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Most people are familiar with the story "Les Etoiles"
("The Stars") by Alphonse Daudet. In my adolescent years, I felt as
if I was in love with the story and my heart even seemed to skip a beat as I
was reading… "Les Etoiles" is about a 20 year old Shepard boy who
lived with his dog at a quiet, mountainous area where nobody came to visit. The
only news the Shepard boy heard about the countryside was through Aunt Norade,
who brought him food every 2 weeks, and the Shepard boy heard, to his delight,
that a fair lady named Stephanette came to visit the town. One day, the food
carriage arrived later than usual, and the Shepard boy found out that Aunt
Norade was on a holiday and it was Stephanette who was bring the carriage.
However, after Stephanette handed the Shepard boy his food, she found out that
she could not cross the river because it had risen and blocked her path. So the
Shepard boy and lady Stephanette spent the night together, and while they were
watching the night sky, Stephanette fell asleep on the Shepard boy's shoulders.
It is a pure story that shows what love is about.
While thinking about the Three Wise Men in today's verse 2 in the Gospel of Matthew, I believe this is a real love story. I will explain further in my sermon… Anyways, as we are gathered here on the first Sunday of 2013, I realized that today is Epiphany, the day celebrating the manifestation of Christ. Also remembering the childhood days I was reading "Les Etoiles" and thinking of my face turning red and my heart skipping a beat as I heard the word "love", we will all think about the beautiful and pure love story of the Three Wise Men.
The reason why I related the novel The Stars to Magus was that they are very similar in many ways.
First of all in both of the stories, stars are the main topic. The shepherd from The Stars talks to stars and listen to their stories, since they are his only companies. So when Stephanette asks the shepherd if he is a fortune teller, the shepherd answers her "By no means, our young lady. But here we live more close to stars and we know what occurs there better than people from the plain."
But in the Bible it says "Magi from the east came to Jerusalem". Here the word "Magi" refers to fortune tellers or magicians. These people observed stars to forsee the future and interpret any messages. In this way, the shepherd and Magi are very similar.
Also in the The Stars, the shepherd and Stephanette couldn't have possibly loved if it wasn't for the stars, It was the stars that helped the lovers to overcome their difference in social standing.
Moreover, it was the stars that led Magi to baby Jesus. In the Bible, Magi say, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." The east in this context refers to either Persia or Babylon. These places were far away from Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, but Magi came all the way over under the guidance of the stars.
Also in Chapter 9 and 10 of the Bible, it says "After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed". Here, the word "overjoyed" is the superlative form of joy. This indicates that Magi experienced true happiness that is incomparable to any other happiness.
Just like the shepherd who experiences the true happiness seeing Stephanette asleep on his shoulder, Magi felt the same happiness when the stars led them to Baby Jesus.
I hope in 2013 we become star-watchers like Magi and the shepherd. In the Bible, watching the stars indicates belief in God, as in Chapter 15 it is said, "He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars"". God said this to Abraham, and in the English Bible, it is said to literally count the stars, which is why I bought an astronomical telescope in Korea. The reason why God said this to Abraham was that Abraham, who had no kid though he was over 100 years old, was losing trust in God and trying to find a practical solution, It is when God told him to look at the stars and believe in God.
Fellow brothers and sisters, I sincerely hope we become to understand the "star of Jesus Christ"
However, it is not easy for a shepherd to fall in love with a lady, Stephanette because of a difference in social standing.
But the Magi were facing the same situation. I told you that ‘Eastern’ relates to the Persian or Babylon region; it is where Iran is today. If they were to travel to Palestine, it would have taken them more than 3 months. 3 months of travel... just because they discovered a star, is it really worth the distant travel? They might have had to sacrifice their lives due to the long travel. That was the expense of their travel. This was the first obstacle standing in front of them.
Also, when the Jews saw the Magi, they were merely foreigners. I told you before that the word ‘Magi’ has the meaning sorcerers, Deuteronomy 18:10-12 “’Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.’” In other words, not were the Magi foreigners but they were the ones who God detested; therefore, Jews were told to throw them out. Thus, the meeting between the Magi and Jesus to praise Him is incomparable to the relationship the cowboy and Stephanette shared because it was a greater obstacle for the Magi to overcome.
But why would have the author of the Book of Matthew record the information about the Magi with Jesus’ birth? There is definitely a theological reason- I once told you that in Jesus’ genealogy, He is in the same blood line as David. What’s more important is that there are women recorded in this genealogy (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah, Mary). What’s more shocking to the Jews is the fact that the women recorded in this genealogy are foreigners. Also, Matthew states that Jesus was born from a woman’s womb (Mary), Chapter 2 records that the Magi (who are foreigners) came to worship and praise the birth of Christ.
In other words, Matthew saw how the event of the birth of Jesus overcame any obstacles or opinions. In the Old Testaments, God chose Abraham as the Chosen One. But through Jesus Christ, an entirely different generation starts. This generation does not abominate foreigners or women, and there were no obstacles to overcome. Therefore, there are records of before and after the birth of Jesus.
Loving church members, today is the first Sunday of 2013, what are some of the obstacles in our lives? Are they physical obstacles? Or is it an obstacle from the spirit, containing prejudice and preconceptions? If we were to start fresh through Jesus Christ, we must overcome our obstacles.
Yesterday during our morning prayer, we contemplated Ecclesiastes 1. It was a chapter perfect for starting the New Years, Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new?’ It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” Why is the intelligent writer of Ecclesiastes recording such words? It is because even if we were to start new, if we do not overcome our obstacles it is not possible to start the new generation.
At the start of a new year we make new goals for a new start, but why can’t we do it? It is because we are trying to start by our own will. In other words, a fresh start must be with Jesus Christ, but our failure results because we start and plan without Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 5: 17 Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” A true start is when we are within Christ, starting with Christ, through Christ we will accomplish our goals. I hope that we all can truly start after this first 2013 service. So that like the cowboy and Stephanette were able to overcome their obstacles of prejudice and live a lovely life together... Like the Magi who travelled a long distance and overcome the negative impression of a foreigner to meet Jesus Christ... I hope that we could overcome all our obstacles to live freely.
However, if you look at it in terms of the Jews, this is a very unfortunate event. Why? Because despite the fact that they had waited 700 years for the birth of the Messiah, it was the Gentiles who welcomed Jesus into the world, not the Jews.
The thing for us to question here is how the three wise men, who lived in the East realized the birth of Christ while looking at the star while others who lived closer were ignorant of his birth.
When we look at it in terms of King Herod, it wasn’t that he was unaware but more that he didn’t want to admit. Verse 2, ‘and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”’ The expression ‘king of the Jews’ probably irritated Herod in that the Jews were being ruled by the Romans at the time and Herod had been appointed King after he had bribed Agustos. Thus, hearing the existence of a new king would have bothered Herod immensely.
This may have even sounded like a conspiracy theory. The Jews at the time would have accepted the fact that they would be ruled by the Romans better than by someone of the Idumaea clan, whom they had ruled over until recently.
Furthermore, verses 4 to 5 says, ‘When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea.”’ Since it was already forecasted that he’d be born in Bethlehem 700 years ago, anyone who knew even a little bit about the laws would have already known this fact. Bethlehem was thought of the town of David, the eternal king and the fact that Jesus would be given birth to there would mean that he was the true king as part of David’s lineage.
Thus, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” The word ‘disturbed’ here means surprised, shaken and scared. Herod’s biggest weakness was that he lacked lineage and thus, the birth of a new king who was of David’s blood, would have disturbed Herod.
While reflecting on the words, I thought about the lives of the people of Jerusalem and of Herod, who had to accept Jesus Christ. Everyone had known that the Messiah would be brought into the world in Bethlehem; however, simultaneously they all were ignorant. They were unaware of the height, the width and the depth of Christ and thus, were unable to meet and welcome him into the world.
This is the last part of The Stars of Provence (Les etoiles). “However, young lady!, what the most beautiful start among them is our star. That is the star of shepherds. That always guides us when we lead out the flock of sheep in early morning and back to home in the evening. We call it Magallon. The beautiful Magallon who followed the Pierrot of Provence and married every seven years. “What!. Are there marriages of stars?”. “ Yes, young lady”. As I was going to explain about what those marriages of stars were, I felt something fresh and soft weighing lightly on my shoulder. It was her hair, made heavy by sleep, supporting itself against me with ribbons, laces and her curly hair. She remained without moving till the stars got pale, and was effaced by the rising sun. I was awakened and watched her sleeping. I had a little troubled in my mind, but I was holily protected by clear night which gave me nothing but beautiful thoughts. Around us, the stars which were like a whole flock of sheep continued moving in their way. Sometimes I imagined that one of stars, which was the most frail and brilliant one, having lost her way and lying on my shoulder to sleep”.
In the beginning of today sermon, I told you the story of the Magi from the east is more pure and beautiful love story than the one of The Stars of Provence, Alphonse Daudet ----
People in the east were looking for a star in the sky everyday to find a true love. They finally found the one. It was very far away, but they wanted to meet. They went on their way with risking their lives. The star stopped over the place where the child was born, and then they met Jesus Christ. They presented him the gifts and told him how much they loved him. How happy they were? According to Verse 12, “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route”. It did not only mean that they escaped from King Herod, but they started “new life”. They were sorcerers from the east when they started looking for the star. After they met Jesus Christ they became people who took another route for their new life.
Beloved church members, today is Epiphany of the Lord. It is a day looking for a star of the Lord. In 2013, I wish we become the Magi from the east, and take a journey to pursue a true love, and then meet him and tell how love him: the most brilliant star coming to the earth and lying on my shoulder to sleep --- . I wish all of us take “another route” not the way we have lived so far.
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