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The Epiphany    January 6, 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Today we have the joy of celebrating the feast of the Epiphany on a Sunday. The word “epiphany” means a “showing forth” or a “manifestation.” On this feast it becomes clear that the new faith in Christ is for all people.

Our first reading is from the prophet known as the Third Isaiah, a disciple of Isaiah writing around 539 B.C.E. King Cyrus of Persia has issued an edict allowing all the people exiled in Babylon to return to their homes. God is calling on Jerusalem to “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Light is one of the major themes of the Epiphany season. God tells the people, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

Psalm 72 is a song of praise to the king, and it is also a description of a good leader. The king has a right relationship with God and seeks God’s guidance. The good leader is a good shepherd of the people, a leader who truly cares about the people, who rules with justice and protects the vulnerable, a leader who has true authority, auctoritas , authorship, creativity, a king who nurtures growth, and brings peace and prosperity for all.

In our passage from Ephesians, Paul, or most likely a disciple of Paul, reveals the mystery: the Good News of Christ is for everyone. God loves everyone. Or, as Archbishop Tutu would say, “God has a big family.”

And then we come to our passage from Matthew’s gospel. Wise men from the East come to worship Jesus. We really don’t know who these people were. Some scholars say they were from Persia, some say from Babylon. Persia would be what we know as Iran; Babylon would be Iraq. Some say that the wise men were Zoroastrian priests. Quite a few say that they were astrologers. Most say that these men knew about the stars and other heavenly bodies, that they observed the stars, and that, back in those days, people believed that the birth of a king was usually revealed in the heavens.These wise men believed that the star was guiding them to something very important. They felt compelled to follow that star wherever it led them. Matthew does not tell us that there were three kings, but tradition quickly developed that story, possibly because Matthew says that they offered three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Scholars tell us that these men made a long journey. It probably took them somewhere between a year and two years. By the time they reached Jesus, the text says they entered a house, not a stable. They had to be wealthy to make such a journey and to bring such gifts. Scholars tell us that it is probably accurate to assume that the wise men had many camels, both to carry them as passengers and to carry their belongings, provisions for the journey, and their gifts for the new king. They also had many servants. They were wealthy and powerful, but they were not literal kings. The text calls them kings in deference to the references to kings in our reading from Isaiah and in the prophecy of Micah.

They made a courtesy visit to King Herod, who is the figure in this story who opposes everything this new king stands for. A dream warned them not to return to Herod, but we can assume they had figured that out anyway.

Many people have created paintings of these wise men. People have written stories and poems about them. People have even created names for them. Why is this? I think it is because we are drawn to them and to their journey. Epiphanies, revelations, discoveries are not just a thing of the past. We also journey to worship our Lord and to offer our gifts. And gifts are another theme of the Epiphany season. Each and every one of you offers gifts to God and others every day. What gift will each of us offer to our Lord this Epiphany?

It is very clear that the wise men were Gentiles. Their coming and worshiping Jesus makes it clear that all people are loved and welcomed by God. In those days, when you came to pay homage to a king, you gave gifts as a courtesy, but I think after this long and arduous journey, their offering was much more than a courtesy. I think that their encounter with this very different king changed their lives. All the old rules and theories were gone. This king comes into the world as a little baby, totally vulnerable, and his rule is going to be the reign of love.

Another theme of the Epiphany season is mission. God loves everyone, and we are called to make that clear to everyone we meet. This June, when Bishop Tom makes his final visitation to Grace, we will be celebrating the ministry of our local food shelf and the construction of a new building to facilitate that ministry.

Later on in Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 25, Jesus talks with his followers about ministry and about how his love calls us to treat people. The first thing he says is, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.”

This is our king, who calls us to give food to those who are hungry, to give water to those who are thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick, to visit those who are in prison.

This is an entirely new way to look at kingship, leadership and power. In this season of light, love, gifts, and mission, may we give thanks for God’s love, and may we continue to help God build God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.  Amen.

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