As usual our most recent Sunday 10 AM service was filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community — as well as guests.
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.
CHRISTMAS IS NOT JUST ONE DAY. It is an entire season.
You’ve probably heard and sung the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?
Well, the first day of Christmas is December 25th, and the season of Christmas lasts until January 6th which is Epiphany. Today is the 11th day of Christmas, and while there are no pipers piping per se, there is still great music and much festivity to be had this morning, so we’re glad you’ve joined us for worship.
The scripture reading this morning, is the Epiphany text. In Christian tradition, Epiphany marks the day when the magi or the wise men or the three kings, whatever you want to call them come to visit the baby Jesus. In koine Greek, the word ἐπιφάνεια (epiphaneia) means “manifestation” or “appearance,” and on this day, we celebrate how the Christ child presented himself to all the world.
See, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and he was a Palestinian Jew born in a time of Roman-occupation. The gospel of Matthew traces his genealogy all the way back to King David and even Abraham. But these magi came from far-away lands, probably Persia, and they came from a different culture and probably spoke a different language than Jesus and his immediate, human family.
So, for people who weren’t Jewish, who probably didn’t’ look like Jesus, who didn’t speak the language that Jesus did or shared the same culture or ethnicity as Jesus, for people like me and probably you, the presence of the magi represented an epiphany, a manifestation of God to us, the rest of the world, and it signified that all would be welcomed and included in Christ, even those who lived in far-away lands, like Persia or China, Europe and the Americas.
That is the great Epiphany that the Christian tradition celebrates in January.
For most people, however, when we think of the word “epiphany,” the inclusive message of the gospel is not usually what immediately comes to mind. An epiphany, for most of the world is an “aha” or “eureka!” moment when metaphorical light bulbs go off above your head.
That word, “eureka” in Greek, means, “I have found it!”, and legend has it that as the scientist Archimedes was getting into the bathtub, he saw the water level rise as he climbed in, and all of a sudden he just understood the concept of volume and density. It hit him, right then and there. So, he shouted, “Eureka!” (“I have found it!”) and was so eager to share his discovery that he supposedly leapt out of his tub, forgot to get dressed, and ran through the streets of his town naked. Legend has it.
That word “Eureka” is actually also on the California seal. It’s there because gold was discovered here, a different kind of “eureka!” or “I have found it!” moment.
Although the magi didn’t speak Greek, or discover a scientific principle or find gold (they brought gold, but they didn’t discover it) they were certainly in search of something. And so determined were they to find it, that they even stopped and asked for directions! Perhaps when they finally made it to the holy family and found the baby Jesus, they, too, were thinking “Eureka! We have found him.”
In this New Year, perhaps you are in search of something: a new beginning, a new purpose, a new practice that helps your physical, mental, or spiritual health. Or perhaps you are looking for an epiphany, a sudden realization that helps you make sense of this journey called life.
True epiphanies have a way of changing your life, perhaps even changing the world. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Epiphanies are like that, they stretch your mind, your understanding, your social and cultural norms, and you are left changed in some way.
Perhaps in this New Year, you are trying to find your way to an epiphany.
The problem is, you don’t usually find an epiphany; an epiphany usually comes and finds you. Unlike the magi who went searching for an epiphany and actually found him, our epiphanies often happen when we’re not expecting them.
Like Archimedes. I bet he spent hours at his desk searching for the formula for volume and density. I bet he racked his mind, looking high and low. Maybe he was at the point of giving up when he decided, “I need a bath.” And right then, as he’s doing something he’s probably done a hundred times before, an epiphany found him.
I wish I could provide for you what you’re searching for today, that answer to your question; that revelation you seek; that epiphany you so long for. But I can’t.
I can only hope that something, somehow will touch you and perhaps even change you during this holy hour when we gather together for worship. I can only hope that God will break through, maybe through a song or a prayer, a donkey, or the sacraments, and help you find that star that will guide you to what you need. I don’t have all the answers, or the revelation, or an epiphany hidden somewhere in the huge folds of this robe.
But here are some things I believe we can do, to help us find our way to epiphany.
The first is to look and listen for God, to study how God works and has worked in the past. As our UCC sisters and brothers say, “God is still speaking….”
But knowing how God spoke in scripture and through history may help us hear God today. This year, at Calbary we’ll be starting Lenten Bible Studies again, and we’ll we gather in small groups to study the person and nature of this baby whose birth we celebrate this season. Consider joining one of those, or attending any study or small group that may deepen your knowledge and understanding of God. Studying God’s word is one way we seek God, and one way an epiphany just might find you.
Another way, is to be a part of a community that welcomes you as you are, yet loves you enough to challenge and maybe even change you. Perhaps Calvary will be that community for you this year, I hope it is. Perhaps your Lenten Bible Study will be that group for you this year. Where ever it may be, whoever it may consist of, find community.
Our lives of faith are personal, but they are not meant to be private. I can’t tell you how many revelations I’ve had through conversations with amazing, yet ordinary, people who’ve allowed God to use them to speak to me. Being in community, sharing our very lives with each other, is one way an epiphany just might find you this year.
And here’s one last way: Do something different.
Allow yourself to experience some cognitive dissonance, some discomfort, some change. Allow yourself to hear the voices of those with whom you disagree, the voices of those not in your immediate friend circle, or of a different theological or political leaning, and have a conversation.
A few years ago, I took a conflict resolution class in Jerusalem, a place that knows an awful lot about conflict. And one of the mediators who works with Jews, Muslims, and Christians, with Israelis and Palestinians, said that cognitive dissonance, the ability of our minds to say, “wait, what? That doesn’t fit with my understanding of the world,” cognitive dissonance is one key way that people change and that peace might be found in that region.
When Palestinian Arabs see a Jewish Israeli helping one of their people or vice versa, cognitive dissonance occurs and starts chipping away at our closely held assumptions and understandings in a good way. In a way that allows our minds to stretch and to experience something new, to never return to its old dimensions.
So try doing something uncomfortable, something different, something that’s out of the ordinary and out of the box for you.
Scripture tells us that the magi went home by another road; they went back a different way. Go home a different way this morning. Take a different bus route, walk down another street, drive a different way than how you came. Maybe you’ll see this city in a new light. Maybe an epiphany will come find you.
Do something different or try doing something you already do differently. And maybe an epiphany will come find you.
This morning, as we do on the first Sunday of every month, we will be taking communion. Communion is one way we remember what Christ has done and how God works in the world. Communion is one way we live together in community with one another. Maybe this morning, take part in communion in a different way- go to a server you wouldn’t ordinarily go to, wait to take the elements until you’re back in your pew, maybe even return to your pew a different way.
And maybe, just maybe, an epiphany will come find us.
In these next moments of silence, I invite you to listen for God’s still, small voice. And to consider what you might do differently today, this week, and in 2015.