Epiphany – January 3, 2021
Matthew 2:1-12

          Eckhart Tolle has said – “No matter how long your journey appears to be, there is never more than this: one step, one breath, one moment….Now.”     Now.

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany – which actually occurs on Wednesday the 6th – the twelfth day of Christmas – but we’re moving the feast to celebrate it in today’s worship. I love the Epiphany story. It’s one of my favorites – the wise men, or the Magi, making the journey to find the Christ child by following a star. It’s a story of much hope.

As you know, an epiphany is a revelation or awakening and it comes from a Greek word that is translated most literally as a “revealing,” a manifestation of the divine. We might use the word in our everyday language to talk about a moment of deep insight or awareness when all the pieces fall together. An “aha” moment.  In Christian use, Epiphany names the day, January 6th, when we celebrate that revelation that Jesus Christ is the light of the world – and not just part of the world, but the entire world.

Epiphany marks the beginning of a new year and this year I think it’s safe to say that we are all happy to see 2020 in the rear-view mirror. Although, if we paid attention, we learned some things during the challenges faced in 2020 and we may want to incorporate some different ways of living into our lives as we continue our journey into 2021. In fact, I hope for change based on some of our experiences during this pandemic.

Let’s look at the magi, those ancient travelers who went in search of the Christ. They were wise to the heavens, they possessed no map, no ready-made chart that laid out their course.  As Matthew tells it, all that the magi had to illuminate their terrain and guide their way was a star. This was where their map began: with a burning light, with a step taken, with the company of others gazing in the same direction. And notice that after the magi found Christ, paying him homage, offering their gifts, they went home by another road. They were changed by their encounter with Christ.

The very familiar hymn We Three Kings of Orient Are”puts us unmistakably as participants in this sacred story.  It does not begin “Those three kings,” it begins with  “We three kings.”  You and I find ourselves on the road to Bethlehem, dressed in royal attire, and our hands hold presents for the new monarch whose birth is foretold in the night sky. It is we who carry to the stable our gold and frankincense and myrrh. This gospel story does not tell simply what happened once, but it tells what happens, or can happen, in our lives here and now. Now.

Jan Richardson gives us some questions for life referring to our three gifts.  The gift of gold, the gift that recognized Jesus was as a king, invites us to consider the question: Who were you born to be? This is perhaps the most crucial and most complicated question of our lives. Some of the most interesting people I know are those who, well along in their journey, are actively discerning who God has called them to be. Who were you born to be?

The gift of frankincense, the gift that recognized Jesus as the one who is a meeting place of humanity and divinity, invites us to ponder the question: How do you encounter God? Where is God present in your everyday life?

The gift of myrrh, the gift that recognized that even for Jesus, earthly life is brief, a twinkling of an eye, invites us to reflect on the question, What is your relationship with time? How do you enter into your days in a way that helps you discern who you are and helps you seek God? Annie Dillard writes that “how we spend our days is, after all, how we spend our lives.” She also writes, “Live every day as if it were your last and then someday you’ll be right.”

So, a trinity of questions for this new year:

Who were you born to be?  How do you want to encounter God?  What is your relationship with time?

It’s not always easy to live with mystery, but a good question can carry you a long way. Jan presents good questions to ponder for our life’s journey. It invites me to rely on God to show me the path, rather than thinking I should always rely on myself to know everything and do everything.

The magi didn’t show up with maps; they brought gifts that helped Jesus know who he was. Like the wise men, who had to travel by another road when they left Jesus, we may find ourselves on some strange and unfamiliar and mapless paths when we seek to follow Christ. But in his company, we will, like those wise travelers, find our way home.

We stand at the threshold of a new calendar year.  Who knows what twists, turns and detours lie ahead and what effect they’re going to have on our lives?  Of course, we’re not the first to face the uncertainty of the future.  Like those who’ve gone before us, scripture beckons us to look to God to order and provide.  The Psalmist writes, The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalms 27:1) 

          We look to the light.  The light of Christ in our lives. And that light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.  I close with a blessing written by Jan Richardson:

A Blessing for Epiphany

If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
undertake it,
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping,
step by
single step.

There is nothing
for it
but to go,
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:

to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;

to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions,
beyond fatigue,
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.

There are vows
that only you
will know:
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again;
each promise becomes
part of the path,
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel

to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons