Jan2SunA sermon for Epiphany Sunday 2022 January 2, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
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- Pr. Sebastian
At my former parish a few days before Christmas one year,as the youth were setting up the Christmas tree, one of the youth noticed the creche, the nativity scene
and took a look: “Hey, where are the three kings? What’s up with that? You mean you don’t have any kings here?” And I responded, somewhat absent-mindedly: “Well, that’s because they don’t arrive until Epiphany!” The youth was unimpressed: “But all the nativity scenes I’ve seen have the 3 kings in them” “ Well” I replied, “The three kings definitely weren’t there the first night. They came later.”
And even here at St. Matthews,
even though there is nobody here except me in the sanctuary to see them,the three kings have finally arrived at the manger, and have brought their gifts…the nativity scene is finally complete as we come to the final part of the Christmas Season; Epiphany, the Festival of Light, the festival of the Manifestation of God’s Glory to the Non-Jews…to the heathen,
God making Godself known to the gentiles, people like you and me.
The magi appear from the East.
from the land of the rising sun.
Or as in the Message translation,
a band of scholars appear from the East.
That choice of words highlights two things:
- we don’t know how many they were, in that “band”
- they weren’t kings—at least the text says nothing about that. (later traditions notwithstanding)..
The magi didn’t come because they had read the prophets,
(although by their appearing they fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah)they weren’t versed in Hebrew Scriptures.
They came because they were astrologers; they were knowledgeable in the occult: magic, fortune-telling, star-gazing.
They were heathen, gentiles, non-Jews, unclean.
They followed a star, which had appeared in the East.
It was common in the ancient world that the birth and death
of great men was accompanied by heavenly signs.
And so a great new star meant a great new king.
“Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews?” they ask.
These magi were earnest spiritual inquirers!
This band of scholars really wanted to seek and find this new, wise, powerful baby.
They were on the lookout for something extra-ordinary,
Popular writers on Christianity these days point to the fact that there are many spiritual seekers out there.
Esp. in the West, we are more knowledgeable and better educated than ever in the history of civilization.
There are many magi/ dabblers in mysticism/ people seeking meaning,
ascribing to a higher power…There are many people who don’t identify with a particular religion,
don’t come regularly to church,
but still confess that the material is not all there is.
There are many people in our cities, towns and neighbourhoods asking;
“Where can we find the meaning of life: the source of life?
Where is this newborn king of Life?”
Let’s face it: Lots of people are spiritual, searching to find meaning.
The question remains:
Are we there to help them find what they’re looking for?
(We must admit: the Church hasn’t always been the best place to find help…we could do better)
Can we be a guiding star for them?
Can we point the way to the Christ Child?
Can we point the way to the source of life and truth of our lives?
Remember: Strange events can bring people to God!
In our Gospel Story today; a weird and bizarre astrological occurrence brought a band of scholars on an expensive multi-month journey.
People who are seeking don’t necessarily come pre-formed with Sunday School and Confirmation Experience. Sometimes they just drop in, and astoundingly, even drop in on a church service, or listen online.
Their seeking is prompted by none other than the Holy Spirit (thank goodness we don’t have to be responsible for everything!)
How did you come to know God?
What is it about God’s universe that attracted you?
What star led you to this place, to worship in the St. Matthews pews, or to be listening to this service this morning?
If someone asked you:
Where can we find the meaning of life: the source of life?
What would you respond?
Imagine people, strangers, even maybe friends asking you: Where can we find the Source of Life, where can we find truth in this sorry and hurting world?
Would you be able to point to
Emmanuel, God with us
to the child in the manger,
the lowly God who loves us and wants to be with us?
The Magi were seekers, that is without question.
But they also came with gifts.
They foresaw some kind of exchange: awe and wonder, traded for a present.
The following is a story Pastor Dawn Hutchings tells about a little boy, named Jay, who was to play one of the three kings in a Church Sunday School pageant.
Little Jay’s mother, like all the mothers of all the kings, was responsible for creating a facsimile of the gift her wise son would bestow on the baby Jesus. Unlike some of the feeble efforts that I’ve seen over the years, Jay’s gift of gold was a cut above the rest. Inside an elaborately carved box that his Dad had picked up on his travels to the Middle East, Jay’s mother had placed upon a bed of satin a carefully created block of wood wrapped in golden gift paper. It positively sparkled. It must have impressed Jay, because he was forever opening up his box to show his fellow cast-members his treasure. During the dress rehearsal, Jay’s performance was perfect. Jay positively perfected the art of gazing up at the makeshift star that hung above the altar just east of our makeshift manger. When he arrived at the place where the newborn baby Jesus, who just happened to be a little girl that year, Jay strode right up to her mother Mary and opened the box containing his treasure and proudly announced his gift of gold for the new born king. They, whoever they are, say that if the rehearsal doesn’t go well then the performance will be wonderful.
So, I was more than a little worried when our dress rehearsal went off so splendidly because that could mean only one thing, and I wasn’t looking forward to a performance where things went wrong. Sure enough, unbeknownst to me, on the morning of his big performance, somewhere between his home and church, Jay lost his golden treasure. All he had was an empty box when he showed up at his father’s pew, wailing because all was lost. Jay had no gold to give to the baby Jesus.
Little Jay was overcome with grief over the loss of his gift of gold. What could he possible do? There was no time to go home and make another gold bullion. [bull-yaan]The nativity play would be ruined. All was lost. He’d looked everywhere he’d been. He couldn’t find the treasure he was expected to give. It was not where he had left it. So, Jay’s Dad did the only thing he could do, he dug down deep into his own treasure to find a gift to give. He opened his wallet and looked at the bills; money, perhaps a few twenties would do the trick; modern gold? And then he saw it; the most precious treasure of all. It was a bit battered from its time spent in his wallet but it was after all his most valuable treasure; so he placed it in Jay’s box so it could be given to the newborn Jesus.
When the time came, Jay bowed regally before the babe and little Emma smiled up at him, as he proudly lifted the lid of his beautifully carved box and offered up the treasure that lay inside. The audience couldn’t see what I saw, but it was a treasure more valuable than gold. For nestled there upon a bed of satin, was a slightly worn photograph of Jay. What gift could be more precious that the gift of one’s self?
This story reminds me of the final verse of the Poem “In the bleak midwinter” by Christina Rossetti
which goes like this:
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.
In this story of magi and gifts,
it all comes down to these two questions, I believe:
Can we point to the true source of Life, Emmanuel, when we are asked?
Can we bring our selves, truly and wholly, as Gifts to this Emmanuel?
No more can be asked of us, as followers of Christ:
but to reflect Christ’s light as best as we can.