St Stephen's Lewisham 3 January 1993
Wise Men Ask Questions
"After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem ... some wise men from the East came to Jerusalem. where is the infant king of the Jews?", they asked.
Wise men have always asked questions. Most of the useful things that have been discovered from the time that man first began to think for himself originated as questions.
"I wonder what lies on the other side of that hill?"; "Why do seeds grow better in some soils than others?"; "How can I make sure of finding my way back home?"; "How can I know which sheep belongs to me?" It's in answer to questions like these that man, over the years, has come to learn all the useful skills that he now possesses. Maps and compasses and landmarks and branding of animals, clock and tools and agriculture, discovery of new lands and new techniques like boat building and navigation to make such things possible. All these started as a series of questions: Why? How? What? Wise men have always asked questions.
But that is not all they've done. True wisdom, as often as not, involves something more than merely asking questions and being told the answer.
True wisdom means following that answer up and finding out for oneself where it leads.
St Matthew tells us that is what the Wise men did.
They saw the star. "What's that star", they each asked themselves. "Has anyone else seen it?" So they got in touch with other Wise men. "Have you seen that star?" they asked. "Yes, but what does it mean?" came back the reply.
"Shouldn't we go and follow it?" said the third.
So they did. And much to their excitement the star began to lead them to places where they'd never been before.
"Should we go and ask permission of the local King?" said one of them as they reached the frontier post of Judaea. "After all, its his country and we're visitors; besides, ha might be able to tell us a bit more about the star. These Jewish folk have a reputation for knowing a great deal about God and religion.
So they went and asked Herod the Great "Where is the infant king of the Jews?" they asked. "We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage." Another question, you see, which set them on the path to Bethlehem 1 where their mission was to be fulfilled.
Ever so many questions. However . . . no questions, no progress.
But progress consists in doing more than asking questions. You have to follow the answers through to discover the truth.
Now God has revealed (or "manifested") himself in many different ways over the ages. "But in these last times" as the Bible puts it "he has spoken to us through his Son Jesus Christ" He has appointed him to inherit everything; through him he made everything that exists; he is the radiant light of God's glory and the perfect copy of his nature So for us the search for God begins and ends with Jesus. As indeed it did for the wise men at the Epiphany.
Don't be misled, therefore, by the current fashion for thinking that you'll find god by looking inwards at yourself.
If we try and look at ourselves the probability is that we'll discover nothing except a muddle of confused and confusing feelings. Feelings by themselves lead nowhere. the things which they prompt us to do need to be constantly checked and evaluated against the wisdom that men have gained over the ages. Otherwise we shall simply turn into people who are led every which way by their desires: which in the end will remain as far from being fulfilled as they were when we first tried to look at ourselves.
For fulfilment we must look to Jesus "the author and perfecter of our faith." But the search for Jesus is not just a matter of asking questions, any more than it was for the Wise Men.
for us, like them, it means going on a journey, the Pilgrimage of Faith you might call it.
It's a journey on which progress is most important. Without progress people get bored and they stop asking questions and stop progressing With progress one thing leads on to another.
The Pilgrim's Progress by no means takes the form of safe and comfortable options.
Most people find that the search for the truth as revealed in Jesus Christ starts by taking them away some distance from their families and friends. At the same time it involves associating and fitting in with a whole new group of fellow pilgrims and seekers like you and me who may well not be everyone's cup of tea.
Don't imagine that the Wise Men as they looked for Jesus always got on perfectly with each other on the way. Wise Men aren't always easy men to get on with, particularly when they're trying to prove that they're wiser than each other.
anyone who's sat on a committee of so-called Wise men has sooner or later witnesses some most unwise things being said and done, 2 particularly when those Wise Men start competing with each other for air-space.
Following the Star of faith is by no means a simple, straightforward process. Besides those hazards I have just mentioned there are people like Herod the Great who pretend to be very interested in what we're doing but whose real interests like quite elsewhere.
And as for security (in the sense of not being assailed by doubts) - well, that's something of a rare luxury.
And where does it all lead? To Jesus, of course; but what then? Well the short answer is "to worship him".
There's so much wisdom packed into that short answer, that little word "worship" that I can't even begin to explain it this morning.
so perhaps the best thing is to end by pointing out that there is one real and important difference between the sort of questions that most people ask, and the question "Who is Jesus, where can I find him?" it's a difference of intention Most questions are asked with a view to gaining knowledge. There's nothing whatever wrong with that so far as it goes. You can come to know a lot about people and things by asking the right questions.
But to know about somebody is not the same thing as knowing him. the Pilgrimage of Faith does not have as its goal knowing about God but knowing god as revealed in Jesus.
The Wise Man is not simply the man who knows a lot about God. The Bible tells us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
So just look at what the Wise Men did.
St Matthew tells us that "Going into the house and falling on their knees they did him homage" In other words, they worshipped him.
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