Epiphany Sunday 2019
by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 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.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “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.’ ”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 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.”
9 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. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“Oh…Star of Wonder, Star of Night, Star with Royal Beauty Bright. Westward leading…still proceeding. GUIDE us to that Glorious light.”
What star are you following? What star leads me? These questions came to me this past week as this Christmas Season draws to a close. Christmas was its wonderful mixture of great joy and great stress for many of us including myself and indeed, I believe I try to make room for Jesus in my heart every year. However, this year Christmas really hit me in a different way after Christmas Day especially the days following Christmas and finally culminating, today on the feast of the Epiphany. We are certainly blessed that Epiphany occurs on a Sunday this year and that our Three Kings can revisit us.
First, what is the Feast of the Epiphany and why do we celebrate it? Well, here’s today’s lecture part of the sermon, the factoids, shall we say.
In the church year we have TWELVE Days of Christmas. Supposedly after the birth of Jesus, twelve days following the birth, the Wisemen, the Magi, appeared. Of course, this is CHURCH time. Supposedly they were sent by the Persian emperor and were sent many months on a long journey to Bethlehem to a star that captivated them. But, of course, this is church time and much more than twelve days.
First, a little about the Wisemen or Magi. They are first and foremost from the East, meaning East of Judea. They are not Jewish. They are not Roman or Greek. The term Magi is a plural form of magoi in Greek language, which means Zoroastrian priests. They were neither kings nor wise men. Maybe they earned the title wise men because of their skills in interpreting dreams and understanding astrology. They were well known for telling fortunes and preparing daily horoscopes. They were the scholars of their day and enjoyed access to the Persian emperor. Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions in the world, which is still active in Iran today. It was the official religion of Persia before Islam. (The Reverend Dr. Nivan Sarras, from WorkingPreacher.org, January 6, 2019)
So, suffice it to say, there’s a lot of urban or theological legend around them. Nevertheless, they are on a journey to a star and like most of us, we’re on a journey to light. What’s important for us as Christians is what they find. Namely, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Once again, they are not Jews or even from Judea. They are outsiders coming in on a very Jewish scene. However, miraculously, Jesus the Christ is revealed to them as Messiah. They respond with what emotion? Great joy! This joy changes them. And this is the Epiphany…the realization that the world they knew has been changed.
That’s what Epiphany is about. God revealing God’s self to us not only in a manger to three magicians bearing gifts, but to us today. But not only us…everyone. So, with that very brief, concise church lecture on Epiphany, what does it mean for us? Dressing up as kings and bearing gifts. Yes, but much more. I digress a little now. The days following Christmas day were celebrated with friends who keep Christmas by watching the large repertoire of movies about Charles Dickens’ immortal Christmas classic, “A Christmas Carol.” With my friends I saw the old black and white movies with both American and British casts, to color versions, to animated versions, to a recent movie entitled The Man Who Invented Christmas. The only thing we didn’t see was the Muppet Christmas Carol. But fear not, I’ve seen it. Believe it or not, it was fun in that we heard the same classic tale rewoven and reinvented in beautiful ways. Compare it to the varieties of Klug you all are so proud of during December. Trust me, I’ve tasted many versions of that delightful beverage and they’re all a little different. And with a little luck, I’ll sample more throughout 2019.
However, these themes hold true throughout Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: Greed is not good. Ignorance and Want (who are deadly characters in “A Christmas Carol”) are real, fearful then and now. And finally, Charity, compassion, and kindness towards others are the greatest gift we can give for each other. The other realization I had was yes, indeed, the book and the movie are called “A Christmas Carol,” but I would add one word to that title, “A Christmas-Epiphany Carol.” Because the celebrated miser of Ebenezer Scrooge goes on an amazing dreamlike journey with one ghost and three spirits on Christmas Eve only to have an Epiphany on Christmas Day. Scrooge realizes in his Epiphany of Love that that his financial resources and wealth are something he can share and give, but he realizes something more. Scrooge gives his heart. Scrooge gives his heart to the errand boy who buys him a Christmas turkey, to his nephew Fred and his family, to Bob Cratchit, and of course, to Tiny Tim.
Scrooge gives his heart on Christmas Day and from then on. Not just one day or season, but from then on. And that’s what Jesus asks of us today. Not only our materials gifts for the building of God’s kingdom, but more and most importantly, our hearts. Not for just one day or season, but every day. With the giving of our hearts and our gifts, we should respond with the same joy that the Magi-Wisemen experience. In this New Year, we have a choice now to rededicate our lives, our goods, and our hearts to the baby in the manger. As we leave this place filled with joy and amazement much like those Magi visitors I pray that we are looking for that star of wonder that guides us to a most glorious light. AMEN