In the worship gathering at the church I lead, we had our annual Christmas handbell concert. It was great. I love the sound of bells. Who doesn’t? People used to think bells had all sorts of special powers. They thought. Bells drive demons away because they’re afraid of the loud noise. And it didn’t only work on demons. It scared away snakes, mice, even caused flying witches to fall to the ground.
People thought that bells cured things too. Drinking from an upturned bell cured children of stuttering. Ringing a bell during childbirth supposedly made it easier. And with church bells, it gets better. Ringing those bells during a storm ends bad weather. And if you’ve got the old-fashioned bells that you pull to ring, well, the grease from those bells, can cure ringworm. I guess it has something to do with the ringing, it being ringworm and all.
Folks have thought the strangest things not only about bells, but about everything. It’s easy to laugh. But one day, 50 or so years from now, people are going to look back at things that you thought and laugh, if they don’t cry. 50 years ago, doctors told women to smoke during pregnancy as a cure for constipation. Back then, flight attendants had to retire at age 32. And almost everyone thought that was ok. And fifty years ago, Ralph Baer invented the video game. But the TV company he worked for thought he was wasting his time. Knowledge goes out of date more quickly than you’d think.
Yet still, people latch onto the latest knowledge, the latest gadget, the latest spiritual fad even as if that will give them the life they need, the meaning they seek. But in that pursuit you miss where life really does lie, where meaning can actually be found. That’s why it’s more important than ever to remember this story, a story that after 2,000 years still rings true.
People have been searching for answers as long as people have existed. They have searched for meaning, for purpose, for hope. Basically, people have been searching for a life that truly was life. Yet too often, the search never goes anywhere. Either people keep searching their whole life or they sadly settle for what they have, thinking that’s all there is. But here, God reminds you why the search goes wrong. People go looking for an idea or a technique or even a religion. But God tells you. If you look there, you will always go wrong. Why? Because what you are really looking for is a person.
Each year, researchers look at what questions people most searched for in Google. What they discover might surprise you. When it comes to the what questions, they’re almost always asking a spiritual one. In Massachusetts folks ask, “Is there life after death?” In Maryland, it’s “What is beauty?” What is it in Florida? It’s simply this, ‘What is life’s purpose?”
They also researched the why questions. And frankly there, most states don’t get so deep. In Oklahoma, they want to know. “Why do dogs lick themselves?” In New York, they want to know, “Why do feet smell?” But in some places the question pointed to something deeper, sadder even. Here in Florida, that was the case. Do you know what question people searched for here more than any other? “Why do I feel so alone?”
People have never stopped searching. And the Magi of whom Matthew speaks were searching too.
For years, scholars doubted they even existed. But now, it has become more and more clear that Matthew isn’t relaying a fairy tale, but a fact, something that actually happened. Matthew doesn’t give many details, not even how many Magi there were. Folks figured that it was three because they brought three gifts, but we don’t know. All Matthew tells you is that they came from the East.
But that gives you enough to get an idea of who they were. People used this term Magi, for those who studied the stars, what you’d call astrologers today. And in the first century, people didn’t think of astrology as superstition. They thought of it as science, highly respected science at that.
And in the time of Jesus, an order of such Magi existed, probably connected to Zoroastrianism, a religion that folks still practice today. The Roman historian, Suetonius tells us that these Magi “had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world.”
So, these Magi came looking. But even with all their knowledge of the stars, it took them only so far. They got to Judea, and had no idea where to go. So how did they find Jesus? Something from this book told them. They went to the king to ask, a move that if you know the story had awful consequences. But, the King didn’t know, but his scribes did. They found the answer in Micah, one of the prophets recorded in this book. “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” So, the Magi went to find their answer.
And find it they do. If you read a few verses further, you get a poignant description of what happened. “…..they were overwhelmed with joy……..and they knelt down and paid him homage.” Maybe they started their journey looking for proof for a theory or confirmation of a belief. Maybe intellectual curiosity moved them on their way. But they soon realized. They had found something far more. They went searching for an answer. And instead, they found the One who is the Answer.
Fifty years from now, Google will likely seem quaint, a relic of a by-gone age. But this story will continue to live. Why? It’s because this story doesn’t give you answers. This story points you to One who is the Answer. And when you have a relationship with this God, this God who came to you in Jesus, your deepest questions find their answers. For here lies beauty. Here lies purpose. Here lies a life that goes beyond death. Here you discover that with Jesus, you are never, ever alone. For here you discover, you are loved, and nothing will ever change that. For in Jesus, this God loved you so infinitely, this God became you. And he gave up everything to bring you home. And no matter how dark the world becomes, how dark your days grow, the light of that love, it never stops shining. And in that love, God shapes in you a life more wondrous, more beautiful, more fulfilling than you could have imagined. So, stop searching. The Magi point the way. Here lies the answer you seek. It is found here in the very God, who lovingly seeks you.