It is good to be with you this morning as we celebrate the first Sunday in the new year.
This morning, along with many other Christians around the world, we also celebrate the first Sunday in a new season in the church calendar year, the season of Epiphany.
Some years the season of Epiphany varies in length.
This year, the season of Epiphany will continue from now until the last Sunday in February. From there we move into Transfiguration Sunday and then Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.
Together during the season of Epiphany, we will have numerous opportunities to reflect and pray on how God’s love is made real or made manifest through Jesus in our stories from scripture.
In turn, we will consider, reflect, and pray on how the light of God’s love shines through our own and each other’s lives and also how, we as a church are living out our call as beacons of God’s healing light for others in our community and the wider world.
I love the biblical stories and hymns on offer for Epiphany Sunday.
Together they weave a fine tapestry of themes that emphasize longing that leads to seeking and to finding, and then to worshipping and witnessing to the light of God’s glory made real in Jesus.
Each year, the season of Epiphany begins with the story of those strange ones, sometimes called magi or magicians, foreigners, ones willing to risk travelling from a far distance to see this manifestation for themselves.
Setting out in the bleak darkness of winter, we are told these strangers follow a bright star in the night’s sky.
Some scholars think these wise ones hailed from Persia, others from Arabia.
Wherever they came from, their journey was long and arduous, risky, and dangerous. We might even call their journey pilgrim-like in nature.
Eventually, over a period of a couple of years, our text from Matthew’s gospel tells us a bright star brings these strangers to the home of the holy family at Bethlehem.
Of course, the story also tells us that the foreigners’ route has been circumvented to some extent by a brief time in Jerusalem.
It’s not clear why their journey was circumvented.
It just was.
Whilst at Jerusalem, these foreigners’ enquire as to the whereabouts of this new child king.
This not only sets some tongues a wagging, it also set some of the local folk’s teeth on edge.
As well, it has got some of the political and religious leaders’ minds, like Herod’s to scheming how to find and eliminate this real and present danger, this so-called child king.
And so it is, that the travellers unwittingly promise Herod that they will return to Jerusalem with the child’s location after they find him.
But first, the story advises us, these ‘wise’ ones from afar, are so overjoyed at what they experience at Bethlehem, they do the unexpected.
They intentionally break their promise to Herod to share the new king’s location.
Instead they return home by another road.
Though their decision doesn’t deter Herod from his subsequent massacre of the innocents, it does make space for the holy family to flee to Egypt, but that’s an entire story unto itself!
For this morning, it’s sufficient for us to stay with the good news that what the foreigners experience at Bethlehem so infuses them with the light of God’s love it, they can hardly contain themselves.
Not only do they marvel at what they had seen of God’s glory in, of all places, the hinterlands of 1st century Palestine, they intentionally make haste to depart without informing Herod of the child king’s whereabouts.
There is much to consider in this story of foreigners being illuminated by the light of God’s glorious love emanating from a very young child and whose lives are completely changed as a result.
Set in a dark and foreboding context, one full of despair, chaos, and uncertainty, we are reminded of our own longings for new leadership in our communities and in our world. We, too , find ourselves struggling to function in a context fraught with a similar sense of malaise-of political strife, corruption, and economic uncertainty.
For me, then, this story of foreigners being among the very first to recognize the illuminating light of God’s love in a very young child living in the most humble circumstances is a cautionary tale for my life and presumably for yours as well.
After all, if they can recognize God’s glory in Jesus, what holds back us, the faithful, from doing the same?
But this is often the case in stories from Matthew’s gospel.
From start to finish, the stories speak of how outsiders are the first to recognize the holy and the first to become true witnesses, true disciples, true followers in the Way of Jesus.
So, that’s the challenge found our text for today.
Those on the outside come somehow more equipped to recognize the glory of God’s love in Jesus so much more quickly than those on the inside.
Those on the outside, arrive with questions, and effectively set the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons in our midst.
There is, however, also some good news to be found in this morning’s texts.
Between Isaiah and Matthew, we learn that people have been and can be re-oriented towards a different future than their or our current circumstances would indicate.
In a word, both texts present a clear call for listeners to lean into and hold onto an expectant hope in the midst of a dark and foreboding time.
Even as we continue to struggle personally and communally, God calls us into the challenging and courageous work of being bearers of light and love in a dispirited and disenchanted world.
Even in the midst of a time of chaos, confusion, and uncertainty, fear mongering and resentment, God calls us to hold fast.
In keeping with our new year’s resolutions and the increasing light that these days of January bring with them; in keeping with this clear call to faithful living in the midst of tumultuous times; in keeping with a reminder to be decisive and responsive to our goal of learning to live like Jesus, our stories this morning also do something else.
Our stories from scripture this morning encourage us to shake off the heavy chains of lethargy and disappointment that can too easily lead to inertia and discouragement.
The good news for today?
In spite of the world’s supposed indifference to the Church, we are called to arise and shine because God is still at work in our midst. (paraphrase Feasting on the Word, page 198 Charles Aaron).
Come then, let us join ranks with those first outsiders, those strangers, those so called ancient astronomers and astrologers from the far east, who risked a long journey of seeking and of finding and of worshipping and witnessing to the glory of God found in our stories from Jesus.
And while we are at it, let us lean into finding new ways of trusting that God who has called us into this present darkness (in our world) will also sustain, and lead us through it.” (paraphrase Richard Rohr, p. 171)
May it be so, amen.
Rev. Elizabeth Bowyer reserves all rights © 2019.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
Some of the impetus and thoughts for this morning’s reflection come from a variety of resources including:
Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, FEASTING on the WORD, Year A, Volume 1, ADVENT THROUGH TRANSFIGURATION, DAVID BARTLETT and BARBARA BROWN TAYLOR, EDITORS, WESTMINISTER JOHN KNOX PRESS, 2010, EPIPHANY OF THE LORD, pp. 194-212
HOPE Against Darkness, The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in and Age of Anxiety, Chapter Twelve, Living with Darkness, RICHARD ROHR with John Feister, p. 171
Epiphany C 2018-The Other Christmas Story, Matthew 2: 1-12 (13-17),
…In the Meantime, David J. Lose@gmail.com; posted : 04 Jan 2019 12:04 PM PST