The Feast of the Epiphany

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Fifth Sunday after Easter, Year C April 28, 2013 Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35
Fourth Sunday after Easter, Year C April 21, 2013 Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year C Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30
Third Sunday after Easter, Year C April 14, 2013 Third Sunday of Easter, Year C John 21: 1-19
Second Sunday after Easter, Year C April 7, 2013 Second Sunday after Easter, Year C Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, Luke 24:13-35
Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013 March 31, 2013 Easter Day, Year C Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24I Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12
Good Friday, March 29, 2013 March 29, 2013 Good Friday, Year C John 18:1-19:42
Maundy Thursday, March 28, 2013 March 28, 2013 Maundy Thursday, Year C Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1,10-17, I Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C March 17, 2013 Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C March 10, 2013 Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C Joshua 5:9-12, Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32
Third Sunday in Lent, Year C March 3, 2013 Third Sunday in Lent, Year C Exodus 3:1-15, Luke 13:1-9
Second Sunday in Lent, Year C February 24, 2013 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Sermon, Second Sunday in Lent, Year C
First Sunday in Lent, Year C February 17, 2013 First Sunday in Lent, Year C Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Luke 4:1-13
Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 February 13, 2013 Ash Wedneday Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 10, 2013 Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Luke 9:28-36, II Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany February 3, 2013 Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

 

The Feast of the Epiphany

Sermon Date:January 6, 2013

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

Liturgy Calendar: Epiphany, Year C


Christmas and the coming of the New Year is a season of light, joy, hope and good cheer.

By now, however, we’re returning to reality—our visitors have left, we’re taking down Christmas decorations, going on diets, and returning to our day to day routines.

And along with our return to routine, the joy of Christmas Day, with its bright multitudes of angels, and shepherds glorifying and praising God, tends to dim once again into what can be the humdrum and monotone existence of our days. 

So it’s fitting today, that as we return to our daily lives, we hear the story of the birth of Jesus from the gospel according to Matthew.

Matthew presents a realistic take on the state of the world into which Jesus was born in the time of King Herod—a world of darkness, political intrigue, misused power, fear, and violence.

Matthew tells us that Herod is frightened, and not only Herod, but all of Jerusalem with him,  when the wise men from the East arrive to ask where they might find the child that has been born the king of the Jews because they have seen his star at its rising.  

Even today, the remains of the strategic fortresses that Herod built dot the landscape of Israel, signs of his stranglehold on political power.  Herod murdered anyone that he feared as a threat to his power, including members of his own family. 

Matthew makes clear that from the very beginning, Jesus is in danger –here, in danger from Herod.  By the end of Matthew’s gospel, the powerful forces of the Roman Empire and those in power in the Jewish temple, the chief priests and the scribes, unite to crucify Jesus.  Matthew tells us in Chapter 27 that as Jesus is being crucified, darkness comes over the whole land—a reminder that fear and violence are attempting to overcome the light and life that Jesus has brought into the world. 

In fact, Herod’s fear takes a violent and sickening turn in the very next verses of the gospel back in Chapter 2 following the story of the wise men.

The story continues in this way.

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:  ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are now no more.”

Of course this slaughter of innocent young children instantly brings the Newtown disaster  to our minds, and we are reminded, all too graphically, that our world, in spite of the advances that civilization has made, is still a broken world with a great deal of very dangerous darkness, fear and violence. 

Alexander, J. Shaia, who wrote the book called The Hidden Power of the Gospels, points out that the word “disaster” comes from the Latin and Greek “astrum” and “astron” words for star, and the prefix “dis” which means  “to be apart from” or “asunder.” 

Shaia explains that during the time when Matthew was writing, “there was a Greek belief that all people received the gift of a star at birth that served as a guiding spirit, similar to many people’s trust today that each of us has a guardian angel or a spirit surrounding us.”

When we live without our guiding spirits, or we choose to follow the wrong star, then our lives can take disastrous turns that we might otherwise have avoided. 

Epiphany is the season of the church year that covers the weeks between Christmas and the season of Lent.   

During this season of Epiphany, we read the scriptures, starting with today, that illustrate the fact that Jesus himself is our light and our guiding star, our connection to God,  the very light that we Christians have chosen to follow.  Epiphany is the season that helps set us in the right direction, starting off with today’s readings. 

The story of the wise men following the star, seeing Jesus for themselves, offering him  their gifts, and going home by another way  provides  us with some instructions for our own journeys and direction  toward God through this season of Epiphany.

The first instruction reminds us, here at the end of this Christmas season of giving and receiving gifts, that this giving and receiving continues as we journey toward God.  We are to cultivate and to return to God all of the unique gifts that God has so generously given to us. This season of Epiphany gives us the opportunity to be intentional about working to develop these God given gifts, so that we may use these gifts to help bring God’s light into the world. 

The second instruction is to be especially diligent in prayer during this season so that we can hear what God wants to say to us.  God spoke to the wise men in a dream about the direction they should take on the way home. 

God speaks to us too, if we are only willing to listen.  Epiphany is a season for focus, for prayer, for discernment, a time to offer up to God the questions we have about the directions we are taking in our lives—a time to listen to what God may have to say to us in prayer and in dreams. 

The third instruction is to expect God to speak to us in surprising and completely unexpected ways, just as God spoke to Herod and to the people of Jerusalem through outsiders, astrologers from Persia—foreigners, you could even say aliens, who weren’t even Jewish. 

It’s easy for us to forget the shock value of this story for the early Christians who heard it—that Persian astrologers brought a message from God to the Jews, God’s chosen people.   If we rewrote this story for today, we might find that God is trying to speak to us through an outsider or an “alien” of a different religion and culture, because God is the God of the entire cosmos, and God can speak to us through any part or person of God’s creation. 

So this instruction is important—to look for the ways that God is speaking to us, surprisingly and unexpectedly, through strangers who aren’t like us– those we’d least expect to be God’s messengers. 

The fourth instruction is that we may need to correct our courses.  The wise men went home by a different way.  Based on what God had told them, they changed their plans and went in a new direction. 

When you think about it, our tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is about this very idea of going in a different direction—making a course correction in the way we live—for instance, changing our diets and getting more exercise.

Epiphany course changes are about more than mere resolutions.  Going a different way during this season has to do with the word “metanoia,” which is the Greek word meaning a change of mind leading to a change in behavior—repentance, conversion, turning about—turning back toward the light, turning to follow the light of Jesus, giving up fear and violence as reactions to the disasters that take place in this broken world. 

Peter Chrysologus, who lived only a few centuries after Jesus, and is a Doctor of the Church, known for his inspired words, has this to say about the story of the wise men who followed the star that rose in the East.

“Today the Magi find crying in a manger the one they have followed as he shone in the sky.  Today the Magi see clearly, in swaddling clothes, the one they have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars.   Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see:  heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body.”

This tiny baby, Jesus, is God on earth, and Jesus is our light, our star.

And so during this season of Epiphany, as an act of thanksgiving for the gift of God’s son, I pray that we will follow our Epiphany instructions—to have the courage to offer our gifts up as a way for God  to bring more light into the world, to be diligent in prayer and discernment,   to look for God in unexpected people and places, and to correct our courses and to change our directions so that we can truly walk as children of the light and follow our Lord and Savior, the light of the world, Jesus , our guiding star. 

Amen. 

Resources

 The Hidden Power of the Gospels, by Alexander J. Shaia.  HarperOne:  New York, NY.  2010. 

Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, by Timothy and Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller.  Trafford Publishing, 2005. 

The Gospel of Matthew, by  Curtis  Mitch and Edward Sri.  Baker Academic, Grand  Rapids,MI. 2010.

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