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)
Friends, it’s Epiphany Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. It’s not only the day that we remember the Magi who followed the star, but even more importantly, it’s the day that we remember the light that came into the world through the birth of Jesus. Epiphany allows us to take a deep breath after the busyness of Christmas so we can simply sit and ponder the amazing gift that we have been given.
On Christmas Eve, many of us sat here in awe of the child born in the manger as we basked in the glow of the candlelight. But I don’t believe that, at Christmas, we truly think about or even begin to understand what it all means, because we are simply caught up in the moment with the shepherds and the angels and the announcement of a new birth.
Don’t get me wrong, taking time to enjoy a moment like that is sacred, and I’m not, in any way, saying that we should skip over that part! But on Epiphany Sunday, we get past the adrenaline rush of the big day, and we begin to see a little more clearly the true light that this baby in the manger brings. After all, Epiphany is all about the light. We hear the prophet Isaiah saying: “Arise, shine for your light has come!” We also hear about the wise men following the light of that special star in the sky.
I have to admit, year after year, I get caught up in the words that Herod said to the wise men, “Go and search diligently.” I know that I’ve talked about it before, but for some reason, I can never get past those words, “Go and search diligently.” I guess, in some way, those words must be a part of my call. The truth is the wise men or the magi had been searching diligently, not because Herod told them to but because somewhere deep in their hearts, they felt called to follow that star and to find the child who had been born King of the Jews.
Now, “diligent” means a constant effort to accomplish something, or to be attentive and persistent. That has me really wondering, “What if epiphany is not so much the soft, comfy story about the light, but instead, what if it’s a call to be diligent in what we do with the light?”
I want you to take a minute to think about what you are diligent about in your life. Maybe it’s your job or your family? Your exercise routine or your passion for something? What about your faith? Are you diligent about your faith? Do you give a constant effort to share the good news, and to love your neighbor? Are you attentive and persistent in your relationship with God? Those are tough questions, aren’t they?
Well, I think Epiphany might be the perfect time to ask those questions and to ponder them in our hearts because it is always nice to hear the Christmas story. It makes us feel good, and because of that, we tend to reach out to our neighbors for a few days during the season of Advent. We always imagine what the world would be like if the peace and goodwill of the Christmas season lasted all year, but here we are only eleven days after Christmas, and our focus on the peace and goodwill of Christmas. Most of us have already changed our focus to resolutions and goals for the new year. The problem is that we are so quick to say, “Merry Christmas,” but then we go on with our lives as usual, as if nothing has really changed.
Friends, a few years ago here in Oldtown, we started sharing “star words” as a part of our Epiphany celebration. Each Epiphany, everyone is given a star with a word on it to guide them in the coming year. Sometimes I hear people saying that their word seems to fit immediately, while others struggle with what their word might be telling them. And I know that some stars are put in the trash on the way out of the sanctuary, and are never thought about again. But I also know that there are others who keep their star in a place where they see it on a regular basis, being diligent as they allow their star word to guide them like the Bethlehem star led the magi so long ago.
So, I wonder, does anyone remember what their star word was last year? And does anyone have a brief story to share about how their star guided them this year? Friends, whether you have a story from last year or not, today’s epiphany celebration is going to give us another star word to guide us in the coming year.
So at this time, I’d like to invite our helpers forward to pass the offering plates and, rather than giving a gift, we invite you to receive a new star word to guide you. You don’t need to look in the plate; just reach in and grab one.
Right off the bat, you may be thinking you chose the wrong one. But I’ll guarantee you, if you hold on to it for a little while, searching diligently for what it might mean in your life, things just might become clearer. If you received a word and you aren’t sure about its meaning, I would encourage you to look it up. Maybe you can look for how your word is used in scripture or listen to hear it in the news. Perhaps you’ll read about it in a book or recognize it in conversations with others.
Friends, please know that there is no right or wrong way to use your star word. It’s simply a tool to open your heart and to help listen for God’s call in your life. Who knows? Maybe by next Epiphany Sunday, you’ll have a star word story to share!
Folks, before today’s message comes to a close and we move on with our day, our denomination has asked its clergy, in light of our need for peace among all people in our world, to share a special poem by Howard Thurman, a great theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. The poem is titled, “The Work of Christmas,” and to be honest, it puts into words the very things that we need to be diligent about in our lives. The poem reads:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart,
To bring Christ to all.”
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go out into our busy week ahead, we have a lot of work ahead of us. But the good news is that we are never alone in our work. And today, Jesus wants us to be ready for the adventure that is ahead of us. So he invites us to gather at His table that we might be fed and nourished for the journey. Because this Epiphany Sunday, we go out with a mission and star to guide out way. May we all be diligent in our faith, as we not only receive the love and light of Jesus Christ but as we also share it with others!
My friends, may it be so! Thanks be to God! Amen.