Epiphany of Our Lord 3 January 2016
(Isaiah 60:1-6 Psalm 72 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12)
“Witnessing to the Light by Following A Star!”
Many Christmas trees have already been taken down—the real ones picked up from the curb; the artificial ones back in the attic. The Christmas cards and holiday letters might still be stacked on the corner of the table. The only cookies that are left are the ones the kids didn’t care for. Almost the entire fruitcake is still on the shelf. Where did that come from, anyway?
The younger children return to school on Monday. The college students are already getting antsy to get back to see their friends! The ugly sweaters contests were lots of fun!. Many of the toys have been broken. The Visa Card bills will be arriving any day. The excitement and the rushing around is becoming a memory of this Christmas past.
We’ve arrived at this 12th day of Christmas (well, actually, not quite, but we’re still celebrating this weekend!)….[begin singing, “On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…..”Oh, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself!] wondering if there is possibly still anything our true love might bring to us.
Well, we don’t have to be held in suspense very long. After the one-line birth narrative in Matthew’s Gospel we just heard, we now realize there is more to come!
Immediately we are given a glimpse of mysterious travelers (I guess there are three!). We hear of these cute, adoring figures, dressed like kings, carrying gifts, and looking for an infant in the manger.
(Doors to worship space open and the three “Kings” enter, somewhat noisily. Pastor Mike has one more line before they begin speaking)
Whoa! Look who’s here! Did I just say cute and adoring?????
(SKIT BEGINS HERE!)
[Gaspar…..Melchior…..Balthazar enter the worship space and begin speaking]
GASPAR: Well, Melchior, I think we’re lost again!
MELCHIOR: (holding a large paper map, looking at it all upside down in exasperation!) I will never use a map again! And what is even crazier, is that you guys wanted to follow a star! Who ever heard of such a dim-witted idea? And following a dream is just as brainless! How about that thing called MapQuest?
BALTHAZAR: I always use the Navigation App on my iPhone! (he takes out his phone!) Look how easy it is! Do you want to hear the lady who speaks perfect Persian? She’ll get us going in the right direction! (realizes something is wrong!) On no, I’m down to one bar! I’m nearly out of juice! Now what?
GASPAR: Okay! Okay! Let’s stop arguing and think this through! We’ve gotten this far, and the star is still there. Let’s just keep on going!
BALTHAZAR: I wish I would have charged my phone this morning when we stopped to water the camels! That App would tell us where to turn and even how long it takes to get there. And whose idea was it to follow this dream?
MELCHIOR: Remember that thing called AAA from a long time ago? I bet it would have taken us right to the palace doors of this King we’re looking for! Sooooooo, who’s going to ask directions?
BALTHAZAR: We’re not lost! We don’t have to ask directions! And besides, I asked the last time!
GASPAR: Oh, that didn’t count! We were just looking for a place to water the camels. That doesn’t count as asking directions!
BALTHAZAR: I think if we just keep riding around for awhile, eventually we will find the right place where this King lives.
GASPAR: I know that’s what men do, but we’ve been riding for a long time. I think we need to find where this King really lives.
MELCHIOR: I have an idea! Why don’t we go to the palace of King Herod? Maybe he will know where this Messiah King lives. Maybe Herod can give us directions! Balthazar, it’s your turn to ask the directions!
BALTHAZAR: Wait, let me look at my Phone, just in case!
MELCHIOR: Balthazar, it’s your turn!!!!!
(The three “kings” can then sit down in first row and listen to the rest of the sermon)
Well, we know one of them did ask for directions to find “the child who has
been born king of the Jews.” And we know that Herod’s council directed the
travelers to Bethlehem, as was predicted by the prophet Micah. We know
somehow they did get to the right place, and they found the child with
his mother, Mary. And we know they gave the child gifts of gold,
frankincense and myrrh.
These guys turned out to be pretty good navigators, after all; however, there is a lot more in this story than first meets the eye. Very often there are stories included in the Bible as a protest against the way things were at that time. I think this Gospel story is one such example. This story of the three “kings” shows us the contrast between the power of King Herod and the authority of this infant in the manger. This narrative undercuts King Herod’s power by disclosing the infant King already at work. Thus, we are shown a different way.
For listeners of Matthew’s Gospel, the quote from the prophet Micah in
verse 6 takes us to the core of the protest. This is the verse: “And you,
Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” This can be heard as a protest as it questions
the type of vision and the kind of King we will find in the next 27 chapters
of this Gospel. And if Epiphany is about the manifestation of God’s grace
and mercy, then it is here where we get our first glimpse of how God’s grace
and mercy are revealed to the world.
The quote tells of “a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” The
shepherd image is a protest against the oppressive misrule of the earthly kings
over and against God’s life-giving shepherding. As shepherd, God gives the
people what rulers like Herod would not: abundant food, strength for the
weak, healing for the sick, protection for the vulnerable, deliverance for the
oppressed, safety for the tyrannized, justice for the exploited.
Jesus the infant is Jesus the King is also Jesus the Good Shepherd is also
Jesus the one who enacts God’s just and inclusive way of being a follower in
The magi, I will strongly suggest, exhibit an important model for
discipleship for us today. They are wealthy, but they use it for God’s
purposes, leaving extravagant gifts for the infant and his family. They are
outsiders politically, but in God’s purposes they have the inside scoop on
what is “really” happening.
They go from the palace of the King Herod to the dwelling of the infant King and his family. And it is when they find this nondescript baby they acknowledge that a new center of power resides with the child. They find God working in a wonderfully nonconventional manner.
The birth story, which occupies one verse in Matthew’s Gospel, begins to unfold in this story of the magi, giving us an initial glimpse of what to expect (or not to expect!) as the child begins to grow.
This is not a quaint tale of “we three kings of Orient are” as cute and
adorable as they may seem in person. (Did I just say that again?) It is much
more a counter-cultural narrative, a protest, reminding us that God’s vision leads us to the
powerless margins of society. And it is there where we will be shaped and
challenged by this disturbing and exhilarating manifestation of God. For the magi, the star
itself became a disturbing presence to seek out God in a most unexpected,
unusual, and unlikely place.
On this Day of Epiphany, as we begin the year 2016, as the Christmas story
begins to unfold yet again in our lives, let’s not give up on
our journey looking for Christ Jesus in our lives! Amen.