Please join me in prayer:
Gracious and loving God, empty us of distractions from everything but you right now. Take any tightness and loosen it; take any racing thoughts and slow them. Help us to feel our friends' presence with us even on line. Make our spirits large enough to envelop those who cannot be with us through technology. Be in our inhaling and our exhaling. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Of all of the scripture that is referenced during the Advent season and the holiday of Christmas, this scripture that is found only in the gospel of Matthew is the scripture that western Christianity looks to when we celebrate the festival of the Epiphany: “In the Western church the festival primarily the visit by the Magi to the infant Jesus, which is seen as evidence that Christ, the Jewish , came also for the salvation of Gentiles. In the East it primarily commemorates the baptism of Jesus and celebrates the revelation that the Christ was both fully God and fully human.”1
This was a happy discovery late last night while writing this sermon, because it is a convenient way for me to squeeze themes from two Sundays on the Revised Common Lectionary calendar into one. In our liturgical calendar Epiphany falls on January 6th but is celebrated on the Sunday before, and the Baptism of Christ is celebrated on the following Sunday. I find it appropriate to fit both the eastern thinking and the western thinking into one celebration especially nice today, since we are all reeling, from witnessing and being triggered by shameful events that have made our internal divisions painfully clear.
The events of this past Wednesday in particular and our national spirit in general, are jarring reminders us that we need to re-evaluate our motivations, our actions and our choices.
So it's right that we focus on these travelers today. “Magi” is usually translated as “wise men” or “kings.” They were men from the priestly caste from eastern Persia. The Persian Empire at that time was quite vast. These were men who studied sacred literature, astrology, astronomy, and alchemy. There were probably many more than three, and may or may not have been actual kings. What is important to our story is that they were outsiders to any in Jerusalem. They knew how to read stars, they had sacred writings of their own that predicted a star that might lead to a savior, and they could read the stars to help them in their quest.
The celebration of the epiphany that we honor today is a celebration of inclusion, of welcoming, of God's gift being even greater than anyone could imagine. From Isaiah we read, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you;” and “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”
Their praise of the Lord, the Adoration of the Magi, has been a subject for artists for centuries. A quick google search turns up over 1 million images. This scripture reminds us that these scholars from another land knew that they were in the presence of the savior of the world so they knelt. They worshipped.
It is not a stretch to understand that even today there are those who have been told that the love of God is not for them. Who do you know that stays away from the church because they have been told that they are outsiders? Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, people who don't pray the right way, people who don't give generously, people who are of different political persuasions, all kinds of people have been turned away by the church, or put off by the church.
We don't attend church because we are all the same. We attend because we want a place to worship God, to feel welcome just as we are, to be included, to find inspiration, to be spiritually challenged, to know that our gifts are welcome. Our differences are an invitation. Without differences I suppose it's comfortable for a while, but the tendency is to remain superficial, stay in the shallow end. Without differences there is nothing to be curious about, nothing to stimulate new thinking, nothing to catch us off guard, nothing to help us go deeper, nothing to spark that sudden – well, epiphany!
The magi were outsiders. They journeyed a great distance. They discovered that the savior they found welcomed them and they knelt and worshipped, and they offered gifts. And they were changed. They went home a different way. A new way.
What kind of star would you need to see to make you go to a place where you were an outsider, make you travel farther than you imagined you could, and yet would lead you to a new life?
We follow stars all the time. We follow stars of comfort, stability, sustenance, love, happiness. What star do you follow? A star of integrity? Truth? Acceptance? Justice? Compassion? When you followed the star that led you to your faith, to Jesus, to God, to a better way of life, did your life change? Were you challenged by a deeper standard? Were your eyes open to the beauty of differences? Did you find yourself saying, “I just never knew!” about something? For some people, this happens once in a life time, if at all. For others it happens every day.
“When darkness covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples, the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will appear over you.” says Isaiah. Choose your star, and be guided by the Light sent to us all, that will overcome any darkness our journey has in store for us.
Let us pray:
Lord God, who gave the magi a star, give us the confidence to move closer to you. Give us discernment to choose our star, to go where we once felt outside and discover the light you have for us. Fill our hearts with compassion and our minds with imagination that we may find your star in our eyes.
What Would It Take?
Reverend Debra McGuire
January 10, 2021