Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany Year C
Nations shall come to your light. Gentiles have become fellow heirs. Wise men came from the East.
On Epiphany, this first Sunday of 2019, it appears that God relished diversity and inclusion long before such goals became the responsibility of human resource departments, college administrators and appointed faith leaders. God shines light upon the people of Israel not for their own sake alone, but for the sake of the nations. So reflective of God’s glory will the Jewish people be that other peoples will be drawn to them and these other peoples shall also be radiant as a result. Paul tells the readers of his letter to the Ephesians the reason he is a prisoner for Christ Jesus is for the sake of the Gentiles. All he endures and undertakes brings the Gentiles closer to Christ and to God’s light bearing chosen ones in order that all will be members of the same body. Those who have been far off will now be brought close — so close, in fact, that they will be one with God and each other.
News of the birth of the King of the Jews born in the small, outlier town of Bethlehem reached all the way to the East. Herod is frightened by this baby’s arrival (and all of Jerusalem with him). God’s expansive purview excludes no corner of creation, no far flung town or powerful palace, no shepherd or earthly king. Those currently enjoying the status quo ought to be frightened. Be afraid, Herod. Be very afraid. Herod’s epiphany that this child, this King of the Jews, trumps any political, military or temporal power is correct. Nations, Gentiles, wise ones from the East, poor ones from the fields, tax collectors once willing to capitulate to Rome, hungry crowds and even women and children will be united in Christ, enlisted to serve God fully and sent to proclaim to all with ears to hear that their worth is God-given, their dignity God-ordained, their loyalty to the Lord alone. Be afraid, Herod. Be very, afraid.
Herod’s epiphany of Jesus’ power begets fear. The Wise Men pay homage. The shepherds responded with worship, joy and unrestrained proclamation. Mary ponders these things in her heart. Soon Pharisees and Chief Priests will plot to kill him. A few people will leave all they have and follow him. Those possessed by evil spirits will recognize him. The most vulnerable will cry out to him for mercy. The hungry and thirsty will be satisfied. The estranged will be reconciled. The guilty as sin, the guilty of sin, sinners all will be forgiven. Mercy now trumps sacrifice. Grace abounds. Justice will rush through the streets like a river bursting its banks. The most recalcitrant of wrongdoers will miraculously repent and seek to make things right. The world is about to turn. Nothing remains the same with the inbreaking of the light of Christ, the coming of the glory of God, the incarnation of the Son of Man, the birth of the King of the Jews. Not then and not now. Be afraid, Herod. Be very, afraid.
As we begin a new calendar year, what revelation does the birth of Jesus bring to us? How do we respond as the earth tilts and nations stream to the light of the Lord and Mary’s Song becomes as familiar as “Silent Night” and “Auld Lang Syne” and the glory of God overwhelms the world? Fear? Homage? Worship? Silent awe? Boisterous proclamation? Selling all we have? Giving back five times what we’ve taken? Forgiving seven times seven? Repentance? Longing for, working for real reconciliation? Listening to the Spirit even when it defies Herod and puts us in danger?
What has God revealed to you with the coming of the light of Jesus Christ?
The practice of “star words” has become more popular in recent years. Contemporary disciples are given a star with a word written in it. The word is to guide them throughout the year. Like those long-ago wise men, we are to follow the star, allow it to lead us, look to it for guidance. Star words include things like “patience” or “courage,” “receive” or “respect,” “turn” or “leadership” or “loyalty.” I like that this can be intergenerational. I like the idea of making Epiphany applicable to daily life. I have heard testimony from people for whom their word truly impacted their sense of God’s presence and guidance in their lives. (Here comes the but…) I would, however, want to make sure that we do not inadvertently turn Epiphany, this expansive, nation-encompassing, Gentile-reaching, wise men from the East, all of Jerusalem afraid, world-upending occasion into a strictly personal, just-Jesus-and-me revelation. Whatever our “star word,” our revelation, response and reaction to the coming of the Christ child, Jesus comes not for us alone but for the sake of the world.
The people of Israel are given the light of God so that nations will stream to them, be drawn to God’s glory. Paul is a prisoner of Christ for the sake of the Gentiles, so that we will be one body. Jesus Christ’s coming to earth is good news for all people. Herod’s fear is warranted, because anyone abusing their power, exploiting the vulnerable, hurting the world God so loves, will be overthrown. Our star words, our revelation and our epiphany – if it comes from the Lord – entails participating in the uprising of justice, the insurgence of grace, the coup of mercy, the turning over of tables and the mutiny of sacrificial love.
Be afraid, Herod, be very afraid. It’s Epiphany. The world is about to turn.
- What is your reaction to the birth of Christ?
- Have you ever experienced what you would call an epiphany? What was it? What did you do as a result?
- Have you participated in the practice of “star words”? If so, was it a helpful spiritual practice? How did it impact your faith or daily living?
- If God’s plan for salvation is expansive, unifying and world encompassing, how does our congregation reflect that plan?
- The Gospel lesson says that Herod is afraid, and “all of Jerusalem with him.” Why is all of Jerusalem afraid? Should the birth of Jesus be good news to them?
- The wise men heed their dream rather than Herod. How do we discern whose direction to follow? When have you experience guidance from God? How did you know it was divine guidance?
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