Epiphany (transferred) January 10 2021
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12, Psalm 72:1-7,10-14
A New Year dawns, and with it hope and promise, light and love. Even in the midst of this present darkness, more light has already begun to shine, I can see it and I can feel it. "Lift up your eyes and look around...you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you."
And yet life feels so hard, even scary. The events we are living through seem unbelievable, even unimaginable. We have come to new lows of selfishness and irresponsibility, at the best, at the worst insurrection and terrorism. And it is actually not unlike the reality brought to us in Matthew's story, a story in which King Herod looms large as a despot, for whom power, instead of love, wins.
And that is how we come to these readings today in which we find hope. There is so much hope, so much promise, so much light, so much love. God has broken into our world, and continues to break into our world, and walks with us in the flesh.
A word about the story that inspires our lives, that gives us hope, and teaches us about love. The biblical story is our story. The biblical story is the story of God's creation and blessing and abundance. It is the story about how the creation turns away from God, it is about how we begin to believe that everything is about us and not God, it is about how we build idols of wealth, and happiness, and power. We even make God an idol when we believe in a God of magic instead of mystery, a God of resuscitation instead of resurrection. But this same God calls us back, this same God in the flesh shows us in the flesh, the way, the truth, and the life. God shows us, that no matter what we do, no matter how bad the circumstances seem to be, no matter how much life hurts, Love wins. The Light will not be put out.
The story we have before us today, this story of the wise ones from the east who follow the Light to the child born in a barn, helps us to see the cosmic importance of this birth. This birth happened in a particular place at a particular time in the context of a particular tribe, but the arrival of these wise ones from the east shows us that it wasn't just for a particular people at a particular time in a particular tribe. Matthew's intent in telling this story is to show us that this birth changes the world, the wise ones from the east know that, and they know the importance of keeping the birth from Herod, so they go home by another way.
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 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. This is what the pandemic has taught me, and I hope, us. We are changed, we are transformed, the world is turned, and we must go home by another way, a different way, the way of Love.
Or not, the alternative, of course, is to join Herod in not seeing God’s ever-expanding embrace, or feel threatened by it, and instead giving way to just plain fear: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him”. Herod jealously reached out himself, far enough to violently protect his place and preserve his power.
But I would suggest not being like Herod, and instead of living in fear of what is next, what is new, what could happen, we live in God's embrace, we live in God's light, we live in confidence that Love wins. Instead of living in fear of what the future may bring to us, we live in God's abundant and amazing grace. Instead of holding fast to that which someday we will lose, we get on board with God's mission in the world of healing and reconciliation.
Taking the way of the wise ones from the east, going home by another way, going home by Jesus' way, surely provides a life of adventure, of risk, of surprise. Jesus leads us in a radical route. It takes us through green pastures, and more dangerous waters, it is a route that is filled with wolves and sheep. This is a route that calls us through transformation to wholeness; it is a route on which the adventure is not about you, but about whom we are together, the people on the adventure with us, and it is about how we are related to God. On this route home we are called to be Light bearers. We are called to be Love bearers. We are called to bring God’s Love to dark corners, to mountaintops, to raging waters.
We are called to bring God’s Love to a fragmented society, to a culture that is pulled apart by greed and fear. We are called to bring God’s Love to a world that seems to be moving toward injustice than away. We have been reading and discussing our Presiding Bishop’s book, “Love is the way”, I encourage you to join the conversation whether or not you’ve read the book, and I encourage you to read the book. Bishop Curry says, “Love is God's way, the moral way, but it's also the only thing that works. It's the rare moment where idealism overlaps with pragmatism. People don't think of Jesus as a strategist, but he was a leader who successfully built what was essentially a radical equal rights movement within a brutal empire.”
You see, 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 and it is the only way.
How do you bring God’s Love and God’s Light into the world, how do you bring God’s wholeness into your work or your school? It is our call, to bring God’s transforming love to those who have not yet seen or felt or known that love. It is our call to bear the Love that wins into the world.
And, it is God's dream that we do this together. After all, it was three kings, not just one, who came to see Jesus. We don't go this life on our own, we journey together, we go home by another way, together.
Today I leave you with an Epiphany poem, by Madeleine L'Engle.
Unclench your fists
Hold out you hands.
Let us hold each other.
Thus is God’s Glory Manifest.