Let’s just take care of each other

A Sermon for Epiphany 3; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21

It has been a strange week. Not so much my schedule, which did include 2 most all-day trips to Jonesboro; more than the trips the news seemed strange. I’d expected it to be all about the shutdown, instead the news was all about the revised, revised, revised version of the Confrontation on the Mall. You know the ever-changing story of the confrontation between a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, white teenage boys, and a Native American Elder. The learning bit for me was an opinion piece exploring the role of social media in inflaming a complex social interaction. David Brooks notes how social media:

  • rewards spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own
  • reduces the complexities of human life into one viral moment and
  • confirms our negative stereotypes of people we don’t even know

Brooks sees the danger in social media being the tail wags the mainstream media dog (Brooks, Destroy Lives). More than the event itself I was concerned about the seemingly reckless race to be first on social media, accuracy and the people involved don’t matter, just the clicks produced matter. But my concern didn’t stay there long

There was a story on NPR about the resurgence of Black Lung disease. Black Lung affects coal miners and is caused by breathing in the ever-present coal dust. It is debilitating, men who work for decades in the mines can no longer cut their own yards, or water their gardens. It is always a horrible death. It is the results of the mining companies’ not caring about the miners; as one said, They don’t care if you live or die, that’s the truth of it (NPR). This is just another example of our emphasis on the value of the commodity, and I’m sure it is coal and not human labor that is the commodity of concern. And since coal still produces about 30% of electricity in the US we bear some responsibility as we gain some benefit (TOXMAP FAQ).

Of course, the never-ending story of the shutdown of the Federal Government was never far behind. 800,000 thousand were either furloughed or forced to work without pay. As these worker citizens approach missing their 2nd paycheck, pressures mount. There is no money for house notes or rent, food, medication, daycare, children’s birthday presents, or the gas to drive to work. The President and cabinet members appear clueless, saying they don’t understand the problem. At the same time, the lack of services, these citizens workers provide, are impacting people. Flights are being delayed as air-port controllers, and TSA agents can no longer work without pay. In NW Arkansas the Federal Grand Jury meeting was canceled. Home sales are not closing because USDA and FHA offices are closed. Investors are less informed of the economic conditions because the usual and customary reports are not being produced. Projects cannot get started because permits are not available. Families living in assisted housing are at risk of eviction because Housing Authority and related funds are not available. It is pretty safe bet the lives of these worker citizens, or the everyday consequences isn’t a fundamental concern.

After I thought I was done, there was another surprise, a deal to open the government for 3 weeks (until Fed 15) was signed late Friday. It includes provisions for employees to be paid. It makes no provision for contract employees. I could not find any mention of what happens if a border security bill is not agreed to or passed. I suspect the growing delays at US airports put mounting pressure on everyone to give a little, I am yet to be convinced the lives of all citizen workers, employees, and contractors, or the everyday consequences, was a determining factor, for the President, or Congress.

Now we all know the shutdown, and its consequences, is happening because of the disagreement of how to manage immigrants, legal and/or illegal, crossing the US southern border. No one is talking about the risk of illegal immigration across our Northern border with Canada. Illegal immigration from Canada is up 64% from last year. Now it is a different problem. Those entering the US from Canada usually enter the country legitimately and then just don’t go home. A lot of it comes down to ignorance, naivete or love, Canadians lead all other nations in people who overstay their legal time here; 100,000 outstayed their legal welcome in one year. The Department of Homeland Security considers Canadian illegals to be a significant problem. Yes, it is true those who enter the US across our Southern border tend to sneak into the U.S. without any documentation. That may account for the significant difference in the political concern and media coverage. But there is the racial difference, those coming across our northern border tend to look like us; those who cross our southern border do not (Blackwell; Common).

And then Thursday it all came together. I read an article about Harvard classmates William James and Josiah Royce. James, as you might remember, is a philosopher whose ideas about a good life continues to be influential. Royce’s not so much. James grew up among the Boston elite; Royce was a child of 49ers who didn’t find gold and lived in squalor. James’ work was pragmatic in search of the empirical; Royce was an idealist, who sought the abstract and spiritual. James believed in tolerance; we live in a pluralistic society and should give each other the social space to thrive. Royce believed the good life is found in tightly bonding yourself to another, in giving yourself away, with others, for a noble cause. He acknowledges we are born into a world of causes, and he admired causes based on mutual affection. He saw that underneath different communities is an absolute unity to life, a spiritual unity, an Absolute knower, a moral truth (Brooks, Loyalties).

Royce’s philosophical world view aligns with today’s readings. Rediscovering Royce is a bit like the hearing the Law of Moses publicly read, after being lost for generations. It is an opportunity for people to rediscover their own center. That center is relationships. The relationship, between ourselves; between us and those who are not us; between all humanity and God. Strangely enough, relationship as our center is hard for us to understand; mostly because we prefer the simplicity of uniformity, rather than the complexity of diversity; even though diversity increases the probability of our thriving (Epperly; Blasdell). Through Royce, we rediscover the wisdom of the Jubilee tradition in Isaiah 61 that Jesus quotes, even as we realize it will not simply thrive, it will require graceful nurturing; and hard work (Jacobsen). In gleaning the vision of Isaiah’s transformative prophecy, we hear the depths of Paul’s radical teaching that our community needs every person and every person needs everyone in our community. We begin to understand that we need each other to know shalom and the community needs all of us for the community to be whole, to be complete, and to be at peace. And now we understand the silence in the room as Jesus sits down. We share their visceral sense of

Fulfilled.
Really, Jesus?
Here? ~ How? ~ Where? (Hoezee).

And then I received a final gift; a shared Facebook post. It’s from General Colin Powell. He was on his way to Walter Reed when the left front tire blew. It was cold, but he started changing the tire; the lug nuts were tight making it even more difficult. A car pulls over and stops; a man with an artificial leg got out. The driver had recognized Gen Powell, from his service in Afghanistan, where he lost his leg in civilian service. After introductions, he took the wrench and finished changing the tire. When it was all done, he took a selfie with Gen. Powell. Later that night he sent a message

Gen. Powell, I hope I never forget today because I’ll never forget reading your books. You were always an inspiration, a leader and statesman. After 33 years in the military, you were the giant whose shoulders, we stood upon to carry the torch to light the way and now it is tomorrow’s generation that must do the same.

Anthony Maggert

Gen. Powell replied

Thanks, Anthony. You touched my soul and reminded me about what this country is all about and why it is so great.

Let’s stop screaming at each other. Let’s just take care of each other. You made my day. (Powell)

Today and every day, is our opportunity to continue to fulfill scripture, to be one of the diverse members of one divine body, doing our best, with everyone else, in giving ourselves to a noble cause in mutual affection, taking care of each other, in the amazing variety of our reflections of God’s image, helping everyone, everywhere to know shalom: stability, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and transcendence (Maslow).


References

Blackwell, Tom. “Northern aliens: Around 100,000 Canadians live under the radar in U.S. as illegal immigrants.” National Post (2017). <nationalpost.com/news/world/northern-aliens-around-100000-canadians-live-under-the-radar-in-u-s-as-illegal-immigrants>.

Blasdell, Machrina L. Indispensable, Epiphany 3. 27 1 2019. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/indispensable-epiphany-3-c-january-27-2019>.

Bratt, Doug. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. 27 1 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. How We Destroy Lives Today. 21 1 2019. <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/opinion/covington-march-for-life.html&gt;.

—. “Your Loyalties Are Your Life.” 24 1 2019. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2019/01/24/opinion/josiah-royce-loyalty.html>.

Common, David. “U.S. on guard against rise in illegal border crossings as Canada rejects asylum claims.” CBC News (2018). <cbc.ca/news/world/national-illegal-border-crossing-us-from-canada-1.4863636>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary The Third Sunday after the. 27 1 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 3C Luke 4:14-21. 27 1 2019. <https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-3c-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:14-21. 27 1 2019.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kim, Yung Suk. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. 27 1 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Maslow, Abraham. “Hierarchy of Needs.” Wikipedia. n.d. 25 1 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs&gt;.

NPR. I figured-it-was-going-to-be-a-horrible-death-and-it-probably-will-be. Prod. National Public Radio. 23 1 2019. <https://www.npr.org/2019/01/23/686000458/i-figured-it-was-going-to-be-a-horrible-death-and-it-probably-will-be&gt;.

Powell, General Colin L. Facebook Posting. Facebook. 24 1 2019. 25 1 2019.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. “Listen.” 27 1 2019. livingchurch.org. <https://livingchurch.org/2019/01/21/1-27-listen/&gt;.

TOXMAP FAQ. How much of the US electricity generation is attributed to coal? n.d. Web. <https://toxmap.nlm.nih.gov/toxmap/faq/2009/08/how-much-of-the-us-electricity-generation-is-attributed-to-coal.html&gt;.

Wikipedia. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. n.d. 25 1 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs&gt;.

 

 

 

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Sacramental Illumination

A Sermon for Epiphany2; Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

In Mission Impossible Fallout a terrorist organization steals plutonium cores and plans to use them to wreak havoc. The hunt (pardon the pun) is on; agents are searching major cities all over the world. They are surprised when the terrorists are located high in the Himalayas. Julia, Hunt’s partner, realizes nuclear explosions here would contaminate water for as much as half of the world’s population. It’s an interesting thought that the loss of water, after all, we have so much of it, could be a major crisis. And then I read an article in the New York Times about the Tuyuksu glacier which supplies water to 2 million people. It has shrunk by miles, and a water shortage likely in the next 20 years. When you look at all Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau, Himalayan, and Karakoram shrinking glaciers are the source of water for millions. It may not be a nuclear blast. but changing weather patterns are threatening the lives of millions and millions (Ruby and O’Neil).

In our Gospel readings for the last two weeks, water is significant. Last week Jesus is baptized (Luke3:15) in the waters of the Jordan River (Matthew 3:11). This morning Jesus turns water, reserved for rites of purification, into excellent wine. One aspect of this miracle is its Eucharistic, and sacramental, overtones (O’Day). By an act of the divine muse, this connected to a phrase from today’s collect illumined by your Word and Sacraments. I got to thinking about sacrament as illumination.

You recall that a sacrament

 is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace (BCP 857).

Pondering all Jesus’ miracles, you might notice a common trait, they all involve something extraordinary happening, something that is unbelievably beyond human possibility, something spiritual. Grace is defined as

God’s favor, undeserved, unearned, by which our sins are forgiven, our hearts stirred, and wills strengthened (BCP 858).

Grace, in part, is a sort of spiritual mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of cells that produce the energy they use, sort of little power plants. Grace is, in part, a spiritual power plant, that enables us to do those things that are beyond our human abilities.

Certainly, the transformation of water into wine is beyond human ability, so, by grace empowered spiritual action Jesus transforms water into wine. However, we get to easily distracted by the transformation; much more is going on here. The water was set aside for purification. In the Bible, purification rites are how an unclean person is restored to the enjoyment of religious privileges, and daily life. (Easton). It can be as simple as washing hands and goes from there. Our practice of baptism in part is developed from this concept (Sakenfeld). It is what John is referring to last week when he tells the crowd I baptize you with water (Luke 3:17). Another connection in this morning’s story is the revelation of Jesus as a presence of divine glory (Gaventa and Petersen).

When Jesus’s mother tells him about the wine crisis his response is What concern is that to me? It’s a good question, he isn’t the host (The Living Church). Jesus is a guest, and guests are supposed to bring food and wine as a sign of their support for the marriage, a shortage could be a sign of a lack of community support for the groom and bride (Trozzo). It was also customary to invite as many as people as possible to a wedding feast. To run short of wine would be a major hospitality blunder, shaming the whole family (Keener and Walton). In Jesus’ day water was not safe to drink, wine was the usual and customary drink, so, the lack of wine could be a public health issue (Trozzo). Beyond all these kinds of reasons there is scripture; Psalm 104:14 reads

You make grass grow for flock and herds and plants to serve mankind; that they may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden our hearts (The Living Church).

One of God’s attributes is bringing wine to gladden our hearts. In Proverbs and Hosea, the abundance of wine is an eschatological (end of time) image, of restoration (Trozzo). Biblical marriage ceremonies are also symbolic of the last days and the celebration of God’s future reign (Gaventa and Petersen). One final bit, when needs are met even commonplace needs like the one in Cana that day somehow joy follows, and that joy flows from the revelation of the glory of God (Hoezee). Which may be the point, the wine problem is a concern for Jesus, because in meeting the need of an everyday event, like the wedding feast, God’s Glory is revealed.

So, how does all this connect to sacraments? You know there are two great sacraments; Baptism and Eucharist, and several other sacraments: confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation of a penitent (better known as confession) and unction (anointing of the sick) (BCP 860). The Catechism goes on to say

God is not limited to our rites, they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us (BCP 861).

So, any time we are confronted with someone else’s problem, there is the opportunity for us to follow Jesus example and meet a common need, and in doing so reveal the presence and glory of God. And when the challenge is beyond our human abilities we can rely on the mitochondrial energy of grace, to empower such a spiritual sign. Any time the presence and glory of God are revealed is a time of illumination, spiritual illumination.

Last week I read of a bus driver being called a hero because she saw a 2-year-old in a diaper and onesie walking into the street, she stopped her bus, got out, picked up the child and carried it to safety. This is a moment as full of grace as Jesus’ transformation of water to wine, it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, it is a spiritual illumination, revealing the presence of God. I believe such moments are present to us all the time; we just don’t see them as such, because we have limited our understanding of ‘the ever-present’ to time excluding geography; yes, grace is present all the time, and ~ grace is also anywhere and everywhere.

May this season of Epiphany, this season of light, this season of illumination, reveal the opportunities for it to be your concern, to draw on the power of grace, meeting a common need, revealing the glory and presence of God, in a sacramental illumination moment.


References

Easton, Matthew George. Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp., 2008.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 1 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Richter, Amy. “The Frist Sign Epiphany 2.” 20 1 2019. Sermons that Work.

Ruby, Matt and Claire O’Neil. “Glaciers Are Retreating. Millions Rely on Their Water.” New York Times (2019). <https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/15/climate/melting-glaciers-globally.html&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

The Living Church. “Many Gifts and the One Gift of Joy.” 20 1 2019. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Trozzo, Lindsey. Commentary on John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

Beloved

A Sermon for Epiphany 1; Isaiah 43: 1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

When I was 11 years old, I joined Scout Troop 175, of the Atlanta Area Council, of the Boy Scouts of America. It was a grand ritual, the room was light only by candlelight, the entire Troop stood in patrol, those of us being inducted stood facing them. As asked, we recited from memory

 the Scout Motto – Be Prepared

 the Scout Code –

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. and

 the Scout Law –

 On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Then I was pinned with the Tenderfoot badge and became a Scout. At every successive awarding of rank the Scout motto, code and law were repeated.

I stayed active in Scouting till I was 16 or 17 when other teenage interests distracted me. In my last two years of college, I joined Troop 6 as an assistant Scout Master. My first Job after graduation was as an Assistant Scout Executive for the Atlanta Area Council. Here too the motto, law, and code played a perhaps less obvious, but none the less powerful part of who I was. All those years ago I became a part of the Scouting community. Though not formally, I am still a part of that community because that community continues to be a part of me, although 54 years has added some callouses and experiences, and I am not longer a Tenderfoot, in many ways ~ I am still a Scout.

This morning we read Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism. It is remarkably short, all of two verses. It has only three elements: prayers, the Spirit, and the heavenly voice. This morning I’d like to explore the heavenly voice’s pronouncement: “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you, I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

James Ligette points out the heavenly voice does not tell Jesus what to do, does not tell Jesus where to go, does not require reciting any law, or oath or pledge. What the heavenly voice does ~ is to tell Jesus who he ~ is my son and names the divine’s affection for him … my beloved (Liggett). Karoline Lewis writes about the power of “you” especially the second person singular in particular “You are …” (Lewis). That two-word phrase “you are” is definitive, it powerfully defines who the hearer is; it powerfully defines who Jesus is. In our Baptismal rite, after extensive presentation and examination, the sacramental splashing of water, and offering of prayers, once again we hear the heavenly voice, this time intoned by the priest,

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever” (The Episcopal Church 308).

These are not magic words that mystically remake the candidate. They make audible, they make clear ~ who the candidate is, who you are, just as the heavenly voice did for Jesus.

It is significant that the emphasis is not on the sacramental act, but on God’s affirmation of Jesus’ identity as God’s son, and Jesus’ anointing into God’s service (Harrelson). There is an element of empowering Jesus for the ministry to come (Culpepper). None of that ministry is predefined or predetermined (Epperly). It all flows from Jesus’ understanding of who he is, which flows from the divine proclamation of God’s love for him. All this is revealed as Luke’s gospel story unfolds, and we see how Jesus rejects all the ancient expectations of purity, restoration Kingship, and national glory; as we see how Jesus continues to reject all the current expectations of entrenched morality, burgeoning social reform, personal prosperity, and a return of national greatness (Liggett). As did Jesus’ life, our lives reflect how well we understand who we are, and God’s affection for us. Jesu’s baptism did not happen in a vacuum, he is surrounded by a variety of political and religious traditions and expectations, from John the Baptist to the Hight Priests, to Herod, Pilate, and Rome, from Old Testament to the moment (Liggett). Our baptism is also in a variety of political and religious traditions and expectations.

Jesus’ life and ministry confront the brokenness of the world and expresses his trust that God is actively present, empowering the world to move towards the coming of the Kingdom. The same is true for us. Baptism calls us away from today’s radicalism, such as extreme individualism, racism, sexism, and all our other isms, and brings us into that heavenly community commissioned to seek justice and righteousness for all. Through Baptism we become part of a covenant community called to confess the brokenness of our world, and trust that God is actively present, empowering the world to be the Kingdom on earth as it is heaven right here right now (R. J. Allen).

 

References

Allen, David. “Way.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 11 1 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.

Allen, Ronald J. “Commentary on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.” 13 1 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. The Gospel of Luke, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Mark 16. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. OliveTree.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 1 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. 13 1 2019.

Lewis, Karoline. The Power of ‘You’. 13 1 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Liggett, James. “How to be Beloved – Epiphany 1.” 13 1 2019. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

 

 

 

Epiphanies, Callings, Imperatives

A sermon for Epiphany; Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3: 1-12, Psalm 72:1-7,10-14, Matthew 2:1-12 (extend to 2:13-18)

I hope your Christmas, all 12 days of it, was merry and your New Year celebration safe and joyful. Ours was. Christmas Eve we saw our granddaughter in her first Christmas pageant, it was glorious, and she was more so. Christmas Day began easily, we were up mid-morning, expecting our West Memphis daughter and her family about 2. At 10:30 the phone rang, and her husband spoke: “We got done early, Lilly Grace wants to know if we can come now?” Of course, we said yes. We enjoyed a day of endless food and sweets, capped off with a drive through Lights of the Delta. New Year’s Eve was less eventful. We stayed home, watch an endless stream of Midsomer Murders before heading off to bed. When I noticed it was 12:30 I wandered over to Angie and whispered, “Its 12:30 – Happy New Year.”

The rest of the week was supposed to be a series of small tasks. It turned out to be a series of days of long tasks around an all-day series of doctor’s appointments in Memphis. Both Angie and I are fine, it just took all day. It was a time when I got so focused on 1 or 2 things, that I missed what was before and what was after.

It is not unusual that intense focus on a single thing causes us to miss surrounding pieces. Epiphany is that way. We are so focused on the Wise Men at Jesus’s manger side we miss details of their travels and the unintended consequences. Now, I congratulate St. Stephen’s for your long tradition of the wise men making their way along the center aisle trail from Christmas Eve, way back there (point) to somewhere in the middle on the 1st Sunday after Christmas, to the manger on the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, or as it is today, Epiphany. However, our very traditional manger scene is a mish-mash of Gospel stories. There is no birth story in Matthew and there are no wise men in Luke. We’ve mashed them together for reasons I’m not quite sure of, except for what have become musical and pageant traditions. Here are some of the essentials we miss or simply don’t ever hear.

The Holy Family does go to Jerusalem after Jesus’ birth for purification and thanksgiving sacrifices, but they go back to Bethlehem, not Nazareth where they were living before the great census (Pankey). To give you a sense of the geography Nazareth is way up here Jerusalem about here Bethlehem just down the road.

The wise men are actually magos, magicians, sorcerers, astrologers or wise men, but not kings as we are known to sing of (Thomas Nelson Inc). Whoever they are, they are not Jewish, they are not of any tradition or people in the bible who know the God of Israel. They see Jesus’ “star rising,” which is an astrological phrase, indicating how a person will be seen by others, which is how they know who Jesus is. If the star appears at Jesus birth, and he is now about 2 years old (more on this in a minute) and they have been following it for 2 years or so. So how do they get to Jerusalem and don’t go directly to Bethlehem? Where did the star go? Steve Pankey, a colleague of mine, wonders if they got distracted by the regal glory of Jerusalem and Herod’s court? Others wonder why they didn’t realize the danger of going to a King’s court to ask directions to the birthplace of another king?

What we do know is that Herod, with the help of his court religious leaders, tell the wise men Jesus is in Bethlehem. He also asks them to let him know exactly where Jesus is, so he can also pay homage. Matthew tells us they follow the star, which seems to mystically reappear, right to Jesus’ presence.

Here is another point of our focus, the wise men, kneeling down in front of Mary and Jesus offering him treasure of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Note there is no mention of cattle, or donkeys or lambs or shepherds, or angels, we’ve brought over from Luke, or a little drummer boy. The only people there, other than Jesus’ family, are the wise men. After at least a night’s sleep, which we discern from the warning they receive by dream, they head home a different way.

Here are two stories that follow their departure. The first one we read on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas (which is rare) and Epiphany, which is on a Sunday about every 6 years. You recall I mentioned how ruthless Herod is. He ordered Syrian Roman Legion to crush the rebellion after his father (also named Herod) died. He was also known to kill political or religious leaders who spoke against him. So, it is easy to imagine how Herod will react to the news of a new Jewish king. On Herod’s order all the boys 2 years old and younger are killed, a tragedy we observed every December 28; except we don’t. By the way, this is how we know Jesus was about 2 years old when the wise men arrive. The second story is how Joseph warned by an angel in a dream takes Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt, escaping the mass murder of the innocent. They stay in Egypt until Herod’s death.

We are so focused on the wise men offering homage and gifts to Jesus we miss these two subtle yet critical points. The word ‘epiphany’ (little ‘e’) means a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something or an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking. In school, I typically had an epiphany just after the test. In church language ‘Epiphany’ (capital ‘E’) is the celebration of Christ manifestation to the gentiles, in Matthew’s story, the wise men (Peters). We are so used to seeing the wise men as kings, I suspect that we rarely think of them as gentiles. The meaning of the star given to the magi is the first gospel revelation that God is incarnate in Jesus for gentiles as well as for the Jewish people. Jesus is born for everyone, every heart who receives him. Secondly, it is worth noting that it is foreign court officials (as all magi in Jesus’ day are) who are the first pay homage to Jesus. The first action to the news of Jesus’ birth by his earthly king is an attempt to execute him. A dark foreshadowing because it is the governments, both Jewish and Roman, who execute Jesus.

All this comes down to two epiphanies

  1. the light of the word came to everyone, and
  2. the powerful can and do seek to block the light of the word.

Which reminds me that

from the very beginning, when God spoke, there has been light, and the light of life was good, the light of life shines in the darkness and darkness cannot and has not overcome it (Gen 1:1, John 1:1).

From this, I glean two callings

  1. welcome everyone in Christ’s light, it is not our calling to judge others or to protect God’s divine presence; God is very capable of defending divine self. and then
  2. speak the truth, that pulls back the curtain that hides when, where and how the authorities, the rulers, the principalities, the powers, the darkness of this world (Eph 6:1) by thought, word and deed, done and undone, seek to cast darkening shadows over God’s people.

These gleanings evoke two imperatives.

  1. Now is the time to welcome all into divine light life.
  2. Now is the time for the darkness to be overcome to be transformed by the ever-present light life.

For Epiphany, the time of divine light life is right here right now.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Pankey, Steve. “Distracted by Power.” 3 1 2019. Draughting Theology.

Peters, David. Stars, Epiphany – January 6, 2019. 6 1 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thomas Nelson Inc. NKJV Strong’s. Nashville: Olive Tree, 1982.