St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Guide Our Steps”
Collect: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
I love Epiphany. Really, I do. Such a simple story so true to human nature. Picture this. Three noted scholars, Wise Men, people who know the secrets of the Universe, the Magic of the World, Magi if you will. These wise guys, and we assume three because there were three gifts, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar according to tradition, see a celestial sign. They follow it to its natural outcome, or so they think. Even Wise People can get trapped by their assumptions. They see a sign that they interpret to be the birth of the King of the Jews, and where are kings usually born? Palaces, of course. So that is where they head.
King Herod is in Jerusalem, established as a regional king by the Roman Emperor, knew who was in charge. But he had problem making sure his position was firmly without threat in his own little, problematic corner of the Roman Empire. So when these scholars from the “East” show up, he smiles and immediately checks to see what in the world they are talking about. His own scholars confirm that a prophesied King, the Messiah, was to be born, but in the town of Bethlehem, just 10 miles down the road. The scholars, innocent in their intentions, may have known about the promised Messiah from their knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures from the Babylonian captivity when the Jews were taken to Babylon almost 600 years before, before they returned 520 or so years before. So in the meantime, lots of questions emerged. So they made the trip to be sure, and have their questions answered.
Herod was as surprised as they were, and he was scared of threats to his authority, trying hard to establish this new kingdom for himself. To be even more safe, he asked when the star appeared. Later in Matthew 2 we learn that the star had been moving toward the East 2 years. Which is why Herod slaughtered all the innocents 2 years old and younger. This leads us to a few things. How old was Jesus when the Magi got there? The word used here is child, not baby like earlier in the passage. Maybe Jesus was there for a couple of years, allowing Mary time to recover. It is not like the Shepherds who found him newborn the night of his birth.
So between his naming 8 days after birth, to when the Wise Men arrived, we could be talking days, we could be talking years. Don’t get hung up on that. The details of when are not necessary. The big deal is the Why.
Why we celebrate Epiphany is that the Light who was to come in the World has been seen. So long in our faith tradition, the children of Abraham have held their passion and zeal for God, but kept it for themselves. They were repeatedly instructed to be a Light to the Nations. Maybe they heard this to mean the best of the bunch, put high on a pedestal. They held it close for only themselves, instead of being an instructor on the same level with those wandering in the darkness and help others down the path to God.
As we heard in Isaiah 60:
Arise, shine; for your light has come,We celebrate Epiphany because the Light has been revealed. In fact, that is the etymology of that word, Revealed. In Greek, Epi- meaning “to” or “on”, and -phainein “to show.” So our Epiphany means that the Promised One has been “shown to” all of us. The Light shines, and we have seen it. Thanks be to God.
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Epiphany, 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.
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. When we go to meet Christ, wherever he is, we must return differently.
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? When we come forward to receive Christ in his Real Presence at his altar, we need to be transformed. We are called to radical, wholesale change. No ifs, ands, or buts.
We, like the Wise Men, are called to go home another way.
But what does that mean? Really. Deep down what does that mean? When I come to meet Christ here at the altar, or in my prayers, or in my service to him, I can have an attitude of asking Christ in His Real Presence 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.
Paul shared of his Epiphany, even though he had thought he had the light already. He learned that it was to be shared...
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-- for surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
And that is our epiphany! That this babe, this humble, simple babe came into our context to help us change our experience so that we might be called Children of God. Wow! Think of how that changes everything!
We have been saying for a few months that our prayer is for us to have a clear vision for 2020. It was more than a pun, or a play on words. We are praying for an epiphany, for the Holy Spirit to lead us, even unto the depths of God. We continue in it this year, this year of Vision. This year we ask for this in faith that there are already things at work enabling what is to come. We ask for this in hope that God will guide us. We ask for this in love of the One leading the way.
Like the Wise Men, may we be led home “by another road.” Amen