Epiphany & New Year’s Resolutions

Happy Epiphany, friends!  Here is this morning’s sermon …

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Matthew 2:1-12
Ephesians 3:1-12

Epiphany & New Year’s Resolutions

Have you ever mixed up the time when heading to a party and shown up with an armful of food and presents, only to find that the guests are long gone and the hosts are cleaning up?

Sometimes that is how I envision it must have been for the wise men.

Think about it –

We really do not know much about the timing of their arrival. Some scholars indicate that it may have taken up to two years for the wise men to complete their journey to see the Christ child.

We really do not know much about the whereabouts of their arrival. We do not know if they showed up at the manger in Bethlehem or if Mary and Joseph had already made the pilgrimage to Egypt.

We really do not know much about who arrived with them. Some scholars believe that these men would not have travelled alone and simply on camels – they would have brought their families, servants and belongings along with them.

We really do not know how many wise men there actually were. The bible indicates that the men paid homage with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it never specifically said that three wise men showed up.

This leaves us with very few answers regarding what actually happened, but it does quickly shatter the picture perfect nativity scene that we have all grown to know and love over the years. You know the one I am talking about, right? Where three wise men on camels unobtrusively come over one final hill and see Mary and Joseph tending to Jesus in a manger while shepherds tend to their flocks from a distance?

In reality – the wise men’s arrival was probably more like the image of someone showing up late to a party with an armful of food and presents. They were likely late, numerous and not traveling light.

When you think about it, Epiphany itself – which is the church’s celebration of the wise men’s appearance in the Christmas story – is much like this image of someone showing up late to a party. We celebrate Epiphany on January 6th, twelve days after Christmas. By now New Year’s has come and gone, kids have gone back to school and adults have gone back to work. Stores have heavily marked down their Christmas inventory in order to clear out and make room for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter goodies. Most people have taken down their Christmas decorations – actually, we have even taken down the greens in the sanctuary.

Everyone is ready to start fresh, face the new year and let go of things that may have been holding onto in 2012.

And yet here at church we are still holding onto Christmas; we are reading a scripture from the birth narrative and singing a hymn that is usually reserved for Christmas Eve. We are adding wise men to a crèche that should have been put away already. It feels a bit awkward and out of place with what is going on in the world outside of our walls.

Truth be told, I thought about preaching on another scripture this morning. It just feels uncomfortable to be telling this story after most people in the church have closed the door on their Christmas celebrations for the year.

But then again – isn’t Christianity about being uncomfortable every now and then?

Jesus often lived in the discomfort of what it meant to be a person of faith living out God’s call here on earth. We know the stories: He healed the sick, fed the poor, reached out to the marginalized, embraced societal outcasts and rejected the Roman authorities. He endured a very uncomfortable betrayal and trial and then died a very uncomfortable death on the cross.

I do not think Christianity was ever meant to be a religion of comfort.

The New Year is upon us. And while many of us have put away our Christmas decorations and are looking ahead to other activities and celebrations, I think we still can learn a lot both from the wise men’s late arrival to the nativity scene and the church’s prolonged celebration of their arrival. I think we can learn what it means to be slightly uncomfortable and out of place while still humbly following God’s call for us and paying homage to Jesus and his ministry.

Actually, I think we may be able to learn what it means to still humbly follow God’s call for us and pay homage to Jesus and his ministry DESPITE feeling slightly uncomfortable and out of place.

It is New Year’s Resolution time; and while the declaration of a New Year’s Resolution tends to be met with skepticism these days, I want to make a proposition. I propose that we, as a community of faith, make a New Year’s Resolution this year. Let us resolve to make this year the year of the Epiphany.

Let us – in the world that we are living in – be willing to step outside of our comfort zones in our faith and in our ministry.

In a world where we are told we always need more, let us put the needs of others before the needs of ourselves.

In a world where “normal” is defined in stringent and definitive ways, let us reach out to those who need it most, even when that outreach goes against the societal grain.

In a world where technology and social media takes overwhelming precedence, let us focus less on the material things in our lives and more on our relationships with our friends and our families.

In a world that inadvertently nurtures cliques and exclusivity, let us not only be the face, but also the hand of Christ’s radical hospitality to the people that we meet.

In a world and culture that often encourages us to be negative and show hatred, let us always be positive and show love.

In a world where political correctness forces us to change the way we communicate and act, let us not be afraid to still respectfully share our faith with the people around us.

It is not always easy to act out our Christian faith in today’s world.

But today’s world desperately needs us to act our Christian faith.

I was looking at the other lectionary texts for this week and I was intrigued by the Epistle selection. It seemed relevant to push us forward and worthy of sharing this morning.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to the Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way of my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

{Ephesians 3:7-12, The Message}

Blessings into your year of the Epiphany!

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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