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Advent 2A December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah begins with the image of a stump. This symbolizes a low point in the story of God’s people. Scholars tell us that this terrible time could have been after the victory of the Assyrians over God’s people or the conquest of God’s people by the Babylonians. The stump is the last vestige of the line of King David. It looks dead.

We all have seen stumps which develop green shoots, and that is what is happening here. Out of the stump of Jesse, King David’s father, comes a new shoot, a branch. And the text tells us, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of the Spirit as “God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power…, which can create an utter newness.” Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 11.)

Brueggemann writes that, “In the place of  …sword, spear, and javelin this king will be dressed in the saving regalia of loyal concern and love.” (Texts, p. 12.)

The spirit of God is coming to bring in the kingdom of God. Natural enemies will live together in harmony, and “a little child will lead them.” Brueggemann writes,  “The new king, powered by the spirit, will not be open to bribes (‘what his eyes see’) or convinced by propaganda (‘what his ears hear.’) He will, rather, be the kind of judge who will attend to the needs of the ‘meek’ and the ‘poor.’”  (Texts, p. 11 and 12.)

Brueggemann continues, “‘The little child’ bespeaks the birth of a new innocence in which trust, gentleness, and friendship are possible and appropriate. The world will be ordered so that the fragile and vulnerable can have their say and live their lives.” (Texts, p. 12.)

To paraphrase, Brueggemann says that “Advent is our decision to trust the [power of the Spirit] against the hopeless stump of what has failed.” (Texts, p. 12.)

Our psalm for today, Psalm 72, adds to the description of the good and just king who rules wisely and is like fresh rain nurturing the growth of the earth. Good and faithful leaders always nurture the growth of everyone in society, especially those who are at the margins. These two readings offer the basic view of the kingdom, the reign, the shalom of God.

In our epistle, Paul begins with a prayer that we might have hope. He adds, “ May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is the God of steadfastness and encouragement. God encourages us to hang in there and continue to hope, and God makes it possible for us to glorify God with one voice.

God brings us together in love so that we may love each other and love God.

Paul calls us to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us. And he refers to the shoot of Jesse, the branch of David’s family, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

As the days become shorter and shorter, we are called to be people of light and love and hope because our King is coming to us.

Our gospel for today brings us into the presence of one of the two great Advent figures, John the Baptist. To say the least, he is a striking figure. He certainly doesn’t wear a Brooks brothers suit, and he eats locusts and honey. Scholars tell us that locusts were among the few insects that were considered ritually clean. John is living off the land. His ministry takes place out in the wilderness, and hundreds of people flock to see him.

John preaches a baptism of repentance, He is calling us to give up our sins, examine our lives, and get ready to follow the One who is to come, the Savior. In the midst of the corruption of the Roman Empire, it’s no wonder that people are traveling to see him, They know they need to do something different with their lives. They need direction, and they sense the promise of hope and light in what John is telling them. John calls the religious leaders a “brood of vipers.” A nest of snakes. They are depending on the fact that they have Abraham for their ancestor, but John is telling them, just as Isaiah had done centuries ago, that God is about to do a new thing.

“God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power, which can create an utter newness.” That is what Advent is about. We do self-examination. We make course corrections. We ask our Lord to give us the grace and guidance to grow closer to him. It is serious work, and it is also joyful work. “Life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending” work.

We are on the journey of making room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to come and live with us. Live within us. We do this in a spirit of hope and love and light and joy.

Loving Lord, help us to make room for you in our lives and hearts. Amen.

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.

Advent 4B RCL December 24, 2017

Isaiah 11:1-1
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 16:25-17
Luke 1:26-38

Today, because we are thinking about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, we are also going to think about giving birth to Jesus.

Meister Eckhart wrote, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture?”

Francis of Assisi wrote,
“We are the mother of Christ when we carry him in our heart and body by love and a pure and sincere conscience. And we give birth to him through our holy works which ought to shine on others by our example.”

Mechtild of Magdeburg wrote, “Mary, you birthed to earth your son. You birthed the son of God from heaven by breathing the Spirit of God.”

And, once again, Meister Eckhart: “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

Here we are beholding a paradoxical, mysterious truth that takes us right into the heart of God—beyond the prison of logic, beyond our tendency to go to our frontal cortex and limit God’s truth.

We are all called to give birth to God. We have a wonderful example, a courageous, wise young woman named Mary. The angel Gabriel told her she was going to give birth to the Son of God. He also told her that her cousin Elizabeth was going to have a baby in her old age. And Mary had the wisdom and the presence of mind to go and visit Elizabeth. She went to offer and receive support on this life-changing, world-changing journey they were now making, a journey that would change millions of lives including ours.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And the Word was full of grace and truth, and the Word, the logos who called the creation into being, dwelt among us. Jesus was God walking the face of the earth. He taught, he healed, he loved everyone, and I mean everyone, even lepers, even tax collectors. And, of course, he is calling us to do the same thing. He is calling us to follow him and to be like him. He is calling us to give birth to him in our lives and to grow into the likeness of him.

As we take that deep breath, and our lungs expand, and our hearts fill with the awareness of his presence, our lives open to embrace the vision of his shalom of wholeness and harmony. The creation is made whole. Lions and lambs and calves and wolves and everyone and everything else live in peace. Everyone and everything is one. Everything and everyone is nurtured.

Matthew Fox asks, “What would it mean to live in a nurturing world?”My answer would be, the shalom of God would be here, which brings us back to Advent.

Here we are, between the beginning and the completion of the Kingdom, the realm. the shalom of Christ. God is building that shalom, quietly and inexorably. And God is calling us to help.

As we look around, we can see the gap between the vision and the realization of the plan. Between the current situation and the ultimate hope. There seems to be a long way to go.

That’s where the giving birth comes in. We take a deep breath. We fill our lungs with God’s holy and whole-making oxygen. We fill ourselves with God’s presence. We recall that Jesus tells us, “My kingdom is within you.” We breathe out that peace into the world, We breathe out that harmony, that healing, that wholeness.

As Kenneth Kirk would say, We try, with God’s grace, to “cope from the presence of God” in everything that we do. In every action, we try to give birth to God. In every word, thought, everything we say or do or think, we give birth to God. It’s a work in process. We are not perfect, but we were created good, and the creation was created good. Jesus is right in the midst of us and even within us, and we’re following him. He is walking with us, and we are walking with him.

The shalom of God is full of peace and nurture. (Isaiah 11:6-9) The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

As we take that deep breath, every breath, and give birth to Christ, to God, and to the Spirit, we are giving birth to God’s realm of peace and wholeness. We are giving birth to God’s shalom. We live that wholeness and that harmony.

Matthew Fox asks, “What would it mean to live in a nurturing world?”

What would it be like to have “this fragile earth, our island home” wrapped in peace? What would it be like to have no war, no conflict of any kind, with all of us seeing the God in each other and with all of our energies devoted to things that are creative? Things such as nurturing our planet, raising and sharing food and all the other things that bring life? And none of the things that bring death.

What would it mean to live in a nurturing world? Each of us has a vision of that. Each of us has been given gifts to help God to bring that vision to fruition. As St. Francis says, “Each of us gives birth to him through our holy works.”

Right now, we are taking a deep breath in this most holy place, this thin place where God is so present. Here in Sheldon, where there are more farms per square mile than anywhere else in Vermont, we are close to the earth. We are close to God’s humus, God’s good nurturing earth. This is a good place to practice humility. Humility is not groveling or denying the gifts God has given us, Humility is openness, like the openness of a field that has been prepared for planting. Humility comes from humus, God’s good soil, earthiness. So, we are open, we are humble, we are ready for planting, for the planting of the Word, the planting of the new life, the planting of Christ’s shalom.

Here in Grace Church, where people of faith have prayed for years upon years, where we have met God over and over in new ways each time we visit. Here in Grace Church, here in Vermont, here on planet earth, in the presence of our loving God, we will grow more and more open to the new life God is planting in us. Our humility will grow. We will be more and more open to God’s gifts to us and God’s call to us.

And we will give birth. We will grow closer and closer to God and to each other. And God will continue to build community. And God will continue to build God’s shalom. And we will be transformed. “And the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.”  Amen.

Advent 2 Year A RCL December 4, 2016

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Our opening reading today is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible. It is a message of hope to God’s people. It is a clear and compelling description of God’s kingdom. For us as Christians, it is a description of the One who will bring in that kingdom.

“A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse.” This king is going to come from the house of David. The Spirit of God will shine forth from him, and he will be full of wisdom and understanding. He will not judge things on a superficial basis. He will look into the depths of people and situations. He will be fair and compassionate. He will have a deep understanding of the poor and the meek and will judge them fairly and with respect.

In the kingdom of God, natural enemies will lie down together. They will no longer need to attack each other. Peace will prevail on all levels. Children will be safe. “They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

The shalom of God brings peace and harmony over all the earth. Everyone has food, shelter, clothing, medical care, good work to do, and everything necessary, not only to survive, but to thrive.

Our psalm continues with the description of the King who brings in this shalom. He rules with justice, defends the needy, rescues the poor. He crushes the oppressor. The earth flourishes. Crops grow. The creation is made whole.

This is God’s vision of profound peace and harmony among all creatures and throughout the whole creation. The description of the King is the description of the ideal earthly leader and the description of our Lord.

In our epistle, Paul is telling the Romans that Jesus is Lord of all, Gentiles as well as Jews. Christ is the Lord of all. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells us, God has a big family, and it includes everyone.

Our reading concludes with the wonderful prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In today’s gospel, we meet one of the two major figures of Advent, John the Baptist. John does not stay in the earthly center of power Jerusalem. He goes out into the desert, away from the crowded city.

He has spent time in the wilderness, away from all the hustle and bustle of the city. He has prayed and studied the scriptures. He has spent time alone with himself and alone with God. He knows exactly who he is and he also knows who God is. He is called to prepare the way of the Lord. He is called to be the one who will point the way to the Savior.

Great crowds of people flock from the city to see him. He becomes famous. He is preaching repentance, calling people to think carefully about their lives and measure their lives against God’s standards of love and compassion and justice. He is calling them and us to open ourselves to metanoia, spiritual transformation.

Hundreds of people flock to John the Baptist, He baptizes them. He immerses them in the waters of the Jordan River in a baptism of repentance. and he tells them that one is coming who is greater that John, and he will baptize with the Spirit.

The Pharisees and Sadducees come out from Jerusalem. They have heard about John and they want to see for themselves who he is. The Pharisees and Sadducees are leaders in the faith, but they have broken down the Ten Commandments into over six hundred rules and regulations which are so challenging that you really have great deal of wealth and leisure to be able to obey all of these rules.

Working people cannot possibly observe all these rules. For example, on the Sabbath, they are going to have to feed and water their animals, and do all kinds of other things which are considered as work, and this means that they are breaking the law.

John knows all of this, and that is why he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a “Brood of vipers,” a nest of snakes. All their rules weigh down the average working people and make them feel as though they will never be able to worship God in an acceptable manner.

Someone is coming who is going to turn things around and let people know that God is more concerned about how we treat each other than about how we may or may not follow six hundred rules and regulations. As we can see, John is really angry about how this whole legalistic system has burdened God’s people. He talks about how this system has put obstacles in the way of people who are trying to follow God’s will. As someone once said, “God is a lover, not a lawyer.”

John is preparing the Way for our King, and all of our readings today are holding up for us a vision of our Savior and of his shalom. This is the  kingdom we are called to help him build, and we are all working on it right now.

As we move farther into Advent, our Lord is calling us to make room for him in or hearts and our lives. Take a little time each day, if we can, to be quiet, as John was quiet out there in the wilderness, and to listen for the voice of Jesus telling us how much he loves us and wants to be a part of every moment of our lives and give us his grace and strength so that we can follow him.

So, once again this Advent, our lord is calling us to allow him to come to birth within us. He is calling us to open ourselves and our lives to his transformation so that we can become more and more like him.

May we prepare the way for our beloved King and Savior, Amen.

Advent 2A RCL December 8, 2013

Isaiah  11:1-10

Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

Our beautiful and powerful reading from the prophet Isaiah describes a king who will come from the family of King David. The spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding. He will be faithful. He will not judge by the usual human standards or by superficial means.  He will have compassion for the poor and the meek.

Then Isaiah gives us a description of God’s kingdom, God’s shalom. The entire creation is at peace—humans, animals, the earth itself. Children are safe. Everyone is safe. Not only is there no war, there is complete safety and protection for all creatures.

The shalom of God, the peace of Christ, is what we are called to help God to build here on earth. Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, describes shalom this way: “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day. Where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

Isaiah writes, “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” This is the world God is calling us to build. This is God’s vision.

Psalm 72 further describes this king. He is on the side of the little guys, the poor and those at the margins. He is compassionate and fair. Under his rule, the earth greens and blossoms and is restored.

In our reading from his Letter to the Romans, Paul is calling us to realize that Jesus is the king described by Isaiah, and that Jesus calls all people to follow him. The reading concludes with that beautiful prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We all know that there are many problems in this world, but we are called to be people of hope.

In our gospel, we meet John the Baptist. He is dressed like the prophet Elijah, and he eats locusts dipped in honey. Back in those days, if you wanted to be a mover and a shaker, you went to the big city, Jerusalem. That is where all the powerful people and where all the important things happened. But John the Baptist goes out into the wilderness, and the powerful people come to him. John the Baptist wants to be as far from the centers of earthly power as he can be.

He calls the people to repent. He calls us to undergo a process of transformation,  from the Greek, metanoia. He calls us to realign ourselves with God’s vision of a world of love, peace, harmony, wholeness, and compassion. He calls us to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” That would be the fruits of the Spirit as later described by St. Paul—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders of the time, are feeling threatened by John the Baptist. They come out to investigate him for themselves. They have a great deal of power and they are interested in protecting their turf. Their religious requirements often place burdens on the poor, and they do not respect the poor and the weak,  Their actions are often not in harmony with the values of God’s shalom. John calls them a “brood of vipers.” He speaks the truth with no trace of fear.

John the Baptist is calling us to open ourselves to God’s love and healing and align ourselves with God’s vision and values. But them he says that one is coming after him who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. That one is, of course, Jesus.

What are these readings saying to us this morning?  Back on Trinity Sunday, we talked about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit– God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier. John Macquarrie writes that God has the vision, Jesus is the logos, the plan, the blueprint for human life, and the Holy Spirit is the one who brings about the realization of the plan,=. Te Holy Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. Jesus is our model for how to live. If we are going to follow him, we need to become more and more like him. That is where those fruits of the Spirit come in. We become more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, more kind, more generous, more faithful, more gentle, more self-controlled.

We know that’s where we want to be, and we know that there have been times when we have fallen short. We acknowledge to God those times when we have “done those things we ought not to have done and have not done those things which we ought to have done.” We ask God’s help, we count on God’s grace, we get back on track. That’s repentance and metanoia.

This internal spiritual work is going to help us to be better partners with God in building God’s kingdom, God’s shalom of peace and harmony. If we are at peace within ourselves and we have a strong partnership with our loving God, we can help to make a better world, like the world described by Isaiah.

Mary Hinkle Shore of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota writes,  “For Christians, the One who actually comes as the clearest fulfillment of Isaiah’s word decides that the only way to get to the peaceable kingdom is to live out its meekness here and now, no matter what. He does not breathe fire on anyone. He seeks out sinners. He is himself a lamb lying down in the midst of wolves. With his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus gave us a window on the peaceable kingdom.”

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Thank you for your grace. Help us to align ourselves with your vision and be partners with you as you build your shalom. Help us to make room for your in our hearts and our lives.     Amen.

Advent 1 Year A RCL December 1, 2013

Isaiah 2: 1-5

Psalm 122

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

Happy New Year! The first Sunday of Advent is New Year’s Day in the Church calendar. We change from Eucharistic lectionary C to lectionary A. For the Daily Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, we go from lectionary year 1 to year 2. Our liturgical color changes from green, for the time after Pentecost, to purple, a symbol of royalty as we get ready to welcome our King, and a symbol of penitence, as we engage in self-examination and metanoia, conversion, getting back on track, bringing our lives into harmony with God’s vision of shalom, peace, compassion, healing, and wholeness. Finally, we light one candle on the Advent wreath as we count the days until Christmas.

Advent means “coming.” We prepare for the coming of Christ to complete the creation, to set all things right, to bring in his kingdom his shalom as described in our reading from Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Come let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Advent is a time to get things in shape, to tie up loose ends. It is a good time to clean house and get rid of things we no longer need. It is a good time to make or revise wills and to talk to family members about our   funeral plans. It is a time for spiritual transformation.. As Paul says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of  light.”

As our Lord makes clear, we do not need to try to figure out when he is going to come again. Our job is to be ready, to be prepared. If he were to come today, would we be ready?

Part of readiness is stewardship of the earth and of all that God has given us. Today, Beth will be sharing with us her experience of the blessings of stewardship.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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.