The Rev. Dr. Mary Abrams
Jan. 4, 2015
Happy New Year! Well that is our secular holiday. We, the church, had our new year at the end of November, the first Sunday of Advent. Now we are officially still in the Christmas season. Did anyone receive any “Lords a Leaping” today? This is the tenth day of Christmas. That makes this coming Tuesday, Jan. 6, the Twelfth day of Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany. The word epiphany means an appearance or manifestation, particularly of a divine being. Epiphany is when we celebrate God being manifest as human. God taking on human form and living among us. We often use the word epiphany when we have had a new insight or discovery especially when it comes unexpectedly. The aha moment, you suddenly “get it,” everything falls into place and you have a new understanding. We have all had epiphanies. I want to talk about an epiphany or an aha moment from our Gospel story today.
Everybody knows about Christmas and Easter, they’re the two times every year when most all Christians go to church. But for the first three centuries of Christianity, it was NOT Easter and Christmas, but Easter and Epiphany that were the big celebrations. Along with Pentecost – the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, Easter and Epiphany were the early Church’s biggest celebrations. It was not until the fourth century when Constantine made it ok and in fact legal, to be a Christian, that the date December 25 was chosen as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth and it later became a holiday. Until that time, it was Epiphany that was the “big deal,” of the Church year. What was it about the Epiphany – The manifestation of God as human, that made it more important than the birth of the Christ child?
The Epiphany story is only found in the Gospel of Matthew. It is the story of the three wise men–that’s what Matthew calls them. Sometimes we hear “Magi” or Kings. But they weren’t kings. They really were Magi, a kind of astrologer priest. The story tells us about them following a star, visiting and giving gifts to the baby Jesus and then being forced to go home by a different route to avoid King Herod.
Matthew wrote his gospel to convince fellow Jews that Jesus was the messiah that the Old Testament tells us is coming. His gospel was written from a Jewish viewpoint for a Jewish audience. It is often called "The Gospel for the Jews.”
So an aha moment from this story might be when we realize that the wise men in Matthew’s story are Gentiles. This story is the first introduction of Jesus to the Gentiles. It is a sign that God loves Gentiles as well as Jews. That God's plan of salvation includes Gentiles also. That might seem insignificant now as the church has included Gentiles for centuries. The fact is that most Christians today are Gentiles. So why is this important?
It may not be important if Epiphany were only about the inclusion of Gentiles in the church. But I don’t think that is the message. I think it is more than that. Epiphany is a celebration of the breaking down of dividing walls; it gives us a way to end hostilities between groups of people. Epiphany challenges us to take a new look at all the people whom we see as different from ourselves. It challenges us to abandon our tribalism, racially, nationally, politically, denominationally, all the many ways we find to exclude others. It invites us to expand our welcome even to those whom we would prefer not to love. Loving those outside our comfort zone is difficult, but Christ makes it possible. That is the message we can get from this Epiphany story. The aha moment. It is about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves as Jesus taught us.
One of our favorite songs of this season is the hymn "We Three Kings."
The hymn tells how the Kings followed that "star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright" which led them to the new King 'Born on Bethlehem's plain." It tells how they opened their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Notice that when we sing this hymn we become part of the story. We don’t sing "Those three Kings," we sing "We three Kings." We find ourselves on that road to Bethlehem, dressed in royal garments, and our hands holding presents for the baby Jesus. It is we kings who carry our gold and frankincense and myrrh. This gospel story does not tell just what happened once, two thousand years ago, but it tells what happens, or can happen, in our lives right here and now.
You see, the wise men did more than open their treasure chests. What they did was open their hearts to Jesus as they gave him a piece of themselves. Jesus didn’t need gold, frankincense and myrrh; what’s a little baby going to do with those things? And Jesus doesn’t need anything WE could give him today.
This reminds me of my favorite Christmas Hymn, In the Bleak Mid-Winter. In the last verse we sing, what can I give him poor as I am, If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb, If I were a Wiseman I would do my part. But what can I give him, I can give my heart. The only thing that we, we Kings, can give Jesus is to give him our hearts. The only thing that Jesus ever asks of us is to Love the Lord and to Love one another. What better way to demonstrate your love for someone then to do what they ask you to do.
It’s about opening up our treasure chests, our hearts, like the Kings did and offering to Jesus whatever we have locked away in there that is preventing us from loving fully. The things that we won’t let go of. What is in your treasure chest that takes up room and keeps you from loving Jesus with your whole heart. Is it money? Is it time? Is it pride? Perhaps it is a grudge, from something someone did long ago? A prejudice that you have been unwilling to let go of? A hardened heart that you have not softened? What better gift to give Jesus then making more room in your heart for loving God and loving others.
Maybe this would be a good day to open our hearts to God? To release the things that are separating us from others and to make more room for love.
So here’s an idea. Maybe its a good thing that Epiphany is so close to the New Year. A time when many of us make resolutions to make the new year better than the last. We traditionally resolve that we are going to lose weight or stop smoking or take on an exercise program. So this year, instead of New Year resolutions which are probably already broken by now let me suggest some Epiphany resolutions that we might consider. Resolutions that would open our hearts.
We could resolve to soften our hearts and to be the face of Christ in the world so that others who do not yet know our Lord can see God in us and experience God’s love through us.
We could resolve give up our prejudices and to see Christ in the face of all we meet. Treating everyone as sisters and brothers in Christ.
We could resolve to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, to examine the way we live and to simplify our lives, to reset our priorities to give us time and resources to help the poor and weak.
We could resolve to learn more about how we are damaging the planet, God’s creation, and make the necessary changes in our life to protect and care for our environment.
What Epiphany resolution can you make? What treasures have you locked away and have not to let go of? What treasures can you release, offer to God and resolve to follow in the path that Jesus showed us. To love and care for ALL creation.