Our common answer to that question I think would be something of a snoozer. We have dime store epiphanies. This sermon looks at what a real epiphany is. And then it looks at what an Epiphany demands of us. If we see the star, are we willing to follow? Openness to that answer makes all the difference.
The texts in “year C” of the lectionary and when Epiphany proper falls on a Sunday make for a wonderful series. Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a good look at how the light enters and grows in the Christian life.
Here is out Epiphany Vespers sermon which meditates on how coming to see God entails playing the fool. I didn’t record this one, sorry. But it is a short read…
Text: Matt 2:1-12
Matthew and Luke play tag-team in telling Jesus’ infancy. Luke narrates from the annunciation to the presentation in the temple roughly 30 days after Christmas and tells us they go back to Nazareth. Matthew tells us of How Joseph took Mary in, but if it weren’t for verse 1, Bethlehem might not enter his gospel. So Luke tags Matthew in to tell about the Magi. Probably a year or so later. We have an upper bound, Herod killed the children two and younger. So if we are trying to understand the story in good western linear fashion, I think that is how you harmonize the gospel. But that harmonizing might actually miss some of the tag team.
Trouble in the World
Just last Sunday I hoped to show how in one of the most amazing sentences of the Bible, “he was submissive to them” we see a picture of how God works on our wills. I said He abides. The love of God in action is that he abides with sinners who don’t get it. He abides until their hearts are open. That was from Luke and the Boy Jesus in the temple. The Epiphany reading is from Matthew and I think you have a tag-team presentation of how God abides.
The Magi, the wise men from the east, were sorcerers, astrologers or diviners. And in the OT these guys are “the emperor without clothes”. There are two comic routines with Magi. Moses beats them with the plagues as they can duplicate gnats. The great wisdom of these men can’t find gnats. The foolishness of Moses produces swarms. Daniel also gets in on making fun of Magi. They can’t tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream, and they fall all over trying to get out of the way. Likewise when Darius is presented with the “Handwriting on the wall” they can’t read it, but Daniel can. The foolish Daniel makes fools of the wise men who can’t read anything. There is a third minor episode when Balaam’s ass tells the Magi Balaam what he couldn’t see. When a Jew such as Matthew would say look, behold, Magi – everybody is ready for a joke.
Gospel in the Text
But Matthew doesn’t tell a joke. Matthew tells us God abides with them. If he had sent them an angel – like with Mary and Joseph – they would have worshipped it. So God used what they could know – star charts. The chief priests and scribes of the people know, but aren’t willing to go. These foolish Magi will get up and bring Kingly gifts at the word of the stars. So God abides.
And even with the treacherous Herod he abides. Something changes here in these Magi, because now the star is not a fixed one. They leave Herod’s place and the star comes back and it leads probably not to Bethlehem, but to Nazareth. The start becomes a morning star – an angel. And they – these Magi – after worshipping are warned in a dream. Now warned just like Joseph.
Gospel in the World
Epiphany is a celebration of seeing. So in that sense it is always a day of fools. To proclaim that now I see, now I get it is to say what an idiot I was. While Christmas is a season with White altar cloths and it is only 12 weeks long, Epiphany marks the change back to green and gives us 8 weeks. Epiphany is the Christian experience. We are always growing in what we see of God. If we are not willing to be the fool, we can’t follow the Christ. But Christ is willing to abide, with magi and with all who are willing to worship, who want to see. In Matthew, as Jesus is heading back to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he meets two blind men. They are calling out and the crowd tries to get them to shut up. But Jesus asks them, “what do you want me to do for you?” And they reply, “we want to see”. And he touches them and immediately they are healed. God abides with those who want to see even if it means the crowds think you are fools. Amen.
There are five week of Epiphany this year. Epiphany is a season on the church’s calendar that stretches from the end of the Christmas Season (Jan 6th, the 12 days of Christmas) until the beginning of Lent. The older purpose of Epiphany was the slowly dawning realization of the divinity of Jesus. Not only was this Christmas Child true man born of the Virgin Mary, but also true God made of the same substance as the Father. The traditional reading for the last week of Epiphany was Transfiguration. It is a season constructed around a theology from below – starting with what we know, Jesus, and moving toward a full epiphany of the Christ.
And Christology, the understanding of the person and nature of Jesus, is always a good thing. If you’ve got your Christology off, everything else goes strange. But Christology is not what afflicts us today. It is easy to look at the creeds and sort out true doctrine from false. Our afflictions today are down in that 3rd article of the creed. And they swirl around a question and its derivatives: How do we find God?
The 5 week epiphany season is a short one this year, but the lessons we will be reading all lend themselves to reminding ourselves a couple of key truths. We might be asking How do we find God, and the magi I’m sure were thinking they were on a quest to find the child, but as the story makes clear, we tend to be hopelessly lost and mess things up. In this world the Word finds you. And How does the Word find you? Word and Sacrament and the people created by those promised things. The Epiphany I’m preaching toward this season is the one that Jacob had – “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it (Gen 28:16).” The Lord is present, we can meet the Lord, in some very specific ways instituted by God himself that continue to carry His promises for us. They always have carried His promises, even when we didn’t know it. Next week’s text? The Baptism of Jesus.