In 1988 we had Expo in Brisbane. At the moment the site is in process of being dismantled. There was no doubt that it was on! For some families living in the vicinity there came a noisy reminder of fireworks at 10 p.m. each night!
Yet people responded to it differently. For some it was the experience of a lifetime - an opportunity to glimpse the wider world, to meet people and to learn, a positive force for reconciliation in a divided world. Others regarded it as an obscenity - a distortion which glossed over world problems, which ignored the needs of people displaced from their homes by the site itself, which helped celebrate a bicentenary which bypassed the aspirations, needs and culture of the aboriginal people. Some watched with longing eyes, enjoying their glimpses but unable to afford the entry charge. Others set up their protest flags to greet those passing through the gates.
Expo was on all right - people were responding to it differently! In fact, probably no one was totally indifferent to it!
Nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. There is no question, really, that he was born. Time was when the record still existed, among the files that came in from the census that had drawn Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. With records gone and centuries passed it would not be so easy for us to establish the details. Yet for us today, just as for the people of that time, the questions remain - who is he? and how will I respond to him?
Today's Bible reading focusses on two very different responses to the birth of Jesus and yet also on an amazing agreement on the answer to the first question - who is he?
Again, the identity of the "star" is unclear. Astronomers have made suggestions including Halley's Comet, a supernova or a conjunction of three of the planets - such events are known to have occurred around that time. But whatever they saw had not been observed by Herod or the residents of Jerusalem. Apparently the conjunction of planets occurred in that part of the sky which astrologers designated "the house of the Hebrews".
Because of the colonies of Jews scattered throughout the empire, they were well aware of the Jewish expectation of a Messiah, and of the reference in Num.24.17 that "a star will arise out of Jacob." So they set off. The Messiah, King of the Jews, has been born - they were quite sure of it - we must find him, lay our treasures before him and worship him.
It seemed natural to them to head straight to Jerusalem and enquire at the palace of King Herod. But Herod was troubled. To understand why, we need to note that Herod the Great was appointed King of Judea by the Roman authorities. He sought to strengthen his throne by a series of atrocities, including the murder of his wife Mariamne and his sons Alexander and Aristobulus. No wonder all Jerusalem was troubled too! He couldn't afford to have a Messiah (even a baby one!) on the scene!
So he gathered the chief priests and scribes together to check out from the scriptures the anticipated birthplace of the Messiah. "Bethlehem," he was told, on the authority of Micah 5.2. Calling the wise men, he sent them off in the direction of insignificant Bethlehem. The Messiah has been born, he was agreeing, you must find him and let me know "so that I too may come and worship him."
Matthew gives us two contrasting responses to the birth of the Messiah.
With sincerity and integrity, the wise men, having reached their goal, brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and worshipped him. Baby still, they were acknowledging him as their Lord. Truly wise, they were submitting their lives to him.
On the other hand, Herod, knowing worship to be the appropriate response, was filled with murderous intentions. Not this child, not even God himself would stand in the way of his rule. So the Messiah has been born? Then I must get rid of him! And Matthew records the murderous action of Herod in having all the baby boys of Bethlehem and district slaughtered - too late, for Joseph, warned in a dream, had taken Mary and Jesus to the safety of Egypt.
Some still respond with hostility. They may like Christmas, but they are offended at any suggestion that the coming of Jesus has any bearing on how they should live their lives.
Others will "go along" with anything - accepting Christmas, but not living with reference to the Christ who came and who still comes to us.
The appropriate response is to welcome him - and to know his welcome! to love him - and to experience his love! to trust him as our Saviour - and to know we are his children! to live for him - and know that he lives within us!