Epiphany of Our Lord
In these past few days since we celebrated the birth of our Savior and entered a new year and a new decade, our city and nation have become on heightened alert and tensions are rising. News headlines have been flooded with anti-Semitic attacks, the potential threat of another war or retaliations from Iran seem likely, and there has been a growing awareness around the inevitability of a split in our United Methodist denomination.
Some have asked what the split might mean for us here at Park Avenue. Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure as details are still being sorted out. My guess is that there won’t be much change for us at all. We are still going to be a church whose doors are open to all people. We are going to endeavor to be a light in this community; a place of safety and love to the extent possible. We will keep preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and good news of full inclusion where all are welcome. We are going to renovate and build those bathrooms, and we are going to pay for them.
We are going to pave the way for future generations. I don’t see any reason to slow down now. If anything, it occurs to me that this is the time—the right time—to strengthen our resolve.
We are people of faith, and we understand (or at least we should understand) that for love’s sake there are times when certain things must die in order for resurrection to happen. There are certain standards and principles by which we ought to live that do not make co-existing possible, and the full inclusion of all people ought to be one of them, in my opinion.
And right here, right now at the start of a new year seems to be a good time to have 2020 vision around such things and to be asking ourselves what our true convictions are. I am convinced that the world is going to need the Church regardless of what it is called. This city, this community, is going to need a place where people can come to feel loved and welcomed.
Today, we celebrate Epiphany Sunday, usually acknowledged twelve days after Christmas. It marks the transition from the Christmas season to the start of something new and is always associated with the story of the magi and the baptism of the Lord.
Epiphany reminds us that God has placed his son on public display as the light of the world, open to all people.
The way Matthew tells it, the world in which Jesus was born was full of conflict: conflict between Herod, the political king, and Jesus, the divine King. Herod was a tyrant whose reputation was one of ruthless power, willing to murder members of his own family.
When he hears that strangers are inquiring about a new king, his insecurities, paranoias, and fears get the better of him, and he responds with rage and violence. He calls forth his religious experts to find out about these strange men; who they were and what business they had in his town. Then he summoned the astrologers to give them specific orders to tell him exactly where the child was.
By the end of the lesson, Herod is so obsessed and so possessed, so threatened by the potential of a child (although we know that he was not just any little child) that he [Herod] commanded the slaughter of innocent children in order to strengthen his own power and resolve. All boy babies age two and younger were to be killed, and because he was the king, well, that’s just the way it was. Can you imagine? I was thinking about this and my 5 week old grandson; how by virtue of just being born, before he could ever uttered a word or do any deed –good or bad – he would have been at risk. This is the dark and desolate world into which Jesus was born.
And so these wise men, these “foreign” astrologers whose business it was to gaze at stars, came to worship and pay homage. Contrary to Christmas cards and pageant stories, most Biblical scholars suggest that they did not find an infant baby lying in a manger but rather their journey most likely took months, perhaps even a couple of years. By the time they found Jesus, he could have been a child of at least one and a half or two years old, a toddler walking around.
I don’t think much about those travelers outside of this time of year, but they are interesting to say the least. How it was that they came to leave their familiar lives to travel hundreds of miles in search of this child. How we too travel miles every Sunday in search of something. I am amazed by that; how few of you live in the neighborhood and yet you find yourselves passing many churches to make your way here, and I’m so glad.
Some say Balthazar from Arabia, Melchior from Persia and Caspar from India – what an interesting group from varying countries, experiences, backgrounds, and traditions, much like we are. But alas, like us, they found themselves on this very same quest – seekers of the light, truth, and a better way forward.
It is not clear how many of them there actually we. We assume three because there were three gifts mentioned, but it is most likely that there could have been a whole caravan.
They were willing to go a great distance to find it, not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally, I’m sure. They did not know what the future held or what obstacles they might endure along the way but they set out anyhow. And one day, they showed up together in Jerusalem asking for a king and where he was born.
They had followed the light and had made a conscious decision about it. They wanted the light; to see it and to be it.
And so they abandoned everything in search of something more magnificent. Sometimes we have to travel physically, but other times our bodies remain where we are as we still have to move about. Not knowing; unable to imagine what the future holds.
They brought the gift of themselves – heart, mind, soul, spirit, openness. They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh fitting for a king to worship and embalming oils.
After they had worshipped him, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own countries by another road. Did you get that? They left by another road.
There are times when we simply cannot go back the way we came. As we head into this new year, this new era, may we be committed to not going back to the same old, same old.
Once we have discovered new truths, greater understanding—once we have seen with clear vision and gained insights about ourselves and others, stepped into a new world—we simply cannot go back to the same old thing.
Have you seen the light? Do you want it? That’s a legitimate question. Do you want to be a light bearer or dwell in darkness? Are your eyes blurry from the past, old wounds, unresolved issues, refusal to change, entitlement, needing to have your way all the time (which is not likely going to happen)?
More than ever, our times are calling for intentionality and purpose, a made up mind, and strong determination.
Like the start of a new year, Epiphany offers us an opportunity to ask the hard questions of life, to look again and think fresh about how we will move forward. What do we want or need to let go up and take on in a different way?
Arise, shine, for light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us. Do you believe it? God’s glory is before us to lead the way if we are ready to receive it.