The Ingathering of the Dispersed
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,[a]
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
~ Isaiah 60:1-6 (NRSV)
The Visit of the Wise Men
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘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.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
~ Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
Happy New Year, and Happy Epiphany everyone! Though last week we celebrated the beginning of a brand new year, today we celebrate the beginning of a brand new season in the church, the season of Epiphany. Now that may sound a little bit confusing to some of you, because why would we take a full season—ten weeks to be exact—to focus on the wise men? Well, just to be clear, Epiphany, though we often associate it with the story of the wise men that came to give gifts to the Christ child, is actually not about the wise men. Does that sound confusing? Well then, stick with me for just a minute.
You see, the important part of the story of the wise men was actually the star that shone in the sky, because that was the first revelation or way of telling the entire world about Jesus. I know, the angels had appeared to the shepherds and invited them to come and see, but the star shined for EVERYONE TO SEE! And the season of Epiphany is all about the revealing, the introducing and the presenting of light and hope to the world, through Jesus.
In the next few weeks, we’ll hear the story of Jesus’ baptism, the calling of the disciples, stories of Jesus teaching the crowds and of the way that through his example we learn to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And each week, we’ll talk not only about what those stories mean to us but how we are called to go out and live our lives differently because of them.
Friends, I wonder, some days don’t you wish you had all the answers? Do you ever get tired of searching and wishing and hoping and dreaming? We have a lot of questions, don’t we? Well, folks, I want to assure you that that is okay. Actually, it’s a wonderful thing! Because the more we question, the more we think, and the more we think, the more we learn for ourselves. And the more we learn for ourselves, the more the story becomes a part of us. It’s not about having all of the answers and knowing all of the facts, because sometimes it’s more important to simply be open to the possibilities and the movement of the Spirit around us.
Friends, when it comes to the wise men, did you ever just wonder why? Why did people come from afar following a star? Why did they care about a baby that they didn’t know? And why did they bring such crazy gifts? Gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh? Why did they go to King Herod in the first place? And then decide to go home another way? Why did King Herod feel so threatened by a little baby? And why is this story so important that we hear it every year, several times, and we even give its own special day? It’s quirky and weird, and it raises more question than answers. How many kings were there? And were they Kings, or wise men, or magi, or astronomers?
Friends, the truth is, sometimes it’s not about having all the answers; it’s more about trusting in the star to guide you and trusting in God to love and forgive you no matter what, and trusting in the teachings of Jesus, even though you may not totally understand them. Folks, as human beings, we search and we question and we wonder; that’s just what we do. It’s nothing new, and to be honest, it’s a gift because it’s a way to stay open to the possibilities around us.
Now, we could focus on the issues and the stumbling blocks in front of us, and to be honest, sometimes we do. We can always be filled with worry and fear and grief. We can focus on the pain and on the Herods in our lives. If you want to do that, just turn on your tv! We could spend our lives trudging along staring at the ground, or we can choose to look up and see the stars!! We can remember the joy and hope that is ours. Folks, we can wallow in our struggle, or we can choose to follow the light!
Friends, we always have the choice to focus on our joys or our sorrows, on our plenty or our want. Every day, no matter what we are facing, we can always find something good, something to celebrate and be thankful for. But just like following Jesus, the choice is ours. No one else can do it for us. And folks, I don’t know about you, but I think the world is hard enough. And if I can find the slightest glimpse of hope or peace or joy or love, I’m going for it.
Friends, over the next ten weeks, we are going to be reminded of the ways that we can follow Jesus, choices that we can make in our own lives to live out our faith and make the world a better place. But remember, each step of the way, the choice is yours. It’s up to you to decide. No one is going to push you or force you into anything. It’s up to you to open your heart and welcome him in.
Last year, we started out the year giving the gift of “star words,” and many of you enjoyed them. So, I’m going to ask our Household Huddle helpers to come forward to help. I’m going to ask them to pass the offering plates, but instead of putting something into the plates, as we’re accustomed to, I’m going to ask you to receive something from it: a star with a word written on it. Now you don’t need to search through reading all of the stars, just reach in and grab one! And what I want you to do with the star you receive today is take it home with you and put it in a place where you see it regularly, perhaps on the dashboard of your car, or on your refrigerator, or your bathroom mirror, or if you’re really tech saavy, maybe you’ll take a picture of it and use it as the background on your phone or your iPad, or your computer. The idea is to put your star somewhere you’ll see it on a regular basis because the next part of the activity takes all year to complete.
Do you remember, in the Christmas story, when we are told that “Mary pondered these things in her heart?” I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved that line! That means that she didn’t simply take everything at face value. She wondered about it and thought about it. She learned more about it, and in so doing, she began to treasure it, allowing it to become a part of her story.
Well, that’s what I’m going to ask you to do with your star word: ponder it in your heart this year. Look up the meaning in the dictionary. Find where it occurs in the Bible. See how that word or that gift from God plays out in your daily life. Allow your word to speak to you and to meet you where you are in your life and in your faith. Now you might be looking at your word and thinking, “This is not me, I must have picked the wrong one.” “I can’t imagine how I’m going to see this in my life.” Or maybe you are already thinking of ways that it connects for you. But I’m going to ask you to open your heart and your mind and to simply let the word guide you. Maybe it will invite you to experience something that you never experienced before! Perhaps it will help you to think about something differently or to see God in your life in a new way. Folks, don’t worry about the answers and the facts. Just be open to the experience, and like the wise men so long ago, trust the star to guide you!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, and out into the season of Epiphany, remember that the choice is yours! You can stumble around in the darkness, or you can look up to see the light of the stars! You can worry about the things you lack, or you can find joy in the gifts you’ve been given. You can focus on all that is wrong in the world, or you can celebrate the goodness that is always there. And in the weeks ahead, as the season of Epiphany unfolds, I hope and pray that you’ll meet Jesus again for the first time, and you’ll learn to see and feel God’s presence in your life. As our scripture reading said today, “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.” Follow your star word, and be open to new possibilities, because that’s what Epiphany is all about!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen!