Epiphany - Are We There Yet?

Matthew 2:1-12

Coming of the magi

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
        by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs,
            who will shepherd my people Israel.

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

January 6th is celebrated as Epiphany on the Christian calendar. It is the day that marks the arrival of the wise men, or magi, or kings on their visit to see Jesus. The name, Epiphany, comes from the Greek, to reveal. It is meant to mark the day that Christ was revealed to the Gentiles. In English, we have come to use the term more broadly to denote any sort of realization that occurs in our lives, but its origins come from this moment, when the wise men realized who Jesus really was.

Or did they?

A lot has been made by pastors over the years, about the journey the wise men took to find Jesus. We all know, thanks to the Christmas songs, that they followed the star to find him, but we can forget until we read the scriptures that this was in fact a long journey. It was also one that involved some wrong turns and detours. They did not immediately go to the house where Jesus was staying, rather they first traveled to Jerusalem, assuming that was where Jesus would have been.

The epiphany moment for the wise men is that Jesus is not born to power and nobility in the big city, but instead to a humble family in a small town. Despite their early misconceptions, when they encounter Jesus, they recognize him and worship him. They also give him their gifts, blessings that are befitting of the king of kings. Then, having seen him, they return home.

It is that last part that makes me wonder if they really understand Jesus. Encountering Christ is not a one-time event. You do not simply experience Christ once and then the journey is over. Rather, meeting Christ is usually the beginning, not the end of the journey. Unfortunately, for our wise men, who drop out of the story after this, it is not clear that they really did know that more was expected in their life than simply the worship of Christ. Instead, they, like us, are called to be Christ’s disciples, and that is a journey that does not end.

Over a year ago, our congregation set a goal of becoming a community of love and celebration. It was initially conceived of as a focus for the end of 2017 and then 2018 as well. Since we are now in 2019 it is perhaps fitting to ask the question, “Are we there yet?” There are lots of ways that we could mark the progress of our congregation on this journey. Like the wisemen in their long trip, there are landmarks we can find along the way. We transitioned to one worship service to help bring our members closer together. We established a fellowship time following worship to help us get to know each other. We have taken part in several different studies, and now Connexion Groups as a way of deepening our relationships with each other and with God. We have also become more intentional in our practices of recognize the gifts that we share and celebrating our successes. We have done some great work.

Are we there yet? Unfortunately, I would say we are not there yet. I do not say this because I think that there is one clear problem we need to fix, but rather because I believe that like seeking Christ, the process of becoming a community of love and celebration is an on-going journey. We always have further we can go in reflecting the love and joy of God to each other and the world. There is still more work to be done.

One of the things we are doing to continue this work is the study group “What are we fighting for” that is being led by Jon Saunders. You have probably heard of this group and I encourage everyone to consider being a part of it. I say this because I believe that this is an important part of becoming a community of love and celebration. We want to build a culture in our church that knows how to handle conflicts and differences. Sometimes churches fight about stupid things like the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Sometimes churches fight about big messy things like our understanding of scripture as it relates to topics like abortion, gay marriage, and immigration. Even if we are not fighting in the church, we are in a community that is divided between the left and the right, conservatives and progressives, rural and urban, black and white, the list of dichotomies goes on and on. We need the tools to help us handle these sorts of conflicts. We live in a world that needs us to show them how to turn to love instead of hate. The world needs us to be a community of love and celebration for their sake as well as our own.

If you are like me, the start of the new year is a time of thinking about goals for what the coming year will bring. As a person I want to eat healthier, as a pastor I want to be more organized, as a husband and a father I want to do more to support my family, as Christian I want to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ. If you think about this goals, I will never be done. I can always eat healthier. I can always be more organized.  I can always do more to be a better husband and father and I will always need to work at being a better disciple of Jesus Christ. These are not journeys that start on January 1st and end on December 31st. The point is not the destination but the process of getting there.

If we look at the story of the wise men, we think about how they follow a star and it leads them to their destination, but that would be missing the second part of the story. When they leave the house and return home, they are guided not by a star, but by a dream. Instead of returning back to Herod, like they had promised, they are guided by their dream to take a different way home. Even when they are not lead by the star, they are still lead by God.

I believe that God wants to lead us in our lives too. We do not always have big burning stars that guide us to Christ, but that does not mean that God is not leading us. Sometimes those promptings come as small voices in our heads, or a feeling our in gut. Sometimes God leads us through the words and actions of a wise friend or a loving family member. And obviously, we have the scriptures and the life of Christ as a guide to us in our journey. With all of that, who really needs a star anyway?

I would invite you all on a journey of becoming a community of love and celebration this year. We will do it through studies like the one that Jon is leading, but also through studies that help us grow in our faith and become better disciples. In the coming weeks we will be talking about the meaning of love and how we can be better at loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Throughout the year we will look at ways to celebrate what we are doing through our mission and ministry in 2019, but also to celebrate the legacy of what we have done in the last 125 years in Willmar. Through it all we will seek to be guided by the one true star that burns in each of our hearts, the star that is Christ, the Light of the World. So, let us worship and follow him. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What are your hopes and goals for 2019?

How have you grown in your faith in the last year and what do you hope to do this year to grow in your faith?

What does it mean to you to be a better disciple of Jesus?

Prayer:

Loving God, may your light and love shine in our hearts and lives this day. We give you thanks for your presence with us in 2018 and we pray that you might watch over and be with us in the coming year as well. Help us on journey of becoming a community of love and celebration. Grant us the wisdom to see your presence in our midst and the courage to follow you. Bless us as we seek to be better disciples of you in the coming year. Amen