This morning’s sermon! We celebrated Epiphany!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 4, 2014
Writing The Story Of The Magi In Our Lives
Show of hands: How many of you have taken down all of your Christmas decorations?
How many of you have taken down some of your Christmas decorations?
How many of you had the best of intentions last week, but still have all of your Christmas decorations up?
Well, for those of you – well, us – who are still decking the halls, fear not! The church is still in the Christmas season, waiting expectantly for the Epiphany of the Lord, the day when Western Christianity celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. This happens every year on January 6th, 12 days after Christmas. While the official celebration will happen on Tuesday, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at this story today, as we gather together for worship for the first time in 2015.
When we read the story of the Magi on Christmas Eve, it packages the entire Christmas story up with a beautiful bow. Jesus was born safely in Bethlehem and after the angels and the shepherds and the animals appeared at the manger, three scholarly men from the east journeyed to him to pay him homage and give him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The reality of the story was not wrapped up quite so perfectly.
First of all, we actually know very little about the visit of the Wise Men. Scripture tells us that they travelled from the east to Jerusalem, where King Herod then sent them to Bethlehem. We know that when they arrived they were overwhelmed with joy and paid homage to the Christ child, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know that after they arrived in Bethlehem, they were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod.
But here is what we do not know.
We do not know how many Wise Men there actually were. We assume there were three, because that is how many gifts were named in the scripture (and because that is what the song says), but we do not know this for sure.
We do not know how long it took for them to arrive. Most scholars agree that it actually took them close to two years to arrive, so our picturesque image of a cooing baby sleeping in a manger should probably be replaced by one of an energetic toddler running around the barn.
We do not know if they were traveling alone. There is no mention of these men traveling with their families, but there is also no mention to the contrary, so that is up in the air as well.
We do not know where they arrived to. The scripture says, “on entering the house” so we can only assume that Mary, Joseph and Jesus had moved out of the barn and into a house somewhere.
We do not know how they got there or what their journey looked like. Traveling a great distance was obviously more challenging 2,000 years ago than it is today and we also know that they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so I can only imagine that they felt some anxiety and fear.
We do not know how long they stayed. Scripture only says that they returned to their own country by another road.
There are many holes in this story, a story that is supposed to complete our Christmas story so perfectly, a story that is supposed to complete our understanding of how Jesus came into the world.
And yet I have often thought that perhaps because there are so many holes, this allows us to see the ways that this story is still being written in our lives.
We should not have a complete understanding of how Jesus came into the world, because if we did, that would mean that it was not still happening in our lives. And I assure you that even though we are not mounting camels and following a star to Bethlehem, we are still very much searching for Jesus in our lives.
These men – however many there were, whoever they were traveling with, however long the trip took and however they got there – did not know what their journey would bring when they started. They did not know what they future would hold.
But they moved forward with faith.
They saw a star and they followed it to the Christ child.
A new year is upon us. And while we can set goals and make New Year’s resolutions until our husbands roll their eyes and tell us to shut up and go to sleep (or at least I can), none of us actually know what the new year will bring. We do not know what the future holds.
We can only move forward with faith.
This story is not just “the end of the Christmas story” or an anecdote that we retell and remember 12 days after Christmas. This story is one of courage, perseverance and hope. It is a story where God guided the journey of a group of people who were following a sign that was leading them to Christ. It is a story where God protected them and illuminated a path of safety when King Herod threatened them. It is a story of hope; proof that people can stand up oppressive political power and cultural norms and choose, instead, to seek the peace that Christ brings to the world. It is a story that reminds us that sometimes we have to let go of the possessions and the societies and the distractions and the routines that keep us anchored to our earthly lives and look up to see a sign from God leading us to a new place.
The world can be a very scary place. We often look deep into the darkness of the unknown of our own lives and fear what we cannot see, what we do not know and what we cannot control. But God is with us, even when we cannot see what lies ahead. Not only is the story of the Magi proof of this fact, but we are reminded over and over again throughout scripture that God’s light always shines in the midst of that darkness.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come,” Isaiah prophesied. “For darkness shall cover the earth … but the Lord with arise upon you.”
For generations upon generations, we have been promised light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of despair, courage in the midst of fear, love in the midst of hate and peace in the midst of war.
And God has not walked away from that promise.
That is what the story of the Magi reminds us. It reminds us that when we take those first few steps to follow God’s call, we are not alone on that journey. It reminds us to pay attention to the ways that God is still speaking to us, it forces us to open our eyes to see the signs that God is putting in our paths for us to follow and it gives us the courage to seek out Christ, even when we must defy all other odds to do so.
“Lift us your eyes and look around,” Isaiah proclaimed. Shouldn’t we do the same today?
My friends, a new year is upon us. My prayer for this year is that you will all have the same courage of the Magi. Their story is still being written. And so is yours.
You are part of the story of the Magi. Today we are not simply celebrating a moment in time when Wise Men showed up to pay homage to Jesus; we are celebrating and giving thanks for the journeys that we are all called to take. Journeys that challenge us to seek out Christ in our lives, journeys that remind us to look to God for guidance and protection and journeys that will absolutely change our lives.
So do not worry about those Christmas decorations that are still up – the celebration continues. Christ is alive! Let this new part of our journey begin.
Thanks be to God!