Epiphany of Our Lord; January 6, 2019, Year C
Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One in whom we live and move and have our being, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For two summers while in college, I worked in NW Montana. Most nights I slept in a tent or literally underneath the stars. I’ve never paid so much attention to the sky as I did those two summers. The nights were stunning.
Nestled in the mountains, laying in my sleeping bag in the grass looking up at the stars, I felt I could almost reach out and touch them. They seemed that close. The sky was so dark and the stars so bright. Looking back on it, I have hardly been filled with so much wonder since.
Maybe it’s because the stars are muted by city lights. Or, maybe it’s because I don’t pay as much attention to stars these days, or take time like I used to staring up into the heavens and marveling at the cosmos.
If I were living in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, I may have missed him completely as I went about my daily life centered around myself.
But not the wise men. They were paying attention. They saw the Christ child’s star and sought the One for whom the sky burned bright.
This is quite a remarkable story. From a rising start to a manger bed, it reveals to us the radical inclusivity of God, and where God chooses to be found.
The wise men have had such a familiar presence in every nativity scene that we can fail to recognize how very strange it is that they’re included in the Christmas story at all.
The wise men are astrologers (people who study stars), and are called magi. This is the word that is used as the root word for magician. They are from a distant land, which would most likely be modern day Iraq and Iran. They were not Jewish, and certainly not Christian. We can think of them more as scientists who practiced another religion called Zorastrianism.
At first glance, they had no business ending up at the cradle of Christ. But, here they are, kneeling in the dirt, recognizing the baby Jesus for who he really is: the One in whom all things came into being.
They travel far, seeking and hoping, not knowing entirely what and who they will find. And they are not disappointed. For the Creator is the one laying in the hay, and they are forever changed. They worship Jesus, give him gifts, and defy King Herod by leaving for home by another road.
God is trying to tell us something through these seekers.
If scientists from a distant land, who practice another religion, are included in God’s salvation story, then so are each one of us. The story of the magi challenge all our assumptions of who is “in” and who is “out.”
One would think that the religious scholars and priests would be the ones we read about paying attention to the signs in creation of God come to earth; who would be the first ones to seek the Messiah, and to bow down and worship him.
But no, it’s shepherds in the field, Gentiles from enemy lands, and livestock who get the front row seat as to what God is up to in the world.
It should blow our minds that God chooses to be found in the humble beginnings of an infant, wrapped in rags, laying in the hay of a cattle trough. That God chooses to make a home in an unwed, teenage girl, from a small, working class town.
God is constantly surprising us as to where God chooses to show up and how God desires to be known.
This is good news for us, because God is not some far off distant God, but a God who wants to be as near and as real to us as our own breath.
If you have ever thought that you are beyond God’s reach, or that God’s love and mercy are not for you, our Gospel reading says otherwise. The Spirit leads even the most distant and unlikely characters to the manger. The Spirit leads us too.
What brings you to worship today? What is it you are seeking?
Love, forgiveness, mercy, healing, a break from the cottage, community, Jesus, tacos or hockey??
God calls, leads, and blesses those who seek.
Today is what the Church calls “Epiphany Sunday.” Epiphany is a fancy word for manifestation or revealing. It’s about the light that has come into the world in Jesus that no darkness can overcome.
Have you, like the wise men, gazed at the stars wondering about their beauty and the mystery of what life is all about? As human beings, there is a deep longing in each of us to understand, to connect, to be loved, and to search.
Sometimes we don’t even know exactly what we are looking for, yet we are longing for something. And sometimes when we think we find it we get disappointed because it doesn’t fix our problems or give us what we think we need.
The wise men found what they were looking for in Jesus. They don’t even ask him for anything, they simply worship him for who he is for them and the world. The light leads them to where they need to be.
We believe God is found in an infant in his mother’s arms in Bethlehem, and God is found in a cold and hungry person at Ministry on the Margins, and God is found here on the campus of the ND Youth Correctional Center. God is found dying on a cross, and walking away from an empty tomb. We encounter God in the most unexpected places and people.
Signs of salvation are all around us. We are invited to pay attention and to marvel and wonder at our world and what God has done and is doing through Jesus.
My ethics professor from seminary, the Rev. Dr. Craig Nessan, posted this on Facebook last night: “The epiphany, of course, is always right there—before your face, on your tongue, in your ear, with every breath.”
The light, that is Christ, shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.