Sermon December 26, 2021: Wise Men In The Neighborhood (Christmastide 1)

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Link to Video:




If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with this prayer:

O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!

HYMN 254 We Three Kings
We Three Kings of Orient Are – The Robert Shaw Chorale

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − The Centering Prayer

Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help.
I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life.
Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not.
Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature.
Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted.
Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood.
I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 249 There’s A Song In The Air
There’s a Song in the Air
There’s a Song in the Air – Adele Morgan

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MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Wise Men In The Neighborhood
Text: Matthew 2:1-16
Series: Christmas Story Connections – We’re In This Together

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon Slides as a PDF file.
Pre-recorded Video AudioWesley Sermon Audio


Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; 8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; 11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.


HYMN 256 We Would See Jesus

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

BENEDICTION: Please recommit your life to the service of Jesus as Lord with the words of The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!


In Matthew 2, really the last part of the Christmas story, the last chapter, the wise men come into the neighborhood and they seek to bring God’s love to the baby Jesus.

Well, before we get into deeply meaningful things, let me tell you a very, very, very old joke. This is a joke from the days of President Jimmy Carter and the Israel peace negotiations. And President Menachem Begin of Israel came to Camp David to Washington, DC, to negotiate peace. And there was one day that he was in the Oval Office, President Carter’s office, and he noticed the famous red phone, the direct line to Russia. And right next to it was a white phone.

And President Menachem Begin of Israel said, “President Carter, I’ve never seen a white phone quite like that. What is that?” A good Baptist, President Carter said, “Well, President Begin, I decided that to do my job as the leader of the free world, I needed to be able to talk directly to God. So that white phone there, that’s my direct line to God. Every day, I pick it up and I talk to God and I find out what I need to do. It clears my mind. It’s the most tremendous help to my presidency.”

President Begin said, “Wow, that’s just remarkable. Do you mind if I could try it?”

And President Carter said, “Well, certainly. But one thing you should know, it’s a long-distance call. And it’s such a long distance, it costs $1,000 a minute.”

President Begin said, “Well, my government will reimburse your government for that cost.”

And President Carter said, “Well, help yourself.”

And President Begin actually talked for ten minutes. And he said, “You know, that was worth $10,000 because my mind is clear. I know exactly what I need to do. What a wonderful thing it is to have a white phone.”

And it just so happened a year later, President Carter was visiting Israel and came into the office where President Begin was. And there was a red phone. And right next to the red phone was a white phone.

And President Carter says, “I see you’ve gotten yourself a white phone.”
“Oh yes,” President Begin said, “I talk with God every day. And it helps me with everything I need to do.”
And President Carter said, “You know, I’ve been traveling for a while now. I really missed that opportunity to get God’s guidance. Would you mind? My government will reimburse you the cost of the call.” So President Carter sat down and actually talked to God for 20 minutes. “Oh, thank you,” he said when he was finished, “I’m so thankful that I could use your white phone. Our government will give you $20,000 for this long-distance call.”

And President Begin said, “I’m sorry, President Carter. You misunderstand. All that you owe me is 25 cents.
“25 cents? How could that possibly be? President Carter said.

“Well, President Carter, you need to understand … from here it’s a local call!”

Now, we give God our prayers, and God sends us answers to prayers. And what we hope for, and what God does all too frequently, sometimes, even though we can’t quite understand it, is the answer to our prayer is exactly what is needed and right on time.

And the wise men have been, well, sarcastically criticized for some time about the gifts that they bring to the Christ child. Now, if you’ve ever had a newborn baby, I don’t think they’re that interested in Frankincense and Myrrh! I don’t think they’re that interested in gold. And so there’s this little meme that makes the point. What a brand new baby needs is for wise women to come, because what they’ll bring is fresh diapers, casseroles for the week, and lots of formula, because that is what a brand new baby needs.

But when the wise men come – and this is not quite obvious – they actually are coming one to one and a half years after the birth of the baby Jesus. The need is different. So let’s draw some simple understandings of what the wise men are doing.

Matthew chapter two, verse one, “Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod, the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he who has been born, king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.'” So here’s the first lesson from the wise men. Assumptions mislead us.

Their journey started when they saw a star, and they began to follow the star. But at some point, while they were following the star, one of them said to the other one, “Let’s make it easy on ourselves. Let’s get on a map, and let’s find out where the palace is because … here’s the assumption … The newborn king must have been born in a palace. The newborn king is a child of the current king.” And so they go to the palace. Lucky thing, because I think they lost sight of the star. They stopped following the star. They go to the palace. And what do you know? There’s no newborn child in the palace.

Look at verse three, “When Herod, the king, heard this, he was troubled.” The reason Herod the King was troubled is he was someone who literally, kid you not, part of history, assassinated most of his relatives because they could be rivals to his throne, literally murdered his own family. And it says the rest of Jerusalem was troubled. You know why? When somebody who murders their own family is troubled, everybody else gets troubled, too.

Assumptions can mislead you. It seems much more logical to believe in the assumption that a Prince is born in a palace. But if you’re led by God, sometimes God will take you in a direction that logic doesn’t take us. The wise men were misled by an assumption.

Well, what did Herod do while he was troubled? He assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people. He asked them where the Christ was to be born. This is the second thing that we can learn from the story of the wise men. We assume because of our fascination and focus on Christmas, we assume that every person in Israel was constantly focused on the coming of the Messiah. But in fact, they were pretty much just like us. They had jobs, they had anxieties, they had fears, they had illness to deal with, just like us. And biblical ignorance is so widespread that the King of the Jews has no idea where the Messiah is to be born. Probably no idea about the Messiah at all, nor does anyone in his immediate circle of advisors. He has to call in the chief priests. He has to call in the experts in the Jewish law. So biblical ignorance was widespread.

You see, they were no more spiritual than many of us. But these religious experts told him in Bethlehem of Judea for so it is written by the Prophet, and you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah. For from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people, Israel. And you can just see Herod getting angry at this new rival. Then he it summoned the wise men secretly and asserted from them what time the star appeared. This is why we believe it’s one to one and a half years later. And he sent them to Bethlehem saying, “Go and search diligently for the child. And when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him.”

Well, when they left the palace, they were no longer guided by their human logic. They were no longer guided by maps. They began to seek God. And it’s astonishing – look at verse 9. When they had heard the King, they went their way and lo the star which they had seen in the East went before them. Such a clear and specific guidance that it literally came to rest over the place where the child was. When you look to God for guidance as you go and look to help your neighbor, you will find that God will give you guidance when you’re looking to God for that, because the star reappears. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house – notice, not the stable, not camping with the shepherds.
Going into the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother. And they fell down and worshipped him. And then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. And when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there till I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him”.

Now, we don’t know how many people were in that area of Bethlehem. It was a small rural village, but Herod sent soldiers to kill every child two years old and younger. That’s the sort of King that he was.

Verse 14, but Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt. Now, if I was on a trip with a baby, I guarantee you, I would bring lots of diapers. And I want to tell you, you can’t do much better than those Church casseroles, whether you’re on a trip or staying at home. And baby formula, well, we need that too. But what Mary and Joseph needed was money that was easy to carry and hide, because this time they didn’t need a casserole, what they needed was cash.

Most of the time, what our neighbors need are signs of love and caring. And sometimes they’re out of diapers. And sometimes they’re out of baby formula. But sometimes … to do God’s will … requires cash. And so the wise men did God’s will. They, from a great distance, came to Jesus and Mary and Joseph and were neighbors to them and gave them what they needed in that moment.

Friends, it’s a great joy to be a neighbor. We have been neighboring in a variety of ways this week. One of those ways is called Shop With a Cop. This is a picture of the Shop with a Cop Program in Hilliard, Ohio. The reason this picture is up there is because anyone that is helped, they’re helped anonymously. So I want to show you this happy child. That happy child is getting gifts for Christmas that they need. Not just toys, but they’re being taken to the store by a police officer who is being their neighbor. You see, we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But we’re also asked to go out into the neighborhood and love our neighbor as ourselves.

This year, here in Kinmundy, we did shop with a cop and we’re so blessed today to actually have a cop with uus! So I’d like to ask you to welcome Kevin Barry, our police officer here in Kinmundy. I’ve asked him to share stories of what it felt like to be a neighbor to 11 children from within our community. Now, you will never know their names, but I hope you get a sense of how they felt and how he felt. Kevin, please come and tell us whatever you would like to share. [applause]

Kevin Barry:
Okay. So I was asked to come in today and be able to speak with you about the program that we started this year and without the church’s support and the school district’s support, we wouldn’t be able to give back to that program that we started this year. Bless you. Thank you.

So in doing this right we wanted to make this as productive as possible. And sitting with Pastor David and sitting with the school district, we came up with the support system to be able to give back to five families. And each day, two weeks ago, we were able to bring in one family per day and to be able to give back to them.

But again, being as productive as we possibly could, we just didn’t want to go out and to be able to just to give them gifts. We wanted them to be able to remember this. So there are stipulations to this when we did this.

The first thing was is that we wanted them to all get an ornament. An ornament that they would hang on the tree, an ornament that they would be able to see what this caring community was about and to be able to cherish that memory. The second thing that we made sure that they did was they had to get a family-oriented gift, whether it was a board game, whether it was a movie, something that they could share with their family, right, and be able to remember giving back. The next thing that we did was that they had to get an article of clothing. Now being in need, several of these families, they needed more than just one article. Some needed winter boots, some needed winter jackets because they weren’t given that opportunity to be able to have that. The next thing was an article, whether it was a book, whether it was a magazine, something for them to be able to read. And then the last thing was the toys. So again, this was obviously icing on the cake for everybody, right? That’s what they wanted to do and that’s what they came to do.

But we also made sure that … particularly one family that sticks out in my mind was a mother who was raising her three kids. One of them had a disability, right? And she wasn’t able to give them any kind of toys. So sensory toys for this child that had a disability was a huge thing. And I also want to give credit to this school district because they hand-selected these five families. These five families came from their houses being burnt down, where they did not have anything, families whose homes were cockroach-infested, where they were condemned and deemed unhabitable. There was a grandmother in her late 60s that was raising her three grandkids, which is very difficult in these times financially, especially. Again, there was a mother who is raising an autistic child, right, with her three other siblings in the house. So that in today’s world is very difficult. Another family that was in a domestic violence situation. And another family that mother and father were hooked on meth, which is a huge issue in today’s world. So again, they did a phenomenal job in hand-selecting these families.

And again, when Pastor David was talking about 11, right, there were situations that these kids that we took on these particular days, we didn’t know it at the time, but they also had younger siblings. So they would rather give up their opportunity to go shopping with a cop and give back to their younger siblings. And so we’re very fortunate, with the support of this church, to be able to not only provide for those kids but provide for their siblings as well. So again, being fortunate in this life, being able to raise a family in this community, it’s been a blessing. But to be able to give back to this local community in just some aspect with the support of this church, it’s just something that will bring you down to your knees and humble you very easily. And again, I just wanted to come in here to share a little bit of the story that we were able to provide for five families two weeks ago and to thank you for everything.

Thank you, Kevin. [applause] Just to clarify a couple of things that Kevin said. They had a budget. And as our Missions committee discussed this, we decided we needed to provide him with twice as much as what was budgeted because we figured those kinds of conversations would happen. “Officer Barry, my little brother doesn’t have shoes. Can I give him my shoes?” And we wanted Kevin to be able to say, “No. Let’s get shoes for your brother, too.” And so we sent Kevin to be a neighbor to these kids. Was that a blessing?
Now Vervadene is in the secretary’s office and Joyce is in the building cleaning and Judy McCarthy was also there doing her treasurer’s work. And each day Kevin actually brought the kids in so that they could say thank you. Now, just think for just a minute about the lessons, about what it means to care. And what it means to be a neighbor. And what it means to live a good life, that come into the lives of children from someone like Kevin being their neighbor. Because the idea is you develop a relationship as well as give a gift.

But what I want to draw your attention to is the chain of neighborliness. All the people who are connected with the good that Kevin is doing, so that we help him and the school helps him and so the children are helped. And there’s literally a team of people involved in helping these children learn lessons that people really do care about me at Christmas. And friends, you and I are a part of that chain of being a neighbor to people who need it so, so much probably more than each of us do individually.

So here’s the other thing I’d like to point out about the wise men and being wise is that God has a preference to answer prayers locally. That is, through neighbors. When you pray for something, quite often, the answer to your prayer is going to come sideways to you from your neighbor. Let’s say you need a lawnmower and you say, “God, I need a lawnmower. Give me a lawnmower.” And you imagine that lawnmower floating down from heaven to find its place in your garage. But you know what literally happens, your next-door neighbor buys a new one and says, “Hey, I’ll give you my old one.”

Whatever it is that you need, especially if the need is nonmaterial, especially if it’s sadness and loneliness and comfort or good advice or clarity, pretty much whatever it is that you need, it’ll completely change the faith you have if you begin to realize that God’s answer to what you need is probably over at your neighbor’s house right now. And if your neighbor opens up to give and you open up to receive and neighbors help neighbors, all the needs get met.

Now, sometimes God has to work through long-distance neighbors when there’s no local neighbor nearby ready to answer the prayer. In fact, the wise men are long-distance neighbors. They come from thousands of miles away because that’s who was needed in that moment. But most of the time, God will answer your prayer through one of your neighbors. And so when you pray for God to meet your need, you might want to open your eyes and be very attentive to what God may be saying or God may be doing through someone in your neighborhood. Now we also help as a long-distance neighbor. We have mission money going to one of the poorest places on the face of the Earth, 7,854 miles to Uganda, Africa.

But by and large, the general principle is that God prefers to work locally because, when you think about the meaning of Christmas, at Christmas Jesus is incarnated. That’s the theological word. Jesus is incarnated and goes from God way up there to God with us, which has a name, Emmanuel, a name we use at Christmas. Jesus, who was once far, far away, is now local. He has an address in Bethlehem. And he grows up and he is local. He goes through Israel helping people. He dies upon a cross in Jerusalem. He rises from the dead. But the history of the historical Jesus is God being here with us.

And then Jesus ascends to heaven and says to the disciples, “Wherever you are, I will be with you.” Jesus is everywhere, but Jesus is still local because the local church, – this is 1 Corinthians 12 – is the body of Christ.

When somebody prays and needs God’s hands to do something – guess what, friends? – he uses our hands. When God needs to say something, God uses our voice. God is still local. And so when you and I love our neighbor as ourselves, we are doing God’s will, and we are the means by which God’s gifts frequently, not always – sometimes they do come straight from heaven – but generally speaking, God answers prayer locally because local neighbors bring gifts just like the wise men.

Most of the time what people need is encouragement. They need love. They need to believe and hope that things can get better. But sometimes, sometimes, sometimes what’s actually needed is a pair of shoes or a board game so that a family spends time together. Sometimes we just simply have to give money to do God’s will because from here, doing God’s will is a local call.

Please pray with me, Lord Jesus, I ask that you would help us to be wise. I ask that you would help our churches to be wise and to understand that what you want is for your will to be done right here, right now. And, Lord, sometimes we feel so inadequate. We feel so unable to make a difference. But yet, Lord, you have chosen for your will to be done through local people, imperfect people, Lord, but willing people … to follow your will … to see a star … to get a sense, “I’m supposed to do something for this person who lives down the street, who goes to school in my neighborhood, who is in need.” Lord, help us to be aware of the star. Help us to be aware of the call. Help us, Lord, to notice our neighbor. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis )

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