St. John's, Centreville
January 6, 2019
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.
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany, which always occurs 12 days after Christmas on January 6. The word "epiphany" means manifestation or appearing. Having an "epiphany" is to have an awakening, a moment when an understanding is realized, like an "ah ha" moment.
These Gentile magi or wise men, or kings, follow a star to find the baby Jesus, because Jesus has not come just for the Jews but for all people. The salvation he offers is for everyone, not just a select few. The actions of the magi foreshadow the acceptance of the Gentiles and the gospel that extends to all the world. There are no foreigners in the kingdom of God.
The wise men, who may have been astrologers rather than kings, follow the bright star in the sky to Jerusalem. There they stop and consult with King Herod to see if he knows where the Christ Child has been born. Herod does not like the news that a rival king has been born. He does not understand that Jesus is not an earthly king and has not come to wrestle power away from King Herod. Jesus is the Son of God and has no desire for earthly power. He has come to save the world from their sins, to show us a better way to live, to show us who God is.
Because of Herod's jealousy and anger, he tells the wise men to come back after they have found the baby Jesus and to tell him where he has been born so that he, too, might go and worship him. Herod has been appointed by the Romans and he is constantly on his guard against any threats to his power. Caesar has empowered Herod to do anything necessary to maintain Rome's absolute rule, even if it includes murder. So Herod's plan is not to go and worship the child, but to gain information about him from the wise men in order to destroy a potential threat. But the wise men are told in a dream not to tell Herod where the child is and they return home by another way.
The news of the birth of Jesus provokes fear in Herod. He is afraid he might lose his power, his authority, his royal standing in the region. After he realizes that he has been duped by the wise men, he orders his soldiers to kill all infant boys under the age of two. He wants to destroy any possibility of a threat to his political power. We remember this day of murder and genocide on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, children who are sometimes considered the first martyrs of the Christian faith.
But Joseph is told in a dream that he must take Mary and the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt, where they will be safe from Herod's tyranny. So Jesus is not in the area where Herod's troops are killing the children.
When the star the wise men are following stops over the place where the baby Jesus is, the wise men are filled with joy. They worship him first and then offer him gifts fit for a king - gold, frankincense and myrrh. We can imagine they are exhausted from their long journey but excited to finally meet the Christ Child. As they wander into Bethlehem, following the star, we can imagine that they might have been rather surprised that the whole town was not celebrating this wonderful event that had taken place in their little town. Why wasn't everyone outside dancing and feasting and praising God? Haven't other people seen this bright star that the wise men had followed for so long? The Christ child had been born right there in their midst and no one seems to know or care.
As we celebrate this Feast of the Epiphany, we recognize that Jesus is the light of the world. But why aren't more people attracted to the light of Christ today? Are people too busy to recognize all that God has given them and how God is working in their lives? Are people too afraid, like Herod was, that God will take away our perceived power and control? Why aren't people drawn to the light of Christ? Perhaps because we, as followers of Jesus Christ, aren't as good as we should be about sharing our faith with others and telling them about God's love for us, of showing them all that God has given us, of being ambassadors for Christ.
For us, Epiphany is a time for us to look at what is missing in our lives, something which gives meaning and purpose to our lives. The wise men realized what they had found in Bethlehem. Will we? Will we recognize the Christ child? Will we recognize Christ in our midst, in our lives and in the lives of others?
Christ is the light of the world. Christ has come into the darkness of our lives with a light that cannot be put out. The wise men recognized what they had found. They had found the Christ child, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
We know that they were told in a dream not to return to Jerusalem and tell Herod where they had found the Christ child. They returned home another way. What we are not told is how their interaction with the Christ child changed their lives. What did they tell their families and friends when they returned home? How were their lives changed? What happened to these wise men who were the first to worship the Son of God?
What difference does it make in our lives that we know Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world. How does that change our lives? How does that change the lives of those around us, those with whom we share our faith? Can we see Christ in others? Can we see Christ in ourselves?
The Feast of the Epiphany changed the lives of the wise men who had followed that star until they found the baby Jesus. How does the Feast of the Epiphany change our lives?
The wise men recognized what they had found. May we, too, recognize Christ as the light of the world and the light in our lives. "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." Amen.