A Sermon on the Second Sunday after Christmas and for Epiphany
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, January 2, 2022
Audio of this sermon is here: https://anchor.fm/cfth/episodes/What-Good-is-an-Epiphany-e1cdvtl
Do you have the wisemen (Magi) in your manger scene at home? I have heard people arguing vigorously over whether or not they belong there since they don’t come along until later. Has this ever come up in your household? Wherever and whenever you put them with Jesus, the magi definitely are part of the story, as our gospel text today informs us. They deserve our attention for we have much to learn from how they sought and discovered Jesus and for the joy they experienced in doing so.
The Magi had been looking for something amazing to happen in the cosmos during the time that Jesus was born. Their scientific, religious, and philosophical knowledge had informed them to be on the lookout for activity connected with the star of Bethlehem. They understood that under that star a child was to be born, one who would be ruler of Israel. Seeing the star gave them every reason to believe that this was it; this was the fulfillment of the prophecy they had learned about.
They couldn’t just close their books and move on to their next topic of study. They had to go see for themselves, to put their eyes on this child. And so they packed up their things and followed the star, a trek that would take them hundreds of miles. Along the way, as we’ve just heard, they stopped in Jerusalem to ask where the child was. Doing so caught the attention of King Herod, concerned to hear about another king of Israel coming on the scene. It also created a danger for them as Herod would seek to use them to get the location of the child.
After learning that the child–the promised Messiah–was, according to the prophet Micah, was to be born in Bethlehem, they left to go there, continuing to follow the star. I love how John Chrysostom described that star,
. . . we learn that this was not an ordinary star, for no other star has this capacity to guide, not merely to move but to beckon, to go before them, drawing and guiding them along their way. The star remained after bringing them to the place, in order that the child might also be seen. For there is nothing conspicuous about the place. The inn was ordinary. The mother was not celebrated or notable. The star was needed to manifest and illumine the lowly place, until they had reached their destination at the manger. (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 7:3)
When they arrived, they were overwhelmed with joy at what they discovered, the child they had been hearing about and seeking was revealed to them, there before their eyes. They fell on their knees before the boy, this new ruler of Israel, offering him treasures fitting for a king.
What an amazing discovery they made that day, one in the works for centuries. And that day, as the stars aligned in the fullness of time, they made the find of a lifetime, something that would change not just Israel at that time but the world forevermore. The overwhelming joy they experienced can be ours as well, even now over two millennia later. This discovery and joy can happen for us, right here as we enter a new year, in several ways.
First, with our minds. The magi used the minds God gave them to study, reflect, and explore. They could have done other things but they fed their hunger to understand their world, and what it had to do with religion–theirs as well as others like Israel. Like them, we are to use our reason to explore and learn about our world and what it has to do with God. We are to use all our many resources to think deeply and critically about it but also about God–what God has done, is doing, and is yet to do in our world. What a great resolution for the new year that is for us.
Second, we discover when we are in motion. Accumulating knowledge, though, isn’t an end in itself. If that’s all there is, then we are just puffed up and pretentious, reservoirs with no useful outlet. God never gives epiphanies for own use;. What’s the good of an epiphany if it doesn’t redirect a life and change the world? Once the magi learned what was happening with that star, they hit the road with all their accumulated knowledge to follow the guidance it provided all the way to Jesus. And we are to do the same with what we learn about what God is doing in the world with and through Jesus. We are to follow the light of God that guides us to go where Jesus is, to be with him there, and to be changed by our encounter with him. We are to use what God has revealed to us as we live each day, directing our steps and shaping what we say and do.
Third, we discover the joy of Jesus by offering our best to him. All of this is to be done with the very best we can give to God. Like the magi, we are to come to Jesus bearing gifts and paying homage with the best we have to offer. What does that look like for us? What do we have to give to Jesus as we begin and continue in this new year? How about we start with ourselves, the offering of the totality of who we are given to Jesus? It happens when we give him the very best of our day, the fullness of our attention, the availability of our resources, and the full measure of our adoration.
Bernard of Clairvaux had something to say about those magi that hopefully can be said of us.
What are you doing, O Magi? Do you adore a little Babe, in a wretched hovel, wrapped in miserable rags? Can this Child be truly God? … Are you become foolish, O Wise Men … Yes, these Wise Men have become fools that they may be wise.
May we do the same, with our minds, actions, and adoration as we begin this brand new year.