December 31, 2018
Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant redeemer is laid.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #303]
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, January 6, 2019, the Epiphany of Our Lord, are as follows:
The Epiphany of Our Lord is one of my favorite Feast Days. For me, in my infancy, this was Christmas. This day is when I received my presents. I have often shared this story on various platforms in the past, but I want to share it again because it meant a lot to me in my childhood and these days, sadly, Epiphany is for most people, just another day; especially, if it doesn't fall on a Sunday.
The Gospel reading from Matthew holds many fond childhood and teenage memories for me. In Puerto Rico, where I was born, it was not at Christmas, but on Epiphany when we received our presents. Epiphany for us is known as "Three Kings Day," or, just to give you a little Spanish lesson, "El Día de los Reyes."
We used to take a shoe box and fill it with straw for the camels to eat and then put the shoe box under our bed on the night of January 5th. When we would wake up in the morning, the straw would be gone, replaced by whatever toys we would have as our presents. They were brought there, of course, by the Wise Men, not Santa Claus.
Like any youngster in my homeland it was hard to go to sleep on the eve of the Kings' Day and, like any kid who wonders how Santa Claus gets down the chimney, we also would question how those huge camels got into our bedroom and why we never heard the noises of so many people and animals in our house. Surely they couldn't have been that quiet.
As a college student, I had a role in the opera, "Amahl and the Night Visitors," by Giancarlo Menotti. I was Balthazar, having won that part by default because the role called for a bass voice, which I had; and the fact that I was black, so they could save a ton on makeup.
It is so seldom that January 6th, the fixed date of Epiphany, actually falls on a Sunday. The last time that happened was 2013. So the Gospel text that you'll hear this coming Sunday is often read as part of the Nativity story and given little, if any more consideration. In fact, it's one of those stories you've heard so often that when you hear or read it, I'm willing to bet that many of you immediately tune out and say to yourself, "Oh, I already know that story."
What has happened over the years is that we have harmonized the nativity stories and have layered them with other stories and added other traditions to the point that it has blurred our vision of what the Gospel text is really telling us.
This story is more than just a sweet, innocent tale that gets acted out at Christmas. It is perhaps one of the most powerful stories in the gospel. Even in infancy the Christ child stirred up a capital city, disturbed a reigning king, and attracted foreigners to come and worship. As one writer describes it, "it is the entire gospel crammed into a few paragraphs."
Among the messages one gathers from the story is that God's love and salvation is available to all people, not just a select few. The wise men were Gentiles, not Jews. One can assume they were into astrology, which might explain how they received the news of Jesus' birth by way of the star that was visible to them.
The good news of the Gospel reaches out to us in different ways. The star in the east, that drew the wise men to Jesus; the angels who announced the birth to the shepherds; are all indications that there is no one way to reach out to those who need to hear the message. There is no one style of worship that is better suited or more effective in attracting people to Jesus. I am often reminded of this when I attend worship services of other traditions or hear a debate about liturgical versus contemporary worship. We can sometimes get bogged down in details and forget the big picture. It's not about how we worship but how that worship speaks to us and how we respond. The lives of the wise men were changed forever as a result of coming face to face with Jesus. We are called to be that light of a star to others who may also need to come face to face with our risen Savior.
And, oh by the way, Happy New Year!
The Lutheran Center, Northeastern Ohio Synod offices will reopen on Wednesday, January 2. As mentioned last week, I, however, will be out of the office until January 10, at our annual Bishops' Academy. This is a continuing education event that is held in various locations throughout the country. This year we gather around the theme of Caring for Our Common Home: Neighbor and Neighbor-love, for Us, Today
I'm carrying this announcement over from last few weeks and will probably do a few more times. Rostered leaders, please remember that it's time to complete your annual reports. The link and instructions are available on our Wednesday e-news, or you can access the form by clicking [here].
Soon it will also be time for congregations to fill out parochial reports. They will appear on the ELCA website in early January.
This week and always, may your New Year be filled with God's richest blessings that your hearts may thrill and rejoice.
+Bishop Abraham Allende