Message: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
While it’s coming to a close, we can reflect back on how much we love this time of year. Christmas carols merrily crooning in the air; festive lights twinkling in the windows; ribbons and wrappings and visiting and gatherings with delicious sweet treats shared over memorable conversations. The joy of Christmas made known to us in God’s incarnation: the Christ child born among us once again is here bringing us the Good News of God’s love. We can’t help but rejoice and give thanks. In Luke’s gospel, with a galaxy of stars blazing in the night sky and a host of angels heralding in the good news of God among us as the tiny Christ child, the shepherds are full of joy as they visit the tiny baby. No wonder we so love to tell the story to children and with children. The story is full of anticipation and joy painting vividly sensational pictures of God’s glory.
In Matthew’s gospel, the writer might very well be telling the birth narrative as a story for adult audiences only. There is a lot of adult narrative to consider. Joseph is thinking about ditching Mary before an angel tells him she will bear the Son of God. Mary becomes pregnant out of wedlock and now faces serious humiliation. Mary gives birth to the newborn king of the world. But Jesus is born under austere circumstances hardly fit for a king; rather more so fit for a pauper. In fact, initially Jesus, Mary and Joseph and Jesus are actually homeless.
King Herod, threatened by the idea of being usurped by a king of righteousness and justice, and consumed with the idea that his power remain intact, harbors fear and conspires to do the newborn babe harm. Lawyers and scholars come to advise and put Herod in an even more precarious position as they prophesy God’s words from the prophet Micah, about the birth of Jesus, “Out of thee shall go before me the Messiah, to exercise lordship over Israel,…”. Herod’s appetite for power will not be weakened.
More threatened than ever Herod summons wise men deceiving them to go and search for the child of whom he has no intention of paying homage. It’s the stuff of “R” rated Adult version movies for certain. And yet, in the harsh reality of this Adults only story God births the promise of hope; for our light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon us!
The star, placed by God in the midnight sky, beckons the wise men to go searching. When there is unrest, question, doubt, often, we go searching to seek solutions. We hunt to know peace where there is trouble and turmoil. Or as one wise commentator writes, these wise men are about the lofty business of the soul. Their searching is but a confession of need. So, in this Story for Adults where darkness and worry encroach, all is overcome by God’s brightness placed in the night sky as a star leads the searching souls where rejoicing they fall down and worship our God and king.
The story, so full of praise and glorifying, masks the fear. Cunning King Herod, disquieted by the idea of a new king who comes with the greater power of God’s love, grace and mercy, is more vulnerable than ever as he senses his position weakening. We all know that people with power often fall into the trap of hungering for more power. But, Herod has never really lived up to the honor of his position. His reign is littered with greed, oppression and selfishness.
Herod fails to honor his position according to Judaic Law. As supreme ruler, Judaic Law states kingly power comes only through God. God teaches the use of power as he commissions Abraham the patriarch of all God’s people. Abraham is blessed to be a blessing; a man who comes to serve rather than to be served. Herod hasn’t grasped this concept of sacrifice and giving. But, there’s more to the darkness hovering over this story. It seems that all of Jerusalem is troubled by the news of a new king among them.
Why would all of Jerusalem be troubled as well? Change is in the air with the birth of Jesus Christ. The change of turning to a life in Christ can truly be fearful; not just for some, but for all. Matthew’s gospel ends as it begins, clouded in fear with hope rising to conquer as Jesus, resurrected from the dead commissions his followers to go and spread the Good News, Christ is with us in all times in all places, for all people.
The story of the wise men is what we call in our tradition the Feast of Epiphany. Epiphany is rooted in the word that means, “reveal”. These wise men of the age, followers of the stars; these foreigners from the east, God has put them on this journey of seeking to reveal to them, and to all, in Jesus Christ, the answer, the Messiah, God with us, as the truth of God’s presence in our lives is not just for some, not just the ancient chosen Judaic community, but for the whole world wide. The long awaited Messiah is here, to reveal to ALL, love conquers fear.
The wise men, having now met their one true king bow down bestowing upon the babe gifts of gold symbolizing royalty; frankincense the fragrance of holiness and myrrh, a luxurious embalming oil as a sign of the true suffering Christ will bear for us. The Christ child revealed and conquering fear, sends the wise men home. But, this time, they return on a different road for ever more leaving behind what was for the gift of what now beholds them, the gift of the boundless riches of Christ.
Matthew’s gospel reveals for us an Adult version of the birth narrative with the reality of the fear we live with today: immigration oppression; accelerated racism; sexual misconduct; financial uncertainty; and a lack of trust across the globe that puts us all in our corners. As adults; as adults in the name of Christ; we have some responsibility.
On Thursday on last week, I had the great pleasure, along with others from Epiphany, of witnessing the naturalization of sixty-six folks taking the oath of citizenship. All broke into smiles as applause filled the room and these new citizens let go of their fear with a sigh of relief and we all offered prayers of thanksgiving.
Northern Virginia rests in the shadow of the worst opioid crisis in the country, Washington, D.C. So, as the church, in the region of Northern Virginia with The Diocese of Virginia, we will engage in a study and dialogue over these next months to help these victims of opioid addiction.
This past week, while among other clergy from various denominations in the Herndon/Reston area, we were asked the question, “what are you doing personally, for your own self, to solve the race relations crisis?” Tonight, following the 5:30 Celtic Worship, the Adult Ministry team will continue discussions as to how we, as faithful followers of God in Christ, can bring not some, but all, to a place where together we can serve as witnesses to God’s glory and dispel hatred and fear as manifested in racism.
At the same time, this month the Women’s Bible Study will begin again. All women are invited, especially to the initial session to share stories of misconduct that have plagued them with fear and to know that here, with Epiphany they come to a safe place.
Darkness may cover the earth but the brilliant glory of our Lord will appear over us all. As the church, may we now more than ever, lift up our eyes and look around. See and be radiant. May our hearts thrill and rejoice! May we, in boldness and confidence, through faith, serve our newborn king with the gifts of justice, righteousness and peace! Christ is here: that is a story for all to behold! Amen