O holy night! The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Yonder broke that new and glorious morn on the first day of Mesori, an Egyptian month. The Dog Star, Sirius, rose with the sun, shining in radiant and spectacular brilliance in those days over two thousand years ago. A thrill of hope rose inside the astrologers who lived in Persia and across Arabia. Mesori, a word that, in ancient Egyptian means birth of a king, coinciding with the brilliant rise of this star, it could only mean one thing: a great king was born.
Off the astrologers went, wandering on their camels, traversing the rugged terrain. This was no ordinary traveling, as we might think of it today. They spent much of their time in need of water and food, always with a watchful eye for it was terribly unsafe to travel these roads. Bandits waited to steal goods, robbers were at the ready to take what was yours and sell it at market. The wise men knew this; they had frankincense, gold, and myrrh, easily sold at marketplaces.
So they traveled carefully, cautiously.
These wise men wandered, hoping to find the truth they believed the star revealed: a great king was born!
But at home, they were thought of as fools.
How could they take such a risk? Over an inkling, a thought, that perhaps there was a great king born? Their colleagues, astrologers, too, just wanted them to record the star, note its brilliance, and then move on with their lives. Yes, perhaps in some far distant land a great king was born, but that was not of their concern. Their concern was more scientific. And indeed, the work of these Arabs some two thousand years ago led directly to modern astronomy.
But not for these magi, a word that can mean magician, sorcerer, or astrologer. Something inside of them stirred. Something inside of them said, “go.” Something inside of them knew, as they wandered, what J.R.R. Tolkien famously said, “not all who wander are lost.”
A great king was born! The star showed it! They just knew it. Even though they couldn’t prove it. What drove them was an inkling, a thrill of hope, as yonder broke a new and glorious morn.
Let’s read together our scripture for this Christmas Eve, Matthew 1:23-2:2
A thrill of hope.
It was enough to cause them to go search, to go and seek, to look for the truth.
They had no guarantee they’d find any truth. They did not know that their journey would be successful. But there was a tug on their souls, a motivation deep inside of them to go seek, and so they did.
They were thought of as foolish. Their journey was terribly risky. They had no guarantee of success. Their entire basis for traveling was a star that rose with the sun, shining brilliantly, on the first day of a month of an ancient calendar, a month whose name meant birth of a king in an extinct language. Hardly enough evidence to motivate us. Hardly enough evidence to motivate their colleagues.
But here they came, “led by the light of a star sweetly gleaming, here come the wise men from the Orient land.”
And when they arrived, directed by the light of the star, they found “the king of kings lay thus in lowly manger; in all our trials born to be our friend.”
They found a simple house. In a simple town. The home of a commoner, not a king. The home of a carpenter, not a royal ruler. And yet, that same stirring in their souls, that inkling, that thrill of hope, told them that this simple setting with an everyday baby was the king they had been looking for. This was the truth they had sought with their whole heart.
Inside of them they knew, “Behold your King! Before him lowly bend! Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!”
And they worshipped him. They offered their homage. Their search had proven successful. The truth they sought in the light of the Dog Star, rising on the first day of Mesori; the truth they had only an inkling of, that same truth that set them on their journey, on their searching, on their wandering; that truth was there, in lowly manger.
Not all who wander are lost; not these astrologers. No, they were found. They beheld their king, for in their souls, yonder broke a new and glorious morn.
They had found the truth. And their response was the only proper response when we find the truth: worship.
The truth that “truly [Jesus] taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother; and in His name all oppression shall cease.”
That’s the truth this Christmas, and every Christmas. Indeed, in all our trials, he was born to be our friend for he knows our need; to our weakness, he is no stranger. Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever. His power and glory evermore proclaim.
They had found the truth!
But what if we haven’t found it yet?
Not all who wander are lost.
Those who have courage wander; they set out on a journey that begins with an inkling, a thrill of hope, that perhaps, maybe, just maybe, there’s something greater out there, there’s something worth worshipping out there, there’s some truth worth giving our lives to.
It begins like it did for the wise men, with a faint inkling; a thrill of hope.
If we’re courageous, if we choose bravery, we go in search of that inkling, trying to find its satisfaction. People will call us fools, like the colleagues of these wise men. People will think we’re chasing after dreams. For we can’t prove the truth when we find it; not in the empirical sense. We can’t even prove with logic that inkling, that thrill of hope, for it defies logic.
But it’s there. Inside all of us. In the Methodist Church, we call that “prevenient grace.” It’s God calling to us, wooing us, for God loves us and longs to have relationship with us.
And the first awareness we have of that is like a star, rising off in the East; an inkling, a thrill of hope, that the truth is out there.
Faith is a journey.
Faith isn’t a one time, say a prayer and get your fire insurance card, kind of deal. Salvation isn’t just a matter of ensuring you go to heaven.
Salvation is knowing, deep in your soul that “truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease.” That doesn’t describe the world today, but it describes the world that Christ came to bring, a world that Christ is birthing through all who claim his name.
Faith is a journey. Salvation is a journey.
And it begins with an inkling, a thrill of hope, that perhaps there’s something greater than ourselves; that just maybe, the truth is out there.
I’ve been on that journey for a long time. For quite a while, I was agnostic. That wasn’t wrong; it was part of my journey. And about ten years ago, I decided to follow the inkling in my soul, the thrill of hope.
And like the wise men, I was not disappointed.
Today, I am still on that journey. Now, I believe I have found the truth and I have dedicated my life to serving the truth I know as revealed in Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean that my journey is done. That thrill of hope that something greater exists for me is changed; now it’s a thrill of hope that through me the world can be changed.
That’s faith. That’s the journey the wise men undertook. That’s the journey we together undertake as a church.
Faith is a journey. Salvation is a journey. It’s one that God walks with us, whether we know it or not. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” Not just with the wise men in the form of a baby; the great God of the universe in as a helpless infant who relied on a teenager for love, support, and nourishment; the greatest power in the cosmos unable to control even his own bladder.
Not just then for the wise men, but now for us, too. Christ is Emmanuel, God with us.
This evening, do you know that?
If you don’t, I suspect there’s an inkling, a thrill of hope, somewhere deep inside of you. Maybe it’s been repressed for a while. Our empirical, logical, world tells us to dismiss it. Don’t. Choose courage. Undertake the journey. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
If you do know that God is Emmanuel this evening and all evenings, how firm is your dedication to Christ? Through us, Christ will transform the world, if we will let him. Choose courage, keep walking the journey of faith. For through us, even though us, yonder breaks a new and glorious morn for our world.
Faith is a journey. Salvation is a journey.
And it begins with an inkling, a thrill of hope, that the truth is out there.
Are you on the journey? Are you wandering? Take courage. Be brave. Follow that inkling, that thrill of hope. Not all who wander are lost.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.