St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon given Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Feast of the Epiphany

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
January 5, 2020
Matt. 2:1-12
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     This true story was once told by The Rev. Billy Graham, one of the greatest evangelists of our time.
     "The British express train raced through the night, its powerful headlight piercing the darkness. Queen Victoria was a passenger on the train. Suddenly the engineer saw a startling sight. Revealed in the beam of the engine's light was a strange figure in a black cloak standing in the middle of the tracks and waving its arms. The engineer grabbed for the brake and brought the train to a grinding halt. He and his fellow trainmen clambered down to see what had stopped them. But they could find no trace of the strange figure."
     "On a hunch, the engineer walked a few yards further up the tracks. Suddenly he stopped and stared into the fog in horror. A bridge had been washed out in the middle, and ahead of them, it had toppled into a swollen stream. If the engineer had not heeded the ghostly figure, his train would have plummeted into the stream.
     "While the bridge and tracks were being repaired, the crew made a more intensive search for the strange, elusive flagman. But not until they got to London did they solve the mystery.
     "At the base of the engine's headlamp, the engineer discovered a huge dead moth. He looked at it a moment, then on impulse, wet its wings and pasted it to the glass of the lamp. Climbing back into his cab, he switched on his light and observed the "flagman" in the beam. In the fog, it appeared to be a phantom figure waving its arms.
     When Queen Victoria was told of the strange happening, she said, "I'm sure it was no accident. It was God's way of protecting us."
     The figure the engineer had seen in the headlight's beam was neither a flagman nor an angel, and yet God, perhaps through the work of the angels, had allowed the moth to land on the headlight lens exactly when and where it was needed. A miracle, I'd say.      Perhaps God sent his angels to protect that train and its passengers from certain death by using the moth. God uses lots of ways to get our attention. I doubt there was anyone on that train who later heard the story of the moth, who didn't pause for at least a moment to wonder at the radical work of God.
     In our gospel lesson this morning, we read about another radical work of God - the wise men who go in search of the Messiah, Jesus, born in a stable in Bethlehem. Why did these wise men, who were not Jewish but were Gentiles, travel so far to come and find the one who was called the Messiah? They said they had seen the star and followed it, so perhaps they were astrologers. But what was it that tugged at their hearts to leave their homes and make such an arduous trip? Was it God, or angels of God?
     And how did the wise men know that this was THE baby, the Messiah that they were looking for? Most babies look like....well.....babies, some cute, some not so cute. How did they know that this was the one to worship, this was the one they had traveled so far to see? Were there no other babies in Bethlehem? How did they know that this was the Messiah, the one they had been waiting for, the one of whom the prophets foretold? What was it that drew them to that manger in Bethlehem? We are not told that part in the gospel accounts but it must have been God tugging at their hearts, inspiring them to go look for this child, the Messiah. Because as soon as they see Jesus, they KNOW that he is the one born king of the Jews, no matter what Herod said.
     What is it that draws us to the manger? What is it that draws us to Christ? It is God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, through the work of God's angels, that tugs at our hearts, to bring us to the manger, to help us to know Jesus. It is God who brings us together, week after week, to worship God in this community of faith. It is God who inspires us to worship God at home or in the car or at work. It is God's love for us that draws us to the manger, to know who God is, to worship God and to spread God's word to others.
     But the question is, will we listen and respond? Will we answer God's call to worship God, to love God and our neighbor? Or will we do what we want to do, treat others as we want to, live the way we want to, without any regard for what God wants us to do?
     God called the wise men, who were Gentiles, and sent them to find the baby Jesus and to worship him. They could have said no. They could have ignored the tugging of their hearts. But they didn't. And because they didn't, the knowledge of the Messiah's birth was brought to the Gentiles. God's love was not just for the Jews but for everyone.
     The birth of the long awaited Messiah was a promise that fulfilled the scriptures - the Son of God coming into this world to show us who God is. The wise men were overjoyed. But Herod was not. Herod felt threatened by the birth of Jesus, so threatened that when he realized he had been duped by the wise men who did not return to tell him the location of the child, that he had all the male children under the age of two killed. In the small town of Bethlehem, there may not have been many children, but it was still a tragedy to those families whose children were killed.
     What is Jesus for us - a threat or a promise? Is he a threat to the way we want to live our lives; or is he a promise that through him, we know God better? Jesus came to show us a better way to live, a better way to love one another as children of God, a better way to know God and to have a relationship with God. May each of us be called to the manger to testify that Jesus is the promise that we have longed for, the Messiah, the Son of God, who came to show us God's love for us. May we see God in all people and everything around us, and God at work in the world around us, including in wise men and dead moths. Amen.
Story taken from "Synthesis", January 5, 2020


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