry to hear about a God who loved them, not one that only wanted them to go through the motions of devotion. They were tired of attending worship services in a place that only wanted to tell them how awful they were and then take their money from them. They longed to hear good news. And, the light of the world that had been born in Bethlehem thirty years earlier was just who they needed to know.

In all the centuries since then, the world hasn't really changed. You and I have cleaned up our image. We've polished our crowns and made ourselves "respectable." But, in truth, you and I are still unworthy to carry the sandals of the one who changes each life he touches. You and I are no different than the shepherds or the Magi who first sought the baby whose birth would restore humanity to wholeness.

We have to remember that, because the rest of the folks out there may be put off by us and how "holy" we pretend to be in our everyday lives. Think about it. Would you feel any curiosity to visit a church where everyone pretends to be "better" than the people who aren't in that church?

I read recently of people who think they don't dare come inside a church because all they've ever heard about church people is that they're supposedly better than everyone else. So, they don't even think of coming into a church even when they have a great need for God's love in their lives. They're afraid all they'll find is condemnation. They'll be looked down upon. They won't have fancy enough clothes or clean enough faces. They won't know all the right times to stand and when to sit. They won't be welcome, they think, because they're battling an addiction or they've discovered themselves to be homosexual. They won't be welcome because they can't give money. They won't be welcome by the good, upstanding, religious people inside the church because they aren't good enough already.

But, that's not what this morning's gospel message is about. This morning we've heard of dirty shepherds, fortune-tellers and wild crazy men shouting in the desert who discovered the real truth about that baby born in a stable. This morning we've heard of another "Way." The gospel writer, Matthew, tells us that after the Magi had seen the baby, they went home by another way.

We think of this to mean they took a different road. But, in first century Christianity, believers were known as followers of The Way. They had come to accept Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. They knew that it was only trough Jesus' relationship with them that they had any hope for their daily lives and for eternity. Could it be that Matthew is telling us the Magi's lives were so changed by what they felt and saw in that house that day that they went on with their lives as changed people?

Here in this place, you and I are to become changed people. We're here to find a different way. We come here to be washed and fed and sent out again. And, that's the most important part — to be sent out again. Like the shepherds who told each one they met, and like the changed Magi, we are to spread around what we've found at Jesus' feet.

If we're not doing that, then why are we here? If we're not inviting every person we see each day to come to this place with us each Sunday, why are we here? Haven't we found the joy Jesus has promised us? Don't we want to spread that joy around?

You and I have a lot of work to do. First, we have to acknowledge that we are no more worthy of God's love than shepherds or Magi. Then, we have to let our gratitude for God's mercy show in everything we do. Maybe when we do that, others will be drawn to this place to find out what the REAL truth of Christianity is all about. It's a big job, but we're not alone in doing it. We have all those shepherds and oddball prophets before us teaching us many ways to share the Good News. Now it's up to us to shine a star into the lives of all God's people so they'll want to come to the One who loves them, and the one who loves EVEN US!

Remember the verse we recite at each baptism: "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven." God's own Spirit can inspire our witness in everything we do. Go. Tell. Live God's love. Amen

Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, for all people according to their needs:

Merciful God, we pray for all leaders of nations. Give them your own sense of justice and guide them according to your righteousness. Help them find ways to defend the cause of the poor. Deliver the needy in all lands from fear, hunger, illness and homelessness. Redeem them from oppression and violence and help them to know they are precious in your sight. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Psalm 72)

Gracious God, you have blessed us with an abundance, with much more than we need. All that we have belongs to you. Encourage us to share what has been entrusted to us so that none of your children may want for life's basic necessities. Keep our eyes open, Lord, and do not let us turn away, so that you may be glorified through our generosity. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Isaiah 60:1-6)

All-knowing God, you have called teachers and preachers from among the common people of this world. You inspired them to proclaim your love wherever they went, sharing the good news with each one they met, even in life-threatening situations. Raise us up as your messengers that we might share your love with everyone every day. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Ephesians 3:1-12)

Healing God, even the Magi realized you desire wholeness for all of creation. You led them to come to you, to the baby laid in a manger, to find meaning for their lives. We pray for those who still seek your tender embrace:

Are there others we should include in our prayers?

Wrap them in bands of love and make them secure in your constant presence. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Comments to Linda at

Linda Kraft, Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Stafford Springs, CT
Secretary, Slovak Zion Synod, ELCA
Board Member: ELCA Division for Higher Education and Schools