Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany Sermon, Jan. 6, 2008

Isaiah 60: 1-6
Matthew 2: 1-12

I begin the sermon by showing a photo of some friends of ours, and the picture is folded in half where you can only see them and not Lara and me. They look like your average folks. Then when I unfold the picture you see that they are giants. The woman is about half a foot taller than me (I’m 5’10’’), and the guy is a foot taller than me. Lara is standing next to me, and the female friend is about a foot taller than her. Your perspective is re-oriented.
I’ve always enjoyed mind tricks and optical illusions. I have a pack of playing cards that has all sorts of patterns and pictures that play a trick on you. Do you remember those posters they used to sell at the mall that had some patterns that if you stared at them long enough, if you focused on staring “through the poster” it would suddenly shift into three dimensions, and you could see a hidden picture within it? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go here and here.
I think I’ve always liked these things because they involve a realization that our perspective can be shifted, it can be altered. One of my favorite “movie moments” is in Dead Poet’s Society where Robin Williams, playing an inspiring teacher at a prep school, convinces his strait laced students to stand up on top of their desks and look at their classroom from that perspective, and thus see their education in a new, more invested way. Toward the end of the movie, I always get chills when the students collectively show their respect and admiration for their teacher by standing on their desks and shouting, “O Captain, my captain!”
Today we heard a story that Matthew tells to make it plain that gentiles are to be included in this revolution the God of Israel is beginning in a manger. The gentile magi saw a star that alerted them to the birth of a new king. They had no doubt heard of the famous star that legend said appeared when Alexander the Great was born some 300 years previous. In their worldview, the stars were living beings, even gods, who observed the world and gave signs to the people on earth.
Astrology was not a problem to the people of the ancient world, in fact it was not a problem to the church for a majority of the church’s history. It was simply accepted that the “heaven’s proclaim the glory of God” in ways that could be studied and read. Jesus himself says in Luke’s gospel that “there shall be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars.” Luke 21 Perhaps if we still lived in a world without electricity, we’d still have more of a natural wonderment when it comes to the stars above us.
Last year we all tried to smell the frankencinse and myrrh and get our senses engaged in an experience of wonder. That’s a change in perspective. We usually live so tangled up in what goes on inside our heads that we forget what it is like to smell something deeply. An encounter with the living God is something that charges us up, body and soul.
So these Magi are Matthew’s way of saying that we’re included too. Gentiles played a part in the unfolding of this story from the start. And these Magi have their world altered, their perspective changed, just like all who encounter the living Christ.
According to the text, when they followed the star, the Magi were seeking “a child that has been born king of the Jews.” When they arrived in Bethlehem, “they were overwhelmed with joy.” I think they were filled with such joy because they had not just found “a king,” but “THE King.” They had turned from star-gazers into sun-gazers, Son-gazers, and responded by offering gifts that legend says made possible the Holy family’s flight and refuge in Egypt. Their epiphany was that this was a much more important pilgrimage than they had perhaps at first realized.
I’m interested in the “overwhelming joy” that Matthew reports these Magi experiencing. Haven’t you had those kinds of moments in your life when things just came into focus for you? Perhaps you had a great sense of joy and belonging and peace and connection. You felt at home in yourself. Have you had those types of experiences? We sometimes call them “Epiphanies,” because this experience usually involves some sort of new thought or feeling that is brought to light to us. Epiphany means “a sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something or someone.”
I hope that this time of worship, when we come to the chancel and receive the communion meal can be a time of epiphany for you. This journey to the altar is symbolic of us joining the magi on their pilgrimage. Just like God gives the invitation to the uninitiated magi, practitioners of a different religion, we make the invitation to this table open to all who are here and searching.
When the magi finally find the house of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, Matthew tells us they are “filled with overwhelming joy.” They are wrapped up in the experience of being in the presence of a mystery. Perhaps it wasn’t what they were expecting. Perhaps they had expected to find this child king in a palace, or in a temple. But they found him in humble dwellings. Likewise, it might not naturally occur to us that we can find the God of our creation in a piece of bread and a sip of Welch’s grape juice, but we may be surprised!
So at this time, I ask that you prepare your hearts to experience the overwhelming joy of the epiphany that Jesus Christ is here with us in this very moment. Come to this table as the wise men came to Bethlehem, expecting to meet the king and pay their tribute and homage. Come to this table with the hope that our perspective can be changed and we can strike out on a new road.

1 comment:

  1. you feed my weary soul... thank you!