Epiphany – January 8, 2017

Matthew 2:1-12

I have always loved the Epiphany story, the story of the Magi – those Wise Men from the East – searching for the baby Jesus. I love it because, for me, it is a story of hope.

The wise men were following a star, a star that would lead the way to the king of the Jews. They made it to Jerusalem, but they needed some additional help, some assistance, so they asked for some direction. When the wise men came to Jerusalem the first question they asked was “Where is the child…?”.  The chief priests and scribes knew the answer…the religious people of the time knew the answer….”In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet.”   So, doesn’t that make you wonder why they weren’t making their way to Bethlehem?  It was only about 6 miles for them.

Matthew doesn’t provide us with an answer to that question, but we can venture a guess.  They needed more information. Good people often need more information before acting decisively: we want to do things right. We imagine that those religious scholars in Jerusalem read religious tomes night and day, searching for exactly the right answer. And yet, isn’t it the truth that finally God beckons us to start the journey to Bethlehem without all the answers? Isn’t there a point when we finally must act, even though it is done with considerable fear and trembling? At this point, all we can do is trust that God will be gracious and merciful even if we take a wrong turn or two on the journey. Isn’t our journey, wherever we think we are going, filled with hope? Hope in some sort of conclusion, event, happening, place?

Hope.  Jan Richardson has this to say about hope:  “I have found hope to be a curiously stubborn creature. It is persistent. It visits when I least expect it. It shows up when I haven’t been looking for it. Even when it seems like hope should be a stranger, there is something deeply familiar about it.  

If I open my eyes to it, I know its face, even when I do not know where it is leading me.  Though hope may sometimes seem like a luxury—frivolous, groundless, insubstantial—it is precisely the opposite. Hope is elemental.

It is made of some of the strongest stuff in the universe. It endures. Hope does not depend on our mood, our disposition, our desire. Hope does not wait until we are ready for it, until we have prepared ourselves for its arrival.

It does not hold itself apart from us until we have worked through the worst of our sorrow, our anger, our fear. This is precisely where hope seeks

us out, standing with us in the midst of what most weighs us down. Hope has work for us to do. It asks us to resist going numb when the world within us or beyond us is falling apart. In the height of despair, in the deepest darkness, hope calls us to open our hearts, our eyes, our hands, that we might engage the world when it breaks our hearts. Hope goes with us, step by step, offering to us the manna it holds”.

Hope. The wise men had hope that by following that star and finding the baby in Bethlehem, that life would be changed.  And their life was changed. Not in the way they thought it would be, but their world was changed. It was turned upside down. Those wise men set out on their journey in spite of their fear, in spite of the fact that they didn’t have all the answers, in spite of the fact that they didn’t know how far or long this journey would last. They were following a star. They found Christ and they went home by another road.

God invites us to take the journey to Bethlehem, over and over again, and to invite others to join us in the thrill of knowing this Jesus of Bethlehem. It is a simple journey and yet an often treacherous and bewildering one.

Jan writes:  “I have learned that hope is stubborn. That it is persistent.

That it does not depend on me for its genesis but that it does ask me to open my eyes, my heart, my hands to recognize it when it shows up and to respond to what it offers.  Hope knows its own way. It is a mystery, but it has a path, an invitation, a labyrinth for us to walk. As with a labyrinth, the way of hope does not allow us to see far ahead. But this way invites us to keep walking, to dream of how the path will unfold, and to trust that what we need will come to us.”

The only guarantee we have is that Christ awaits us at the manger, murmuring, “Take and eat, given for you.” And that is enough for now and, really, it is all we will ever need.

I offer you a blessing of hope for your journey, also written by Jan Richardson:

So may we know

the hope

that is not just

for someday

but for this day—

here, now,

in this moment

that opens to us:

hope not made

of wishes

but of substance,

hope made of sinew

and muscle

and bone,

hope that has breath

and a beating heart,

hope that will not

keep quiet

and be polite,

hope that knows

how to holler

when it is called for,

hope that knows

how to sing

when there seems

little cause,

hope that raises us

from the dead—

not someday

but this day,

every day,

again and

again and