• The Story of the Wise Men, 2017 •
WELCOME and happy Sabbath. I am here to present Biblical storying for our worship experience this evening. Biblical storying is an inductive method of orally communicating Bible stories directly from scripture memorization with minimal explanation. We will walk slowly with purpose through general Biblical, historical, cultural, and symbolic clues revealing the incredible significance and vastness of God’s mighty creativity. It is so interesting, that it should be told now!
I invite you to come in very, very close. There’s a lot of room outside Bethlehem, and you look like you’re in another country way back there. The seats here are begging for someone to warm them up, and I’d like to hear from you as well. There are marvelous things in this setting. Weather permitting, I will present a few features and previews from today’s Bethlehem venue, where the birth of Jesus will be announced in the sky. Stargazing conditions are 100 percent, so we can sit outside pointing fingers at God’s handiwork all night.
It’s difficult to understand all this story has to tell me about the humble beginning of Christ on this Earth. We’re talking about the true spirit of Christmas. I may not have recognized the truth at first, so I will need to stretch my mind and open my understanding to the celestial, gold medal moment, when the stars align to birth a relationship that will either tear me apart or pull me together. And so, I wish to present some of these thoughts with you, if you will. I will not let any prejudice I may have against spiritual matters deter me from honestly asking myself what this story might mean to me. I have suspicion that the wise men and the great, chosen men of the earth know more about this story than I do.
CAFE QUESTIONS: Do I know the difference between astrology and astronomy? Which planet is the biggest? Do I know how to make a star? Can I name three sources of light? How many miles are between my head and my heart? What beauty has God brought into my life? Has God brought me as far as he can in relationships? I sure hope not.
MUSIC & HYMNS: Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Magnificat”, Salt of Sound’s “Star of Wonder and Noel”, Blackmore’s Nights, “We Three Kings” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” ft Sarah Gregory from Bifrost Full Discographyem>
SPECIAL MUSIC, Song of Praise by Mary of Nazareth @Luke 1:45-56, New Living Translation (NLT)
45 “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
46 Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
PSALMS Responsive Reading @Psalm 19:1-4, New Living Translation (NLT)
1 “The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.”
SCRIPTURE @Matthew 25:34-40, New Living Translation (NLT)
In Matthew, I read, 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
Narrate the BACKGROUND @John 1:1-5,10-12,14a, New Living Translation (NLT)
In John I read…
1″In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.
11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.
12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us.”
How can this be? No recognition! Even so, God interrupts righteous lives to bring us the condescension of the humble, tiny babe Jesus through peasant parents on this wise, which was spoken of the Lord by his prophet, saying, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name €mmanuel, which being interpreted as, God with us.” Christ is about to visit our world differently, that we might behold him and not be destroyed! This is where our story begins.
NARRATE the STORY @Matthew 2:1-12, New Living Translation (NLT), twice.
1 “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,
2 ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.’
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.
4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, ‘Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?’
5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they said, ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared.
8 Then he told them, ‘Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!’
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!
11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
This is the story we have, and that’s the way the story goes. Let us spend some time to WONDER and DIALOGUE about this story, and bring any questions or observations we have to the table. Questions may not necessarily be answered, but will be voiced and raise interest. For example: How many miles are between Jerusalem and Bethlehem? How many miles are between heaven and Bethlehem? Was Bethlehem a rich city? Do stars move in the sky? Who can live with this baby? How many wise men were there? Not many I would say, ha.
Let us get into CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Look for Jesus in everyone. Discover Jesus in their story.
What do we know about King Herod? What was it like to be King Herod? This new baby boy was the talk of the town. What did Herod hear that deeply disturbed him and all Jerusalem? What might King Herod only wish he had? How do I feel and think about King Herod?
What do we know about the leading priests and teachers of religious law? How did the priests and teachers of religious law feel about what the prophet wrote concerning the greatest event since creation? Did they see or hear anything unusual? What did they see in the babe of Bethlehem? How do I feel and think about the leading priests and teachers of religious law?
What do we know about the wise men from the east? What do we hear in the wise men’s voice? Did the wise men see or hear anything unusual? How do I feel and think about the wise men?
What do we know about baby Jesus? I like this newborn babe, but he’s not like the other dozen newborns in the nursery. Before we burn up a few memory cards with baby Jesus snapshots, I want to ask you, what did baby Jesus look like before he was born, and I’m not talking about the three dimensional ultrasound read by his high-risk perinatologist? How do I feel and think about baby Jesus?
The Starry Night
Oil on canvas
73.7 x 92.1 cm
(29.02″ x 36.26″)
Museum of Modern Art (New York, New York, United States)
“Vincent van Gogh’s, ‘Starry Night,’ is Holiness on Full Display” – Stacy Sweeney
I’m learning to read the composition elements of a painting, for without this, stories are so empty. I enter an art gallery, where I stand and stare at a painting, only to see what’s in front of me. I look, and I look, saying, “What is the artist telling me?” I am not a bystander. As an artist, I would like to bring the viewer to my side, and include him in my thoughts. I mean it. I am telling you that one picture tells more than a 1,000 words, and too often I have not studied well enough.
This most unusual “Starry Night” painting is easily identified as the work of Vincent van Gogh. His image is all symbolized for me in the Old Testament @Exodus 3:1-6,13-14, and described for me in the New Testament @Luke 2:8-15. After reading the Bible in One Year, I discovered many symbols in the Old Testament, that I might understand a little better the word descriptions I read in the New Testament. The symbol I am speaking of is the burning bush, and the word description I am speaking of is the heavenly host. Does this picture speak to you? This great purpose, “€mmanuel, which being interpreted as God with us,” appeared in types and symbols, and revealed God. He did not choose a great Cedar tree of Lebanon, or an ancient Sequoia tree in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. God chose a bush. Look at him! Take off your sandals, stop and reflect awhile. This bush burns, and burns to feed the flames, but it is not consumed. I am not destroyed.
Simultaneously, as I am faced with the Old Testament bush on the front plane of “Starry Night,” I am also witnessing animated stars lighting up the night sky on the back plane, when God brought his supreme Son into the world. And although his Son is greater than the angels, God said, “Let all of God’s angels worship him.” Regarding the angels, he says, “He sends his angels like the winds, his servants like flames of fire.” I am suggesting that van Gogh‘s stars are angels. Luke wrote, “Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven.”
What I am seeing here is a painterly oil painting where the companion stars are not evenly illuminated but are fused together, seen in a strong light which surrounds them. Van Gogh’s swift, frenzied strokes bind separate stars together rather than isolating them from one another.
I’m seeing a recessional construction, dominated by swirls of light on the back plane that recede into depth and space. Van Gogh’s “stars” move back from the front plane, starting with a combustible bush in the front plane. A little further back, say 2,000 years past the front plane in the middle plane is a steeple and perhaps the hills of Judea recessed along a consistent circular pattern. Other stars crafted circularly create an explosion on the surface of the picture, saying something psychological has happened here, something of great joy to all people @@@ the Savior, the Messiah, has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David.
I’m seeing an open composition of vigorous circulars. The stars are not simply contained within the picture, but are cut off by it at the sides. There is a feeling of uncharted regions of the universe beyond the edges of the frame.
The composition is dynamic rather than static. Finding stimulation in activity, it suggests movement and is full of uneven, momentary effects, as opposed to two equally important snowscapes, stillness and tranquility.
This oil painting is about color. The use of color depends largely on how the light strikes them. Although I see continuous circular patterns that blend and mingle the independent forms into a cohesive whole, when I remove color from the painting, the painting loses it’s flare. I am most taken by the whimsical, prophetic imagery announcing the birth of Jesus in the sky.
And the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!” I will present a few features and previews from the little village venue. Stargazing conditions are 100 percent, so we can sit outside pointing fingers at God’s handiwork all night.
What did we learn about GOD in this story? God is the mighty creator of all things. Evidence for God’s existence is seen in the stars above. God counts stars. God’s character is seen in the face of Jesus. God meets me where I am. God’s divinity can live in my humanity, but does not destroy me. God is love. Love is giving. God counts on the gift of love to win souls. God gives me moral power to be a son or daughter of God.
What did we learn about the GOOD NEWS in this story? Especially in relation to what Jesus redeemed and accomplished for us in his life of light, his death on the cross, and through his resurrection. Look for a lighted path, for negative things being lifted, and for positive things being given.
• I find that Christ still comes today, every day of the year! If I search carefully for him, and unwrap his gift, he will help make sense of all my problems. Only when I feel an eager need of a Savior will my heart go after the One who can help me. I will know and understand what these lines say by doing it. God becomes closer as a God of my experience. Trust is a major hurdle in my relationships, but God is for me and my healthy relationships.
Closing PRAYER by Jesus @John 17:23
“I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
Storying EVALUATION: 1.Inductive teaching present 2.Biblical answers validated 3.Did we see Jesus 4.Clear questions 5.Logical flow of story 6.Affirmations given 7.Low participants encouraged 8.Who did most of the talking?
Our goal is to seriously apply this story to our life. Our challenge is to write a prayer, a poem, a song, short story, or create and photograph something that EXPRESSes our response and share. You get to hear what God has placed on my heart. Some lines of light and verse as you embark on this night.
Avondale Community, Atlanta, GA 2012 Photograph by Stacy Sweeney
“I Love Christmas Lights”
I love Christmas Lights
how the east star shines above
and trees throw peace signs
Avondale Community, Atlanta, GA. Photograph by Stacy Sweeney, 2012
Avondale Community, Atlanta, Ga. Photograph taken by Stacy Sweeney, 2013
when the stars were aligned
one magnified in brightness
and I did aspire
in kinship to catch it
I can not lie
to a wise man
what manner of love
should I be called
a daughter of God
so keep watch brother wise men
child of the light is coming through
in your wake do you see me or
pass me by unrecognized
I stare in the sky for signs
to find my Messiah
stars dance along
before my eyes
shine back as a reminder
a sweet joyful sense
of his approach
open to guidance
through deserts and wild places
and I keep coming back for hope
so keep watch brother wise men
child of the light is back in town
in your wake do you see me or
pass me by unrecognized
~ §tacy §weeney
Keller Blue Sweeney 2012 9″x12″ watercolor
Keller Blue Sweeney 2012 9″x12″ watercolor