Epiphany: We Don’t Go Home The Same

wise menEpiphany – We Don’t Go Home The Same
Matthew 2:1-12
January 4-5, 2014

It would be very different today
if the magi were looking for the new king!
If it were cloudy, they’d still have the Star Walk phone app to follow!
And if they got lost, they could at the very least use a map
or a GPS…or of course they could ask Siri!

Siri is my favorite new iPhone assistant.
She gives directions, answers questions, sends messages…

Here she is…
Listen….”Siri, how many people live in the United States?”
“Siri, who was the 21st president of the United States?”
She even tells jokes…

But what I love most about Siri, is that she gives directions.
“Siri how do I get to Bethlehem?”
Well she gives directions to almost everywhere.’

Today we celebrate the beginning of the church season of Epiphany.
Siri – what does epiphany mean?

A divine manifestation.
In short during this season we pay special attention
to how God (the divine)
is made known (or manifested) through Jesus.
This season points to the answer to the question,
“How can God be known?”

When things don’t turn out the way we’d like them to…
in Epiphany we ask, “How can God be known?”

In a world of conflict and fear…
in Epiphany we ask, “How can God be known?”

Siri doesn’t do so well with that question…
“Siri – how can God be known?”

Epiphany’s answer is that God is known in Jesus.
Throughout this season we will hear Bible passages about how God has been made known in Jesus.

When we want to know the heart of God,
how or whom God loves,
in Epiphany we’re reminded the best we can do is to look to Jesus.

When we want to know the mind of God,
what God thinks about the poor or the sick
or about leaders or violence or unfaithfulness,
in Epiphany we’re reminded the best we can do is to look to Jesus.

Today we start at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life – at his birth.
God is made known at Jesus’ birth – both through the place he was born
(the little town of Bethlehem)
and though his family (Mary, did you know?).

The circumstances of his birth as Matthew says were truly divine.
Even the stars take notice!
The magi (wisemen) from the east who had studied the stars,
take special notice.

They are so impressed by the astronomical changes,
that they decide to take a roadtrip.
The magi load up with gifts and go away following a star.

Can you imagine their families and friends?
You’re going where?
You’re following what?
You’re giving that to whom?

What the magi do only sounds ‘normal’ to us because we’ve heard it so many times before.
We know the story – the shepherds come and then the wise men come.
That’s how it goes!
But packing up and leaving home to follow God is not how everyone lives.
Giving precious things away is not everyone’s idea of how to worship.

Have you mentioned to your neighbor how you spend your Saturday evenings?
It’s not ‘normal’ for most others.
Have you shared with your cousin or sister-in-law why you give so generously?
Giving is not ‘worship’ for most others.

Well the magi do manage to take off after the star…
and it doesn’t go so well at first.
The direction of the star takes them near Jerusalem.
They know Scripture, so they assume they’ve arrived.

They’re familiar with Isaiah chapter 60 which says to the people returning to Jerusalem after their exile,
“Arise, shine; for your light has come,” and
“Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn,” and
“A multitude of camels shall cover you… They shall bring gold and frankincense.”

And the magi are thinking,
“Well, we have camels…and we have gold and frankincense
(and some myrrh for good measure).
We must have found the right place – Jerusalem!
Now where is that king?”

When King Herod hears that there are magi in town looking for a king – and it’s not he –
he’s scared.
He calls together all the Jerusalem scholars of the Old Testament Scriptures
and asks them, “Where is this king the magi are looking for to be born?
Is it here in Jerusalem like Isaiah 60 says?”

The scholars discuss the matter
and then they share with Herod a different passage of Scripture –
one from the prophet Micah rather than Isaiah.

Micah chapter 5 says:
“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah . . . from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old . . .”

The messiah will come not from Jerusalem, the city of power;
but from Bethlehem, a far more humble town.
The magi are close – they are off by merely 9 miles.
They could have used Siri….

Herod sends the magi on their way asking them to let him know when they find this king,
because he too would like to worship him.
(And of course, we catch the more sinister intention behind the words…
What king really would like to worship another king?)

When the magi set out on their way again,
the star is moving once more and it does lead them to Bethlehem…and then finally it stops.
It stops over the place where they find Jesus.

The magi are overcome with emotion – with joy.
They hadn’t wanted to admit it to each other or even to themselves,
but sometimes along the way they had had their doubts.

But now they knew without a doubt that what they had hoped for in the star was real!
It was indeed a sign from God!
God had been made known in the star.
And now God was made known to them in the person of Jesus.
It was Epiphany!
Divine manifestation. God made known in Jesus.

The magi bow down at the child king,
and worship him, giving their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And then they go home.

They don’t go home the same way as they came, however.
I’m not talking about the route they take –
of course the wise men are wise enough not to go back to Herod!

The magi don’t go home the same way as they came,
because they’ve experienced Epiphany.
Once we’ve experienced Epiphany, we are not the same.
We cannot go back home the way we came.
We are not the same, and home is not the same.

Have you had a child or grandchild go to workcamp?
Chances are they experienced Epiphany,
and they did not come home the same.

Did you serve as a CARES overnight or host volunteer or serve breakfast?
Chances are you experienced Epiphany,
and you did not come home the same.

When Sally, Dave, Pat, Joyce, and I went to Nicaragua this past August,
we experienced Epiphany,
and we did not come home the same.

It’s not that we stopped struggling with the difficult happenings in our world or in our lives.
In some ways, those struggles increased!
But those experiences were star-experiences leading us to the heart and mind of Jesus
in whom God is made known.

An iPhone can’t lead us to Jesus.
Siri can’t tell us where to find Jesus.
Jesus comes to us, God is made known to us,
in subtle and surprising ways – in a child born in a peasant town, in a resident whose house needs painting, in a homeless person who needs a place to stay, in a preschool child who has never had a book – these are Epiphanies.

Happy Epiphany everyone!
Let us look for the stars guiding us!

Amen.

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