This is a message that I gave at the Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Mason, Tennessee for the 4th Sunday in Advent, 21 December 1997. I chose to use Matthew 2: 1 – 12 for the Scripture that Sunday instead of the regular lectionary.
As I note in the message, this was last time I would regularly come to the church as I moved to Kentucky the following week. I would return to Pleasant Grove for the Sunday after Christmas in 1998 but not as part of the rotation.
I have just begun reading the book "The Road Ahead" by Bill Gates. This book, written a couple of years ago, is an attempt to look at the nature of computers and technology in our future. Of course, as we know and as he points out, trying to determine the future is not an easy task. The best that we can do is simply to be prepared for whatever might come around the next turn.
As you have probably heard by now, this is my last Sunday with Pleasant Grove UMC and Alexander Chapel UMC. I have taken a position as an assistant professor of chemistry with Southeast Community College in Whitesburg, KY, starting 2 January. The decision to take this position was done only after careful prayer and consideration. While this does provide the opportunity for me to return to chemistry and teaching, it also means that my ministry here in Memphis must end. But, when the opportunity was presented to me, I knew that God would show me the way and that there would be an opportunity for my ministry when I got to Kentucky.
Three and one-half years ago I stood before a congregation and spoke of being lost, not knowing which direction to take and how Christ offers direction for our lives. At that time, I thought of the poem by Robert Frost that I have always liked, "The Road Not Taken".
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The simplest way to put it is that once we have meet Christ, once we accept Christ in our lives, the way we travel, the direction we take will not be the way we thought it would be when we started our journey.
In the scripture that I read for this sermon, the Magi had followed one road from the east to Jerusalem where they inquired about the birth of king of the Jews. We know nothing about their origins; who they were or where they came from. There is no indication how many there were; we get the number three from the number of gifts that they gave to Mary and Jesus. All we know is that these men, through their wisdom, knew that Jesus was to be born somewhere in Israel and such an event was worthy of their traveling to that site. The only problem was that they did not know where in Israel the birth was to occur.
Now, we can only imagine what Herod was thinking when these wise men came to him with this request. After all, he was the King of Israel and that implied that he was the king of the Jews. But Herod, like many later in Jesus’ ministry, would confuse the worldly kingdom that they resided in with the Heavenly Kingdom that Jesus would offer.
But Herod had not gotten to his position of power by being dumb either. So he entertained the Magi and asked them to find the new born child and return to him so that he too could worship this new-born king.
Now, we have to wonder what these wise men thought. Surely, they knew that Herod wasn’t going to worship this new-born king. After all, they weren’t called wise men for nothing, either. But, there could be no doubt about what they should do when God gave them the dream not to return to Jerusalem but to take another road home.
The one thing that we must understand is that after we meet Jesus, the road we take is not going to be the road we had planned on taking. Consider what happened to Paul. When he left Jerusalem for Damascus as Saul, he was intent on hunting down all the Christians, for he believed that what they were doing, what they were about was against Jewish law. But on that road to Damascus, Saul met Jesus and the road he took was not the road that he had planned on taking and he became Paul. – Acts 9: 1 – 10.
So too will it be for us. When we meet Jesus, whatever plans we had, whatever road we were taking, that all changes. I have spoken many times of the moment when John Wesley came to understand, came to truly know Christ as his savior. For up to that moment, John Wesley’s attempts to be a better Christian had not worked. But the moment he accepted Christ into his heart, then the path that he took was a different one and one that meant the foundation of the United Methodist Church.
It is interesting to note that we know nothing about the wise men after they left but I cannot help but think that their lives were changed because they had seen Jesus. They took a different path home because they meet Jesus and I am sure that they told all their friends about this experience. Saul changed from the prosecutor of Christians to the Paul, the apostle, because he meet Christ on the road. The road he took was a different path as well.
Our own journeys in life always come to a point where we must make a decision as to the path, the road that we will take. This time of year, when we celebrate the birth of Christ, is such a moment. What road will we follow?