Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sermon, Epiphany C

Today we have a rare treat – today we get to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on Sunday.  Epiphany, like Christmas, is a non-transferrable Feast Day that must be celebrated on January 6.  Unlike Christmas, however, people in our culture do not make a special effort to attend Epiphany services.  So we have to usually wait until it falls on a Sunday to really celebrate it.

And today we will celebrate.  The wise men are now part of the Nativity scene.  As much as we celebrated the greening of the church, we now de-green it (is that a celebration or a relief?).  We will also celebrate this day with a potluck after the 10:30 service and a King’s cake.  Finally, we will follow the example of the wise men (sort of) by participating in a gift exchange.

But just as there is more to Christmas than angels, shepherds and a cute baby lying in a manger, there is more to Epiphany than a star, wise men and gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Christmas, I said, is about the Incarnation, both the big “I” God-made-man-Incarnation, and the little “i” God-in-man-incarnation.  What Epiphany is really about is a faith journey.

Whereas the Christmas story is about God coming to live amongst the Jewish people, the Epiphany story is about the recognition and revelation that God came to live amongst the nations of the world.  This is shown in Matthew when the light of God appears as a star visible to all people everywhere.

Angels don’t visit everyone.  That can be fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your point of view.  But light is visible in the darkness for all to see, and darkness does not overcome it.  Angels appear to a few, but the light of a star is much more universal.  It was this starlight that caused those wise men in the east to recognize God was doing something new and different.

On faith the wise men followed the guiding star to Bethlehem, stopping first in Jerusalem to visit Herod.  After all, if a new king was to arrive through the prophecy of God, then the existing king should know about it.  Besides, kings were supposed to be born in places of power and privilege.

But things were not as they seemed.  Too often we expect God to act as we would act, or as we want God to act.  How many times have we heard messages of God excluding the very same people we don’t like?  How many times have we heard that God doesn’t want people who are lazy, outsiders, foreigners, sinners – in other words, people not like us?  How many times are people condemned for not following the Christian party line of what our understanding of who and what God is?

The reality is that God invites and welcomes all people – foreigners, outsiders, sinners, people not like us.  This is explicitly shown in the Epiphany story when outsiders, Gentiles, foreigners, followed a star to pay homage to a new king.  When we recognize God as open and inclusive, we can recognize that outsiders, foreigners, people different from us, can be drawn to God despite our desires to place limits on who God accepts.

It was the light of a star that guided those wise men to the home of Mary and Joseph.  It was the light of a star that shone in the darkness.  And it was the light of a star that could be seen by all people which proclaimed the arrival of God on earth.

But again, Epiphany isn’t about a star, wise men, gold, frankincense or myrrh.  Epiphany is about a faith journey.  Yes, the star shone in the night sky, symbolizing the light of God shining in the darkness.  And yes, learned wise men from the east made a journey to present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  But those are just the trimmings.  The real issue is our own journey of faith and the question that hangs over us, will we have the faith to follow that star wherever it leads?

That can be a frightening question.  Do I have faith in God?  Yes.  Do I have faith that God is with me.  Yes.  Does my faith allow me to question and doubt?  Yes.  Am I willing to allow God to lead me to new and unlikely places?  Well, now . . .

The wise men were men of wealth and stature and lived far from Judea.  Their scholarly work led them to find a new king; so, of course, they went to where kings were normally found – the palace.  But somewhere along the line, their scholarly knowledge was put aside, faith took over, and they allowed themselves to be led somewhere unexpected.

Like the wise men before us, we are on a faith journey.  Like the disciples before us, we are on a faith journey.  Our faith is not based on a set of scholarly propositions, but it is based on things unseen, unprovable and totally unlikely.  Our faith journey is, or should be, never-ending, although one part may be shorter or longer than another part.  

Epiphany is the starting point of our faith journey.  A light shines in the darkness.  A star is visible to all.  Is our faith big enough to invite and welcome everybody into the kingdom?  Is our faith big enough to realize God’s ways are not our ways?  Is our faith strong enough to ask questions?  Is our faith gracious enough to accept answers bigger than we anticipate?  Where will your faith journey take you?

This year, may you, like the wise men, have the faith to follow the light of God to new and unexpected places.



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