Saturday, January 4, 2020

Feast of the Epiphany, trans. Jan 5 2020



Audio   Feast of the Epiphany, trans. Jan 5 2020
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12, Psalm 72:1-7,10-14

Game of Thrones, anyone read it, or seen it? I read all the books, and I’ve seen none of the television show. For those of you who know little about it, except some sort of meme that reads, Winter is Coming, it is an epic story of power, greed, mystery, love, and violence. Oh so much violence. Record numbers of people watched it on HBO for eight years. Some binge watched it, some watched every week for most of eight years. In order to do all that watching you really have to be committed.

Sometimes I wonder why more people don’t commit to the Bible like that. Boring it is not. Power, greed, mystery, love, and violence are all there. The story we have before us today is as good as any violent and bloody movie you’ve ever seen.

Herod is a desperate, ruthless, dictator, and he tried to enlist these foreign mystics to be his spies to help him discover this child’s identity and whereabouts so he could have the child killed. But the wise people were informed in a dream to go home by another way and avoid being Herod’s unwitting accomplices. Herod’s Plan A failed, so he went to Plan B, a violent and grisly alternative. But by then, the boy Herod was looking for had already fled with his parents to a foreign land. The result however, was brutal. The slaughter of innocent life.

Matthew includes this grisly story in his gospel for a reason, what is that reason? We can only guess, so guess we will. The Wise People have a very particular role to play in this story. Their exotic nature as astrologers from a faraway land show us that there is something amazing about this birth. This may look like an ordinary birth, to two immigrant parents, looking for a place to stay in the very crowded city of Bethlehem. But when the Wise People show up, we know that things are not as they seem. This is no ordinary birth.

And, we tend to look toward this story as our reason for gift-giving at Christmas and during these days of Christmas, concluding tomorrow, the Epiphany. Epiphany means, “when God appears”, it is when and how God shows Godself. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh brought by these Magi from the east are spectacularly generous gifts. God gives a spectacularly generous gift in Jesus, love and new life. However, at its core, this is a story about God appearing, it is a story about Jesus, it is a story about kingdom.

In the kingdom of God love wins. You see, the baby Herod seeks to kill models another way. Jesus’ way is the way of love. Jesus uses power to heal and empower others. Jesus reveals God’s dream of healing and reconciliation. This is Good News indeed.

And yet, we do not live in an ideal world. Children continue to suffer from hunger, abuse, homelessness, imprisonment. Children in our own community suffer from inattention, social media bullying, disbelief in their own worth. We are not perfect, our church is not perfect, our community is not perfect, but God’s perfect love calls us to another way, not the way of power, greed, judgment, prejudice. God’s perfect love calls us to be different. God’s perfect love calls us to go home by another way. God’s perfect love calls us to love with abandon, flinging ourselves into the arms of Jesus.

That’s why the birth of Jesus takes place in a manger, a feed trough, in an ordinary home, in an ordinary town, and not in the towers of power, not in the courts of kings, not in the temples of priests. This is not a life of luxury, it is not a life of prosperity, it is not a life of transaction. There is no reward. There is no gold, frankincense and myrrh waiting at the end of the rainbow. But there is love. And love matters. Love that causes you and me to know our worth, what’s that Christmas song? O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining, It is the night of the dear Savior's birth! Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! This is it, God breaks into our lives, as a vulnerable baby, these wise people from the east come to pay homage, and foil Herod’s plot, and everything changes. God shows us that our lives are of incomprehensible worth. All our lives, in all our joy, and beauty, in all our brokenness and pain.

And God seems to do whatever it takes to reach out to and embrace all people. God announces the birth of the Messiah to shepherds through angels on Christmas, to Magi via a star on Epiphany, and to the political and religious authorities of God’s own people in through visitors from the East. From a manger, where a child lies wrapped in bands of cloth, God’s reach, God’s embrace in Jesus, gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Jesus eats with outcasts and sinners. Jesus touches people who are sick and people who live with pain and suffering. Jesus even calls the dead back to life. Ultimately, Jesus draws all people to himself as he is lifted up on the cross. In Jesus, no one is beyond God’s embrace.

God’s radical grace is wondrously frightening. The Light that shines in the darkness, the Love that wins is wondrously frightening. That is what this story is about. God comes to us in wondrously surprising ways. Ways we do not expect. Ways which we would never choose for ourselves. And we are changed, we are transformed, the world is turned, and we must go home by another way. Or not, the alternative, of course, is to join Herod in not seeing God’s ever-expanding embrace, or feeling threatened by it, and instead giving way to just plain fear and violence. Herod jealously reached out himself, just far enough to violently protect his place and preserve his power.

We are called to bring God’s Love to a fragmented society, to a culture that is pulled apart by greed and fear and violence. We are called to bring God’s Love to a culture that engages more and more in meanness and name calling and judgement. God’s Love, God’s Power, is the most powerful integrating force in creation. God’s Love moves us from brokenness, from fragmentation, to wholeness, to healing.

Be the light shining in the darkness, see the light shining in the darkness. Amen.

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