God turned on the porch light… a sermon for Epiphany

Text : Matthew 2: 1-12 Epiphany B

Three wise women. Thin Mints. Gold, Frankincense, and myrrh. A dear friend who helped us stock our freezer before each of our children were born sent me a cartoon earlier this week. It said that the three wiser women showed up after the wise men had left…. They brought the Christ child –or more accurately, for his mother-  casseroles for the week, fresh diapers and formula, and an in-home nanny! Now those would have been practical gifts for a little one!

Earlier this week, my son, Rhys, and I were playing with our Fisher Price nativity set –they’d just received the shepherd and angels expansion set for Christmas, so now we can play out the whole story properly! For the duration of Advent, Mary, Joseph, and the animals stood in the stable waiting for Christmas. On Christmas morning, the baby Jesus was added to the stable, and now we’ve been waiting for Epiphany to add the Magi to the scene. Rhys had just finished flying the angels around and making the Shepherd and sheep roll down the arm of our couch to Bethlehem proper to see the baby Jesus. He then picked up the baby Jesus, the cow, and the Thin Mint girl scout cookie that he’d slowly been munching on. What would a 3 year old offer the baby Jesus? Mine held a piece of his cookie up to the Christ child’s lips and then made the cow give the baby a kiss.

Casseroles, diapers, a nanny, a cookie, a kiss from a cow, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. What would you offer to the child Messiah? What would you offer to the one born to reveal God’s love to the whole world?

The Magi came from the East with their gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, all costly and slightly ridiculous gifts for a toddler. They braved a long journey, and continued even after they lost their way. When we think about this story, we often get caught up in the extravagance of their gifts –truly gifts fit for a king!!! Yet, the most important gift the Magi came to bring was not in their treasure chest, but in their hearts. We hear repeatedly what their mission is. It’s not to drop off presents and run away like Santa Claus, no, the mission of the Magi is to pay homage –to WORSHIP- the one born the Messiah. The king of the Jews. A sign in the stars led these seekers, these Gentiles from far away, to find him and worship him.

The Magi were not kings, nor were they exactly astronomers, but rather more likely astrologers. It was believed in antiquity that the heavens rejoiced at the birth of important and influential people by revealing peculiar astrological signs. A star appeared and the Magi believed that it revealed that the Messiah had been born. They set off, but couldn’t figure out exactly where in Judea the star was indicating, so they went to the most logical place to find the Messiah. Where else would the king of the Jews be but in the palace in Jerusalem? You can imagine Herod’s surprise and fear when this band of strange, foreign, astrologers showed up in his court looking for the new king! Up until this point, Herod believed HE was the only king of the Jews! His power, and indeed all the power structures of the world, were threatened by the birth of an unknown child. The chief priests and religious scholars set the Magi on a course for Bethlehem, which is where the Messiah was to be born, and the star appeared again during their travels, shining clearly enough for them to find the exact door to knock on and bow down in worship of the child contained therein. These travelling foreigners were overwhelmed with joy when they knew that their longing to worship the Christ child would be fulfilled!

What do we offer to a holy child, but holy lives and a renewed commitment to worship? We hear a lot about New Years Resolutions this time of year and chances are that most of us sitting here today have already failed our new years resolutions. Often, overwhelmingly, our new years resolutions have to do with physical or financial wellness, but what about spiritual wellness?

What about the New Year’s Resolutions we made at the start of advent to turn our lives around and reorient ourselves toward God? What about our commitment to family devotional time? To spending 5 minutes a day in private prayer? To spending intentional time with God as we go about our daily lives? What about the commitments we made to read our bibles every day, to worship more frequently, or to serve the church or the community in a new capacity? What about carrying the spiritual fervor of the Christmas season through Epiphany and into the new year? In our home, Rhys is holding us accountable to family devotional time. We used the seminary’s advent star during Advent, each day we’d read the scripture passage and the prayer appointed for the day. He loved it so much that now when we say it’s time to pray before our meals, he says “ok, I’ll get the Bible!”

It’s a new year and the commercial industry tells us that means there should be a new you! But what about when there isn’t? The God who took on our flesh and became one of us, the God who lovingly embraces all peoples in their rich diversity, STILL lovingly embraces you in all your you-ness. In all the ways you fail to live up to the goals you set for yourself. In spite of the ways you disappoint yourself. In your weight struggles, your financial struggles, your relationship struggles, your struggles to reduce your stress and to live peaceably with others, God –Emmanuel- is with you in all of that and embraces you in spite of it. An epiphany is a divine manifestation in the midst of human history, and that’s what we’re celebrating today! God’s light, the light of Christ, breaks into the darkness of this world and renews our hope. God’s light, the light of Christ, breaks through the negativity of your life because God in Christ already broke through the negativity of our world which said that Gentiles were not welcome and transformed this world in love. Through the light of a star, God rolled out the welcome mat. God literally turned the heavenly porch light on! God welcomed the Gentiles. And so, the Magi were among the first to recognize God incarnate in Christ and to offer that child the greatest gift they had –they offered their worship!

Like the Magi before us, in this New Year let us offer the holy Christ Child our very lives which are only made whole and holy through him. Amen.

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