By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
January 4, 2009 (Epiphany)
Read: Matthew 2:1-12
Some say that the story of epiphany is “the story of dreamers and visionaries”. It is the celebration of the Magi who saw visions, who followed a star….the child in the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors sings, “Oh, Mother, you should go out and see! There’s never been such a sky! …Hanging over our roof there is a star as large as a window, and the star has a tail, and it moves across the sky like a chariot on fire.” Wearily his mother replies, “Oh, Amahl, when will you stop telling lies? All day long you wander about in a dream. Here we are with nothing to eat, not a stick of wood for the fire, not a drop of oil in the jug and all you do is worry your mother with fairy tales.”
Epiphany is a festival of dreamers—of wise men who dreamt that God could lead them by the brightness of a star, of Christians throughout the ages who trusted in God’s dream for creation, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. whose “I Have a Dream” speech continues to echo in our hearts and minds.
We, also, are called to ask what dream God beckons us to follow. Where is our bright star? Where do we look for God? Where do we find our road to follow? Where is our Epiphany? Where is it?
Where? Is a question of the ages. In Matthew, the magi come looking for the “child born king of the Jews” and the first word they speak is, “Where?” It is the first word of human characters in the book of Matthew. It is also King Herod’s first question. Where? Where is God showing up in that world and in this one?
And as Matthew tells it, it’s easy to look in the wrong places, to miss. If Isaiah 60 were all we had to go by, we’d never budge from Jerusalem. We’d be waiting for some grand and glorious royal event, God revealed in a powerful place through powerful people.
It’s easy to miss because God tiptoes in at the most unlikely times and surprising places with the most unpredictable people.
Those magi, for example, had a star to follow but they almost missed it, by about nine miles – the distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They didn’t expect to find a king in a small town, in a manger. They asked for directions in a more logical place – in Jerusalem, at the king’s palace.
Herod, and the political and religious establishment, almost missed it. They didn’t take kindly to magi from the east pointing the way to God. They thought Herod’s throne was in the center of the universe.
And if we were looking for the Messiah, the magi themselves would be the least likely ones to show us. Who could be more foreign, unbiblical, some might even say anti-biblical, than a bunch of astrologers who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Who did not know the stories and genealogy and promises of God? Who had neither Torah nor tradition to go by, only an erratic star?
Who expected God to work so ambiguously and unobtrusively and behind the scenes in that time and that place through those people? We prefer to be in control and to keep our world just as it is, with us on top and everything the way we expect it to be, so it is still possible to miss God by nine miles or more. We still ask, where?
Christianity is a faith of many paradoxes. One of them is that the only way we can live freely is to turn control over to God—to let God be God. As the magi journeyed to worship the Christ child, we, also, begin every journey of faith in worship, finding the freedom to enter life so that we might fully participate in God’s dream to heal and restore the world.
Yes, the journey of the wise men is surprising. But even more surprising is the journey of God. God comes the distance—from heaven to earth—to bring salvation and new life.
As William Kolb so eloquently puts it:
God chose to come into the world as a baby child, not as a prophet’s message, not as a spirit, not even as words, but as a human being. In doing so, God has said that the life of flesh is good. He has said in this birth that God adores us and blesses us and looks at us and says, “It is good.” God loves us so much that in order to communicate with us, God has spoken in our language, the language we can understand, the language of being human. He sanctified our lives by having His Son live a human life, in which Jesus walked and talked, prayed and cried, loved and suffered, partied and pondered; there is no joy and no pain that we can experience that Jesus does not understand, and so God understands, walks with us, knows our sorrows and feels our pain.
God knows our pain. We know that from Jesus’ experience on the Cross. We know it also by the fact that God spoke in one common universal language, the language of flesh/humanity, the language of the babe in the manger; and in so doing God was saying that we his children are created to be one, to share in the language of humanity. God’s pain here comes in the fact that we are not one, that we make unnatural divisions, setting one group against another, filling our eyes and hearts with the evil of prejudice, of alienation one from another. God’s pain comes from our racism, our sexism, our ageism, whatever divides us.
And we have beheld his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. We behold the glory of God’s son anytime we see beyond our own needs, whenever we are moved by the emotions of someone else, whenever we catch a glimpse of the divine. It may come in a moment of art, or of love, or of anguish for another. If just once in our lives, one time, we catch a glimmer of God’s presence in another person or in our self, or in a situation, if just once in our lives this happens, we have beheld his glory.
Grace is God’s unmerited, unearned, unearnable love, generosity, relief from distress. Glory is the brightness of God’s presence, God’s bright, dazzling light. In Jesus we do see God and we see God’s grace and glory. It fills us and makes our life different. We can never be the same once we behold God’s grace and glory. We are changed.
We can go home by another road. So, where is the One who came to redeem the world, to save us from our sins? Where can we find that bright light today?
You could look where miracles happen. According to Mary Rose O’Reilley, it is “on the edges of time zones, on the border of the woods, in the void between perch and free fall.” They happen in small towns and small churches and even outside them. They happen when people who are apart, come together: clueless but obedient and hopeful magi, and even a scheming and violent king under a star. The beautiful, fancy word for this space is liminal, the Latin word for `threshold.’ (The Love of Impermanent Things, 154). The wise ones stepped across the threshold of a stable and came into the presence of God.
Could God do it, does God do it, with the likes of us?
Heather shares this story about her church:
Last month a big group of youth, led by Kyle, came on a Saturday morning to the Prairie Seniors meeting. They went around to the tables where the elders were sitting, in small groups, three times answering and asking questions. Near the end, the table topic was, “What is it you want to know about the other generation?” And I heard an elder ask a youth, “Why do boys wear those pants way down around their knees?” And I heard a youth ask an elder, “What is it like to lose so much of what you love and care about when you get older?”
There was nobody famous or powerful in that room in this church. But there was listening and laughter and respect, and people together who usually are apart…and it seemed like stepping across the threshold into the presence of God.
It’s so close and so unobtrusive and simple…you could almost miss it.
W.H. Auden’s poem, For the Time Being, ends with:
He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
After all, light shows up best in a dark place
the star in the sky can’t be seen when the sun shines and the day is bright
but in the night, it can point the way to something new.
The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Thank God. Amen.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.