To the Parishioners & Friends of Saint Bernard's:


Please enjoy the Sermon, from the last Sunday's service below...If you would like to comment upon the Sermon below, or would like to start a private dialogue with the Rev. Beth Rauen Sciaino, please hit "reply" to this email or contact her at [email protected].



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A sermon preached by the Rev. Beth Rauen Sciaino
on the Feast of the Epiphany (transferred), January 8, 2017,
at St. Bernard's Episcopal Church, Bernardsville, NJ 

Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Psalm 72:1-7,10-14

1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King's Son;
2 That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;
3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.
4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, *
and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.
11 All kings shall bow down before him, *
and all the nations do him service.
12 For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *
and the oppressed who has no helper.
13 He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *
he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
14 He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, *
and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

Matthew 2:1-12

I n the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Here at St. Bernard's, we have a wonderful Epiphany window. It depicts the magi kneeling before baby Jesus, who is sitting on his mother Mary's lap, with Joseph nearby. In this scene, the wise men have arrived. They come from the East following a star, searching for the child born a king. They journey to witness, to see, God in Jesus. To celebrate God's love for us made visible in this holy child. A baby full of promise, sent to live and serve among the poorest of God's people.
This story from the Gospel of Matthew has captured the imagination of generations of Christians. There's an abundance of murals and paintings to be found online - click on this link for a list to see some: . Paintings of the magi from the East, who come from the direction of the sun's rising. Matthew tells of gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Other Scriptures influence our image of them as kings. Tradition assumes that each wise man brought one of these expensive gifts for Jesus; three gifts means there must be three kings. They are represented as different ages and ethnicities - a reminder that all the nations see the God of the universe at work in Jesus' birth. After meeting Jesus, these representatives return home bearing God's blessing to their own countries. We meet them in art being led by the star almost at Bethlehem, or already arrived as in our window. Yet, there's a wealth of unexplored aspects of the magi's story. Consider the scope of their journey, the companionship of their quest, and the hope that drew them to follow the star, night after night. What might those pictures look like?
More important than their depictions, is the magi's reverence for God in all things, even a lowly baby. Their journey reveals an openness to God's love for all the nations, all the people. A mutual love. Whether kings or magi, these travelers are well-educated people, who study and value the wisdom of other peoples, other places. They gather and learn wisdom from afar and add it to their own. They are open to the world and God's authority in it, shared in many voices, many experiences. Their study lays the groundwork in themselves to be receptive to revelation wherever it arrives, open to the journey with God that we all take.
The wise travelers know the passages from Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72 of the Scriptures of Israel, passages that we heard and said together today. This knowledge helps them recognize the star when it appears in the night sky. And they have courage to see themselves in the story of God and God's world. The magi step away from their books and wealth, gather up their companions, choose gifts worthy of a king and of God, and start on a pilgrimage with trust and a star to lead them. Ringing in their ears is the beginning of chapter 60 from the Prophet Isaiah.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Is. 60:1-3)
The kings come to pay homage. We see them taking off their crowns one at a time and kneeling before Jesus with gifts extended. Sometimes, they kiss Jesus' feet in deference to him. One of my favorites, a French painting from the 1380s, has the 2nd and 3rd kings with crowns aloft as the oldest king kneels before Jesus, kissing his toes, the elderly king's crown on the floor.[1] Jesus is often depicted as raising his right hand in blessing, as he is in our window. Matthew writes that the magi are overwhelmed with joy when they find the infant king. Their joy stops them in their tracks and spills over when they find what they seek - the light of the world. We too will kneel today during the Prayers of the People, embodying a posture of reverence, deference, and wonder modeled by the magi.
On the Feast of the Epiphany we do not just celebrate a moment in Jesus' life.   Or in the lives of the wise people who came from the East, following a star. The purpose of re-membering, re-embodying the Epiphany journey of the magi, is to celebrate revelation and transformation. The ongoing process of transformation begins with the magi's study, and continues with their first steps away from home, seeking God in the world beyond their borders. Light makes things visible. The bright star shines in the darkness, making night travel possible. Light slips under doors and into forgotten corners. Light helps us see in new ways, envision new ways of being, and catch hold of God's vision and mission out ahead of us. Jesus is Light from Light, Light from God, and it is in his glow that we are transformed.
The images of the kneeling kings before the infant Jesus invite a question. What kind of king do the wise travelers expect and King Herod and the leaders of Jerusalem fear? We find Israel's understanding of such a king in Psalm 72. God expects justice and righteousness. Leaders whom God anoints defend the needy, rescue the poor, crush the oppressor, so that there is "an abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more" (Ps. 72:7). This king "shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, from one generation to another" (Ps. 72:5). He is a gift from the heavens, from the sacred lights which signal his birth and his life.
Justice is what God expects all people to embody, especially people in power, whose decisions have profound consequences for many whose lives are restricted by systems of injustice and disadvantage. The holy leader shall "preserve the lives of the needy. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight" (Ps. 13b-14).
Psalm 72 does not mince words. We cannot separate the psalmist's mention of prosperity from the consistent refrains of justice, righteousness, over-turned poverty, and peace. This Jesus, a child king, is worth waiting for. It's worth waiting for him to grow up and lead by example. His ministry of healing, feeding, embracing, and teaching reveals God's love for all the people and God's call for us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. This work is not for the king alone. The risen Jesus lives with one generation to the next. Jesus lives in us. He is revealed in us, the journeys we choose to take, and our trust in God to guide and lead us, as we walk with one another.
We serve as Epiphany lights for each other and the world around us. Now more than ever this light must shine. Justice and peace is needed by God's people who cry out in their distress and those whose cries have gone unheard and ignored for too long. When we get a glimpse of God's vision and mission, the magi remind us to have courage. Ask for God's guidance and trust that we will find companions on the way. And then take a step into the unknown, with the light of Christ ahead and within us, shining out to reveal the unexpected path, one that leads to joy. Amen.