The Rev. Alisdair Smith

Matthew 2:1- 12
January 1, 2023

Holy One, for all that has been, thank you, for all that will be, yes!

Happy Epiphany, and Happy New Year!
I was chuckling with a friend about preaching on New Year’s Day, So welcome, it is good that
you are here, in person or on the live stream. I hope I can intrigue and engage you with some
new thinking about an old story.
The ‘wise men’ appear only once in the nativity stories, here in Matthew’s Gospel. We know
little of them, except to note that they come from the East. While that may not mean much to
us moderns, it is where the sun rises, where light breaks into the darkness, where wisdom and
mystery emerge into our lives. And so begins this radical and profound story about the mystical
wisdom and power that pushes against and refuses to collaborate with Empire.
I like to think about the so-called wise men as similar characters to Gandalf in Lord of the Rings,
or Yoda, or Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars or even Dumbledor in Harry Potter. Wizards who
teach and mentor the young hero. I’d like you to now think of the wise person or people in your
life, who gave you gifts of knowledge and perspective. And think especially of the wise women
who mentored you, because literature and films are sadly lacking them.
Why are such characters so important in our stories? Why are such people, so important in our
I’d like to explore these questions first through the lens of a particular king, Stephen King’s
story, and the resulting TV miniseries called, 11.22.63 (
11.22.63) is the date of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The novel and TV show
are the story of a man who discovers a doorway through time to 1960. He is shown the
doorway by an older, and mysterious friend whose dying wish is to stop the assassination of
President Kennedy. Our hero, Jake, goes back to do just that, and the body of the story is about
his journey to find Lee Harvey Oswald, determine whether Oswald acted alone, and if so, kill
him before that day in Dallas, 11.22.63.

So, here’s a question for you, if you could go back in time, what would you do to change the
world? Have a think about that. Now, I wonder if the choice you made involved some kind of
violence; kill Oswald? kill Hitler? It’s a trap we all too often fall into; using violence to stop
So spoiler alert, Jake is ‘successful’ and manages to kill Oswald in the Texas Book Depository
and save President Kennedy’s life. He returns to the present time, to find that there’s been a
nuclear holocaust. Be careful what you wish for, and, this is key, violence begets violence. Now,
that is the main thread of the story, and there is what at first blush is a ‘love interest” sub plot,
but is actually fundamental to the main plot. That is a story of love. Throughout the story, Jake
is making decisions on his mission, and they all involve a choice between his violent mission and
love. He chooses the mission, sometimes trying to do both, but virtually every choice is towards
the mission. He does fall in love in the midst of his mission with a woman named Sadie, and she
joins him on the mission. And, you’ll be glad to know, I’m finally linking here to the Wise Men in
the nativity story, there is a Wise Man who provides guidance, correction and support to Jake
and Sadie, not on the mission, but on who they are as people. This character, “Deacon”, Deke
for short is a sort of Dumbledore and there is clear connection to love. Deke, is the principal of
the school where Jake and Sadie work, and has a long term love in the African American school
secretary Mimi Corcoran. Remember this is the early 60’s in Texas, a white man is not supposed
to be in love with a black woman. Deacon, and the connection is not lost on me, as a deacon, is
all about love. His own relationship with Mimi, his pushing Jake towards Sadie, his care of the
two of them as their mission meets sometimes violent barriers all indicate he is a person of
loving wisdom beyond the understanding of the others involved.
Sadie, at the end of the story reads a poem from Deacon;
We did not ask for this room or this music; we were invited in. 
Therefore, because the dark surrounds us,
Let us turn our faces toward the light. 
Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. 
We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. 
We have been given life to deny death. 
We did not ask for this room or this music. 
But because we are here, let us dance.” (From 11.22.63 TV Show

So Deke is a wiseman; a wiseman who gives Jake and Sadie gifts of wisdom about love as an
ethic, love as a way of being in the world. We all need a Deke, to remind us of the vital
importance of love prevailing over our default to violence.
To go a little deeper into our Gospel, interpreters of this story have always assumed that the
wise men from the east, remember, the east is where the sun rises, light breaks in to the
darkness, etc. come to “pay homage” to this child. The role of Deke in 11.22.63 gets me
wondering if the wise men in Matthew’s Gospel might also well be ‘teaching’ the child (and us
all) in a way? Might their gifts be related to passing on wisdom to Jesus (and us)?
They bring 3 gifts, and I wonder if the 3 gifts are to be considered in relation to each other.
(Remembering the number 3 is important in Judaism
number-3-mean-in-the-bible/ )
So gold’s wisdom is that of leadership. Frankincense wisdom is about worshiping God. Myrrh’s
wisdom is that everyone dies, there is pain and sadness. A way of thinking about this trio of
gifts is that they teach us that kings are truly powerful only because of God in their lives, their
power is never absolute. And even kings die, remember you are dust and to dust you shall
And this idea becomes especially interesting if we think of the context of the story. Herod is
told that a new “king” is born. Not good news for someone who’s power is tied to a ‘god’ of
violence and terror, Caesar Augustus. The wisdom shared by the wisemen is that the journey of
leadership at its best is leadership based on love and non-violence. Leadership that is humble.
Leadership that recognizes its own mortality and that leadership is always about living and
leading through pain and anguish as well as progress and possibility. And this kind of leadership
is the vital alternative, the different road, to the leadership of the Empire in which we live, the
Empire of Rome, or the empire of autocrats, populists, or even zealous capitalists; all of them
tied inextricably to violence and fear.
And to push the boundaries a little further, we can ask questions of ourselves when we are
leading others, when we are kings, where is Love with a capital L in our lives? What is the place
of humility in our leadership? When we are leaders, how aware of the end of our time as
leaders are we? How does our mortality, (figuratively and literally) factor into our decisions and
actions? And perhaps most importantly, are we following the lead of Herod and Ceasar, or are
we following the wisdom of the wisemen? They come from outside the system, bring gifts of
wisdom, and then leave by a different road so as not to participate in the empire’s plans.

And, this choice, between going back to report to Herod or going by a different road is the same
choice for each and everyone one of us. I know this intimately, I’m well paid to support people
working in the capitalist empire in their leading. They are invariably good people trying to make
a difference in their part of the world. But sometimes the call of the empire, the call of
whomever the Herod of the day might be is too strong and the cycle of violence and fear
continues on its merry way. And for that we have Grace. God hopes and wishes you choose
another road. Deke in 11.22.63 hopes Jake will choose another road. I hope that I will choose a
different road sometimes. You probably wish you choose a different road sometimes too. And
that is why coming together in places like this, to remember who we are, and the kings we
could become. To worship God, to lament and celebrate with thanksgiving, the gift of life. And
to see the brokenness and the sadness, the death all around us and to know that the
resurrection of the Christ shows us that Love overcomes even death.
In his autobiographical book, Surrender, U2 singer and activist Bono writes, “someone has
likened prayer to being on a rough sea in a small boat with no oars. All you have is a rope that,
somewhere in the distance is attached to the port. With that rope you can pull yourself closer
to God.” ( p, 18)
In the end, I see all of us, in our own boats, some tied by family, friendships, and memories,
often pulling in different directions. And slowly, we move inch by inch, wave by wave, closer to
God. And one day, as more of us choose this different path, the path of wisdom and love, we
will all find ourselves, as Jesus prayed, in God’s “...Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.”
And so we return to Stephen King, and Deacon’s wisdom in a poem, pushing us, prodding us to
new possibilities and new choices as we begin 2023..
We did not ask for this room or this music; we were invited in. 
Therefore, because the dark surrounds us,
Let us turn our faces toward the light. 
Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. 
We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. 
We have been given life to deny death. 
We did not ask for this room or this music. 
But because we are here, let us dance.” (From 11.22.63 TV Show