Epiphany is the day we recognize the Magi and their bringing of gifts to the baby Jesus. It was a day of music, children, and families at Calvary!
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Please pray with me:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.
“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”
There really isn’t a whole lot we know about these wise men. If you do a little research, you’ll find yourself not only not learning a whole lot more about what prompted them to undertake their arduous journey, but even less about who they were. Kings as some would have them? Astrologers as others have said? Were there really three of them or was that just a convenient number to match the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I’ll leave it to you to do your own digging, and if there’s something definitive you come up with then I’d be more than happy if you shared it with me. And if you were here on Christmas Eve, I hope you notice that we hedged our bets a bit and had three kings, the requisite number of giraffes, an astrologer or two and even more.
Just in case.
I’m less inclined to ponder what got them started on their journey, and more interested in what the journey was like, and if their expectations were met. And then moving from the Magi to our own journey here to this place.
My own faith journey begun after some initial fits and starts here at Calvary and the reason I followed the star that is Calvary was a sermon from Jim Emerson. I have a hard time remembering most of the message but was surprised by hearing someone who ended a sermon with a question rather than an answer. The question was on choices and too long for me to include here but I’d be glad to share with you after the service if you have an interest.
I frankly didn’t even know that it was possible for any churchgoing person to admit to not knowing what they really believed in and to hear that not only happened here but also happened frequently left me speechless. Reformed theology was and is to this day a revelation. This way of thinking fascinated me in a way that I still can’t put into words and as a sidebar helped me to understand how Presbyterian I was and still am.
The idea that I would actually someday find myself in Jim’s place is amazing enough for me to wonder if I am dreaming. And to ask you, please, if I am to not wake me up.
Back to the journey…
So how is it that you come to be here this morning? Was it the thought of seeing friends or family? Chef Erica’s brownies? The sermon? Can I get one AMEN for that please? Maybe it was the choir or the music or a host of other things but somewhere, somehow there was or is a metaphorical star that brings us all to this place. Maybe Christmas was so much more than we anticipated and are here on bended knee to give thanks. Maybe the holiday season was so fraught with disappointment that you are here seeking relief or even an understanding of what happened and why it happened the way that it did.
While we didn’t have to deal with Herod and his court, we have all had our moments where the certainty of the hour fades and our faith is stretched in ways that are hard to get our arms around. One person’s Herod is another person’s in-laws, work mates or neighbors. That’s the idea of a pilgrimage isn’t it? You know where you are supposed to end up but have little to no idea what you expect on the way. So that’s a question: now that you are here for whatever reason brings you, what is it that you will leave behind? Or perhaps it is something you will take away.
As was told in this morning’s scripture reading, the Magi presented the infant child with gold, frankincense and myrrh because there is some notable symbolism in those gifts. The gift of gold was symbolic of divinity and would seem to acknowledge his role as king. Frankincense is a tree resin and is a symbol of holiness or righteousness. Myrrh is another tree resin with a spice like quality that would sometimes be used in embalming. Was this to acknowledge the fact that he would suffer greatly in his time on earth? Is there any doubt as to why we would consider Jesus to be the tree of life?
As powerful and purposeful gifts that these were, there was also the gift of the warning that they had much to fear from Herod and it would be a good idea for them to get out of Dodge, so to speak….
Back to us.
So how about you? Did you come here today to see the child who would redeem our lives? Come to pay homage to the king who would be like no other before or after?
Alison’s children’s message today is apropos in that there is a little of La Befana in all of us. We are constantly sweeping, cleaning, emailing and texting and in our busyness, often missing some of the truly amazing things that are happening around us. That doesn’t mean that we are bad or sinful people, just a trifle unaware in our comings and goings. Of course Befana, like Dicken’s Scrooge realizes at the penultimate moment that there is more to the story and the story isn’t able to happen without her own involvement. Depending of which La Befana story you’ve read, she sometimes bakes cookies or as our friends from Amazon note:
“When La Befana is out sweeping the village on Christmas Eve and notices the sky is brighter than usual, she looks up and sees a star more brilliant than any she has ever seen. The star inspires so much love in her heart that she is inspired to bake cookies in the shape of stars and share them with children throughout the land. But La Befana makes a surprising discovery. Because she put so much love into the cookies, each person who takes a bite feels that love and for a moment begins to glow from within!”
Now those are some amazing cookies!
That’s her story, how about yours? Is church a refuge or sanctuary or place of responsibility? A place that enables you to connect with something yearned for that always seems just a tad out of our reach? Or are you here with a grateful heart knowing that this day or our life is better just by being in the company of all of these people. Did you shake hands with someone during the passing of the peace or was there someone special that merited a hug? Did you greet someone you don’t know? It might not be as good as La Befana’s star cookies but it’s amazing what a difference a handshake, hug, or smile will do to put a happier glow on almost anyone.
As I start to bring this to a close…
Let me share a story with you: pre-Calvary I was in financial services. I really liked my job, my boss and co-workers and my customers, and had it in my mind that I would probably be there until I was able to retire. The job was perfect except for one thing – December. For those of you in financial services or retail services, you know what I mean. It is month-end, quarter-end, year-end and there were a host of other things that needed to be done to satisfy management and auditors and who know’s who else. As much as I wanted to love December, be reflective and thoughtful in Advent and jump for joy when Christmas at last was here, I was bogged down by the detritus of the real world.
I would make it here bedraggled and a little down and with more work to do. But then a funny thing would happen and I would see a certain friend of mine. He was an older man, very serious (yes, another banker) who had this habit of wearing these really bright red pants. I would see him and my heart would open and Christmas would come in!
Parker Palmer in his book “Healing the Heart of Democracy” writes that hearts can be broken in two ways – broken apart and never put back together or broken open to let the healing light that is our God in. On Christmas Eve, my heart was always broken open and when I left here I was in love. In love with my friends, my faith and yes, my God. I would enter Christmas morning the same way the Magi encountered the child, overwhelmed with joy.
Your journey has brought you here but it is up to you to figure out what exactly is here for you. Is it a place of respite? A calm from the storm that is your day to day existence? A place of love that accepts you just as you are for God did not create you to not love you. A place that appreciates the gifts that you bring and the desire to bring even more?
Today when you leave this building, look up and find it. If you look hard enough you will see it shining bright and it is impossible to ignore. Find the star and follow it and let God reveal God’s self to you.
I now invite you into a moment of silent meditation and reflection.