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The Epiphany January 6, 2013 Year C RCL

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2: 1-12

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. The word epiphany comes from Greek roots meaning to manifest or to show.  Jesus is shown to be the light of the world and the savior of all peoples.

All of our lessons today point toward this meaning. Our first reading, from the prophet called the Third Isaiah, is a joyful proclamation to the people held in Exile in Babylon that God’s light is shining on them, that  they will return home under the protection of King Cyrus of Persia to rebuild Jerusalem.

Psalm 72 gives us a powerful description of the justice and mercy of the shalom of God under a good king and shepherd of the people.

Our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians celebrates God’s call to Paul to spread the Good News to the Gentiles—to all the world.

The themes of Epiphany are light, gifts, and mission.

Biblical scholar Paul Achtemeier says that the wise men were most likely astronomers from Babylon, which was the seat of astronomical studies in the ancient world. If that is true, it would strike a bittersweet note in the story, given that centuries before our Lord’s birth, the Babylinian Empire had conquered Judah and exiled its leaders.

In any case, we have a story of three wise men. Scholars tell us that they probably were not kings. Isaiah’s oracle about kings coming to Jerusalem with gifts probably is the source of the kingly title. They are not kings, but they are learned, wise, men–scientists, astronomers, men of wealth and prestige. They have quite a retinue—a camel for each of them to ride, but also camels to carry supplies and, of course, gifts for a new king, and assistants to manage the camels and run errands and so on. They see this star and they are compelled to follow it. They just have to do it. In addition to being learned men, they are spiritual seekers. They have the feeling that this star means something very important, that it is the sign of the birth of a new king.

Being of high social status, they respect and follow proper protocol. They go to Jerusalem and visit King Herod. When he finds out that they are searching for a new king, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes, his “deadly duplicitous thoughts are revealed.” He asks them in unctuous tones to be sure and come back to let him know what they have found, and secretly he is already planning the extermination of this new king. After all, he killed three of his own sons to remove any threat to his power.

The three wise men leave Herod and follow the star. Since their journey has taken them at least one and perhaps as many as two years, Jesus is no longer an infant when they arrive. They find him with his mother. Scholars note that, as Matthew tells the story, it almost appears that Mary and Joseph have set up housekeeping.

The details do not matter. When they see Jesus, the wise men fall on their knees and worship, They also offer gifts which are the usual things given to a new king—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they go home by another way. I have a feeling the dream was only confirmation of what they already knew, that Herod was up to no good.

The wise men followed the light of that star and they encountered the light that was destined to break through every death and every darkness.  In his poem “The Journey of the Magi,” T. S. Eliot hints that their lives were never the same after that. The light shines in the darkness and it attracts everyone to it. That is one of the themes of this day—light.

Another theme is gifts. The wise men offer gifts. I think they probably also offered themselves. I think that, in their encounter with Jesus, they realized that they were meeting a King unlike any king that had ever been before. And today, as every day, we offer ourselves to our Lord and King, so that he may guide us in building his shalom, his kingdom of peace, love, and harmony. We offer back to God the gifts God has given us—gifts of music, gifts of building, gifts of teaching and guiding young people, gifts of healing, gifts of balancing the books, gifts of listening and supporting, all these gifts to be used by God in the building of God’s kingdom.

As we watch this story unfold, we see so many different expressions of power. We see the self-serving, self-protecting concept of power that controls the life of King Herod. He will kill members of his own family to protect his power.

We see the power of the wise men. They follow the star at great cost. It isn’t easy. They endure hardship, long months and years on the journey. They are highly respected, wealthy, powerful. Yet when they see Jesus, they know they have met a new level of kingship, a revolutionary expression of power, the power of love and compassion, power that gives itself for the life of the world.

Epiphany is the season of mission. We have so much to share.  We have been given so many gifts.

This coming Sunday, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the Sundays in the Church year when it is especially appropriate to have baptisms. And we are blessed that we will be celebrating the baptism of Krista Alexa Sturgeon, the daughter of Nicholas and Francesca Sturgeon. Nick will be leaving later this month to begin his service in the United States Marines, a vocation to which he has felt called for several years. Please keep them in your special prayers.

May we walk in the light of Christ.

Amen.

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