All Jerusalem was troubled

Kelley’s Chapel United Methodist Church — January 7, 2024

John I. Carney
11 min readJan 7, 2024


(Based on a sermon preached January 3, 2015, at First UMC Shelbyville)

A painting depicting three magi presenting their gifts. Mary holds the baby Jesus, while Joseph stands in the background. One magus is kneeling (and has already handed his gift to Joseph, who holds it). Another reaches out with his gift.
Epiphany, by Fernando Gallego, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some people think of Christmas as a one-day holiday, December 25. But Christmas under the liturgical calendar is a season, lasting 12 days — that’s where the song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” about that partridge in a pear tree, comes from. Well, the bad news is that Christmas ended on Friday. This weekend, we begin a new season, the season of Epiphany. But that season starts with a Bible story that most of us associate with Christmas:

Matthew 2:1–12 (CEB)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

“‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

We think of this passage from Matthew as a story about three visitors from the East. The word for them in Latin was “magi,”…



John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at