Sunday, January 7, 2018

Year B Epiphany 2018 Learning from the Wise

Year B Epiphany (observed), January 7, 2018 St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA “Learning from the Wise, Being like the Wise” (Sermon based on Luke 2:1-12)  Today we celebrate the Epiphany, well, we observe it anyway. It was actually yesterday, and today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Epiphany is the eye-opening of the Wise Men, and through them the rest of the World, that this babe in the manger was the promised light to all nations, the Messiah, Christ the Lord.  This enlightening of minds is exactly what we are going for in resolutions and promises to self at New Year’s. We say we want change, and we try to make steps to start right. Gym memberships soar, and attendance increases for a few weeks, until the glow of the best of intentions wears off. And often I, like a lot of people, use the turning of a fresh page in the calendar to take a chance to evaluate and take an assessment of where I am and where I want to go, even who I want to be. I saw a great quote about change.   
“Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards.” -Tony Robbins  There is a lot of truth in that. If you keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome, I have heard, is the definition of insanity. To make real change, we have to look at what is, and decide that things need to be better. I think that is almost the definition of our faith. Jesus did not come into this world to endorse the status quo, Jesus came to redeem the world, to transform it utterly and tasked us with finishing his mission. Appeasement of our guilt was not his intent, but taking the dark, dark coal of our souls and creating diamonds worthy of the King of the Universe.  God will not settle for us to get just enough. He wants us to be light in the deepest recesses of a dark, dark world. But we settle for less, far too easily.  

The thing about this Jesus, we have to go away different from the way we came. We can make all the promises we want, we can have the best of intentions, but if we start out back the way we came, we have not truly changed. Every week I see it here at St. James the Less. I also see how caring and loving you all are. The altar guild who shows up EVERY service, silently getting everything ready. To the folks that got the sidewalks clean so everyone could safely come to church. This place at its best models that love Christ calls us to share. And when people come here, our prayer is that they change on the inside. This is an apt metaphor for our Christian walk. Those Wise Men, “warned in a dream, went home by another road.” And we must do the same. If we do not go home differently from the way we came, why did we bother going in the first place?   
“Going home another way…” What does that mean? Really. Deep down what does that mean? When I come to the altar, and meet Christ how can I make a real and substantive change a couple of times today, three this week? Twice this morning, then again on Wednesday at 7:30 am  
I do think when I come to meet Christ here at the altar, or in my prayers, or in my service to him, that I can have an attitude of asking Christ to show me where I am off his path and how to get back on it. I can be open to his correction, and work to enact it in my life. I can have an attitude of being one who is always learning instead of one of being an authority all the time.  
Maybe that is the lesson of the Wise Men. They were open to learning and growth. They travelled so far to find out the Truth. They stopped and asked directions, even if it was from mean old King Herod, they did seek out knowledge and help. They also were willing to be open to new outcomes, when they went home another way.  
May we be like them, and still seek him.  
For Those Who Have Far to Travel An Epiphany Blessing, by Jan Richardson  
 If you could see the journey whole you might never undertake it; might never dare the first step that propels you from the place you have known toward the place you know not.  Call it one of the mercies of the road: that we see it only by stages as it opens before us, as it comes into our keeping step by single step.  There is nothing for it but to go and by our going take the vows the pilgrim takes:  to be faithful to the next step; to rely on more than the map; to heed the signposts of intuition and dream; to follow the star that only you will recognize;  to keep an open eye for the wonders that attend the path; to press on beyond distractions beyond fatigue beyond what would tempt you from the way.  There are vows that only you will know; the secret promises for your particular path and the new ones you will need to make when the road is revealed by turns you could not have foreseen.  Keep them, break them, make them again: each promise becomes part of the path; each choice creates the road that will take you to the place where at last you will kneel  to offer the gift most needed— the gift that only you can give— before turning to go home by another way. 

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Blessings, Rock