Sunday, January 10, 2016

“Intentions” (Matthew 2:1-12)

“A determination to act in a certain way.”  That is the definition of “intention”.  In the story of the magi that we heard this morning, we heard a story of intentions . . . in fact, we heard a story about two very different intentions. 

The magi, the wise men from the east, had seen a great star . . . had heard the rumors and prophecies . . . and, thus, they followed it until they arrived at the palace of King Herod, the king of the Jews.  Upon their arrival they began asking questions as to the whereabouts of the one to which this star pointed to . . . the king of the Jews.  They wanted to know because they wanted to come and worship him.  That was their “intentions” . . . they wanted to worship this new king.

Now Herod, on the other hand, was disturbed by the news . . . in fact, all of Jerusalem was disturbed by this news.  And why shouldn’t Herod be upset and disturbed by the news . . . the last time he had looked in the mirror he was the king of the Jews.  This news of a new king posed a threat to Herod’s monarchy . . . his rule . . . his power.  One thing that a monarch doesn’t appreciate is competition towards his or her throne.  Like the magi, Herod wanted to know where this supposed new king could be found.  Calling his council, the chief priests, and leading teachers, he wanted to know where this king . . . this newborn king . . . was supposed to be.

Ask and you shall receive.

Those gathered told Herod that the king . . . the newborn king . . . would be found in the little town of Bethlehem in Judea.  To back up their location they shared the scripture . . . the words of the prophets . . . that explained it all.  With this news, I imagine that Herod hatched his plan . . . a plan to rid himself of competition . . . to rid himself of this upstart.  He called the magi to the throne, explained where they would find him, and then gave them explicit instructions . . . “Go and make a careful search for the child.  As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Unlike the magi, Herod’s intentions had nothing to do with worship.  No, his intentions was to rid himself of his competition . . . his intention was to kill the child.

So, there you have it . . . a story of two intentions.  One is to worship the child; the other is to kill the child.  And, yet, in our story . . . both proclaim that worship was the foundation of their intentions.  The magi do exactly as they intended to do, they worship the child . . . shower the child with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.  Then, thanks to a dream they had, they hightail it out of Bethlehem . . . they head home . . . and, wanted nothing to do with whatever it was that Herod really intended to.  They were pretty sure that it was not to worship the child.

Now, that is where our reading this morning ends . . . but, there is more to the story.  The magi were not the only ones to have a dream.  Joseph, too, has a dream; and, in the dream that he received he was told to take his small family and head for Egypt and safety for King Herod’s intentions is to find the child and kill him.  Like the magi, Joseph heads for safety.  The real intentions of Herod have now be exposed.

When the magi never return, Herod was furious.  They had screwed up his plans.  He has no idea where the child actually is . . . has no idea which child it is . . . and, he is angry.  To solve the problem the people of Israel would suffer . . . he sets forth a mandate that all the male children—two years and younger—shall be put to death.  In his mandate the words of the prophet Jeremiah are fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”  It was a sad and final climax to the story at this point . . . Herod fulfilled his real intentions . . . at least, he thought he had.

Fortunately, we know the rest of the story.  We know that Jesus was tucked away with his family in Egypt.  We know that eventually King Herod dies . . . Joseph is given the green light to return home . . . and, well . . . the story continues.

So, what do we learn from this story about “intentions”?  Well, I would venture to say that “intentions” . . . real “intentions” . . . are betrayed by action.  That is what the definition said . . . an intention is a determination to act in a certain way . . . those with the intentions carry them out as they intend them to be.  The magi fulfilled their intentions . . . they found the child and they worshipped the child.  Herod, despite his spoken intentions, carried out his real intentions . . . he wiped out a generation of children in order to feel secure in his monarchy and power.

In this familiar story we can agree that the primary characters had conflicting “intentions” . . . they definitely were not on the same page.  In part of the story we cheer on the magi as they realize that King Herod is attempting to use them for his own good . . . we cheer as we watch them traipse over the horizon and head home.  We groan and are filled with sadness when we realize that Herod is not going to be deterred from following his own intentions . . . if he can’t kill the one he sought, he will kill them all in hopes of killing the one who threatens him.  We shed a tear for the lives so unjustly taken from their parents and family.  That is where all our focus is in this story . . . and, yet, the story is bigger than the magi and King Herod.

How quickly we forget.

There is another “intention” in this story . . . and, it is the “intention” of God.  This is a story of redemption . . . of restoration . . . of grace . . . of love . . . and, that deep desire of God to return to intimacy with the family God created.  After all, this is the Christmas story.  God will not be deterred in God’s intentions.

As I said, how quickly we forget. 

We forget that words often have more than one meaning . . . that words multiple meanings . . . and, the word “intention” has other meanings that are pertinent to this story—the Christmas story.

“Intention” also means . . . “a process or manner of healing of incised wounds.”  The story of Jesus . . . his life and his words . . . his ministry . . . are all part of the process of God healing the wounds.  The wounds of separation.  The wounds of sin.  The wounds of lost love.  The wounds that split a family and destroy relationships.  That is the “intention” of God to restore the intimacy between God’s children with God and one another.

“Intention” also means “an object of prayer or a pious act that is offered.”  Again, the Christmas story . . . the story of Jesus . . . the life of Jesus, his death, his resurrection . . . that is prayer and hope of God . . . to restore that which is closest to God’s heart . . . a relationship with God’s children.

In this story, God’s “intentions” trumped those of the magi and King Herod.  They always do.

Whenever we hear a story we have a tendency to identify ourselves with certain characters in the story.  In this story we assumed that there were two characters, but discover that there are three . . . suddenly we move from having to choose between the magi and King Herod . . . we have another option.  Which of the three are we going to identify with . . . the magi—who come to worship . . . King Herod who comes for power and to destroy anything that threatens . . . or, God who is determined to restore relationship and intimacy based on love and grace?  Which one are we going to choose?  Which one fits our intentions?

Well, I know which one I hope that each of us chooses . . . but, it is an individual decision . . . personal to each of us.  Will it be to protect . . . to worship . . . or to reconcile?  I don’t know.  All I do know is that in the end . . . in the end . . . our actions will betray our intentions.  They did for the magi.  They did for King Herod.  And, well, we know they did for God . . . they did for God because we have the opportunity to follow the one who will show us the way to reconciliation.  Reconciliation between us and God . . . reconciliation between us and one another.  The choice is always ours.  May we all choose well.  Amen.

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