Epiphany Sunday – Rev. Linda Dolby
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.
The season of Epiphany started Friday, January 6, ending the season of Christmas. Before we put Christmas completely away, though, let’s hear this one story of a children’s Christmas pageant:
It begins, “a mother of four young children learned something about common sense one Christmas. The mother says, “My proudest moment came during the children's Christmas pageant. My daughter was playing Mary, two of my sons were shepherds and my youngest son was a wise man. This was their moment to shine. My five- year-old Shepherd had practiced his line, "We found the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes." But he was nervous and said, "The baby was wrapped in wrinkled clothes."
My four-year-old "Mary" said, "That's not 'wrinkled clothes,' silly. That's dirty, rotten clothes." A wrestling match broke out between Mary and the shepherd and was stopped by an angel, who bent her halo and lost her left wing.
I slouched a little lower in my seat when Mary dropped the doll representing Baby Jesus, and it bounced down the aisle crying, "Mama- mama." Mary grabbed the doll, wrapped it back up and held it tightly as the wise men arrived. My other son stepped forward wearing a bathrobe and a paper crown, knelt at the manger and announced, "We are the three wise men, and we are bringing gifts of gold, common sense and fur."
The congregation dissolved into laughter, and the pageant got a standing ovation. "I've never enjoyed a Christmas program as much as this one," Pastor Brian laughed, wiping tears from his eyes. "For the rest of my life, I'll never hear the Christmas story without thinking of gold, common sense and fur."
Christmas has come and gone this year. The question is this: what difference did Christmas make this year for you? Is Christmas something that can be put up with the garlands and then go away to the attic? Or, is the birth of the Christ-child something that makes a difference in each of our lives, this year, and all the way through this new year?
We spend the first 4 Sundays of December searching for hope, peace, joy, and love. We lit Advent candles and prayed there would be room in the inn of our hearts for a baby. We sat in silence Christmas eve and were touched by the wonder that God loved the world so much that God gave his only son, for us.
What difference does a baby make?
As an aside, let me tell you that our 3rd grandchild, a little boy named Rami, was born last Sunday at 8:03 a.m. It’s a good thing I didn’t learn of this birth until after our service was over last week, or I would have been a complete mess of excitement and pride and would not have led our worship well.
Because that’s what happens when babies are born, isn’t it? Our whole worlds are turned upside down. I remember when my husband and I had our first child. Everything revolved around that beautiful baby. We were no longer our own. Trips once taken at a drop of a hat now had to be carefully planned. Did she eat? Did she sleep? Will we ever eat? Will we ever sleep? Her cries captured our attention. The baby came first.
When Jesus was born, the world was turned upside down. When Jesus is born in our hearts, our worlds are turned upside down. Jesus becomes Lord of our lives. Priorities get shifted.
The verse of our scripture lesson that caught my heart is the last: the wise men returned home another way. After greeting Jesus and presenting their gifts, they went home differently. By another route. Not the way they came.
Do you ever wonder about what happened to the Wise Men when they went back home? Did they live happily ever after? Were their lives changed as a result of their journey?
After the shimmering splendor the star’s light and the mystery of having looked into that baby’s eyes, did it make a difference when they went back to the mundane Monday of driving the carpool, figuring out what to have for dinner, balancing the checkbook, paying those Christmas bills, attending meetings, calling on clients, getting their teeth filled, planning the birthday party – and all the thousand and one things that it takes to live?
After all, the Wise Men had followed a star and were exceedingly joyful in their journey’s end. But was it really their journey’s end, since it was necessary for them to return to their own country? They did not remain in the midst of the “royal beauty bright” of the star, but, they went to their homes by another way. But what was life like for them afterwards? After the star, in the cold light of day, did it all really matter?
How about us? After the anticipation and the celebration and wonder of that most holiest of night with candles flickering and the songs of the angels, what then? Does the spirit of Christmas simply get stowed away?
Or, is life somehow different? We really don't know what it was like for the wise men when they arrived back home. We can only imagine. But their message at Epiphany is about going home another way. It is not about certainties given, but about journeying with joy and wonder in all creation. It is about dreaming of new futures; it is about following the star of Christ. "O, star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright; westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light."
I learned this week of a song by James Taylor that I’ve never heard before. It’s called “Home By Another Way.”
Those magic men the Magi
Some people call them wise
Or oriental, even kings
Well anyway, those guys
They visited with Jesus
They sure enjoyed their stay
Then warned in a dream of king Herod's scheme
They went home by another way
Yes they went home by another way
Home by another way
Maybe me and you can be wise guys too
And go home by another way
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way
Rev. Linda Dolby
Ephesians 2:8-10, 14-22
8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
I was talking with someone this week and I asked, “What kind of message do people need to hear for the new year?” My friend responded, “Say how terrible New Year’s resolutions are. They just tie us up in knots. God wants our lives to be different, but mostly that happens by grace.”
It’s true. Most of the time when we make our grand resolutions, we base them not on a sense of developing ourselves, but in a sense of how we have failed. So, instead of saying, “I’m going to reach out in this direction, or I am going to reach out in love to another person and see what happens,” we say, “I’m not going to fail at this anymore.” What happens? We are human and there are bound to be failures. Since we begin by judging our inadequacies, our sense of failure deepens every time our resolutions spring a leak. We get all tied up in knots.
The problem is the premise of resolutions. When we make a resolution, we do so based on the premise that we are self-made men and women. We believe that who are and who we become are based on our own power for self-improvement.
That’s not biblical. The Bible says that who we are is not dependent upon us, it is dependent upon God. Hear again Paul’s writing to the Ephesians, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
We are not our own. When we become Christians, we are God’s. Jesus is Lord of our lives. We place ourselves in God’s hands to be God’s own. We invite God’s Spirit to come to us and work within us. Grace eases the knots. Grace is the mystery by which God’s spirit works within us. By the grace of God, failure becomes a new beginning.
Recently I read the following by a man named Tyler Speegler. He says,
“Growing up in church, I thought I had just about everything figured out about being a Christian. I have discovered, that some of my “Christian beliefs” were actually misguided and inspired more by worldly religion than the Word of God.”
He goes on to say, “It’s obvious that non-Christians have some misconceptions regarding Christianity, but often those who grew up in church, do too. Here are just two of the lies I used to believed about being a Christian:
1. Your Behavior Affects God’s Love For You.
With all the rules we set up for ourselves, it’s easy to think following them is the way to get God’s approval and love. But the truth is you don’t have to try to use your behavior to earn God’s love. He loves you despite your behavior.
Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). God’s love for you isn’t based on what you do or don’t do, it’s based on His Son Jesus. God uses the weak for His glory. And He can use you. You don’t have to work yourself up to be some sort of spiritual superhuman in order to serve Him.
2. The Bible is Mostly About Rules.
We often make the Bible out to be a rulebook. But when we view it that way, we will lose interest quickly because there is no connection made. The Bible isn’t about rules; it’s about Jesus. It’s designed to be used in the context of relationship. The goal in reading the Word shouldn’t be to get to a certain chapter, but to meet Jesus along the way.
In Crown Heights, NY, there was a Jewish man, Yankel, who owned a bakery. He survived the Holocaust. He once said, “You know why it is that I’m alive today? I was a kid, just a teenager at the time. We were on the train, in a boxcar, being taken to Auschwitz. Night came and it was freezing, deathly cold, in that boxcar. The Germans would leave the cars on the side of the tracks overnight, sometimes for days on end without any food, and of course, no blankets to keep us warm,” he said.
“Sitting next to me was an older Jew – this beloved elderly Jew - from my hometown I recognized, but I had never seen him like this. He was shivering from head to toe, and looked terrible. So I wrapped my arms around him and began rubbing him, to warm him up. I rubbed his arms, his legs, his face, his neck. I begged him to hang on. All night long; I kept the man warm this way. I was tired, I was freezing cold myself, my fingers were numb, but I didn’t stop rubbing the heat on to this man’s body. Hours and hours went by this way. Finally, night passed, morning came, and the sun began to shine. There was some warmth in the cabin, and then I looked around the car to see other Jews in the car. To my horror, all I could see were frozen bodies, and all I could hear was a deathly silence.
Nobody else in that cabin made it through the night – they died from the frost. Only two people survived: the old man and me… The old man survived because somebody kept him warm; I survived because I was warming somebody else…”
He goes on to say, “Let me tell you the secret of Judaism. When you warm other people’s hearts, you remain warm yourself. When you seek to support, encourage and inspire others; then you discover support, encouragement and inspiration in your own life as well. That, my friends, is “Judaism 101”.”
Christmas says: God sent God’s only Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to save those who are under the law, so that we might receive adoption as God’s children. We live in grace. We are no longer save to the law or resolutions, We are children, heirs of God. So maybe all we have to do in this new year is to reach out to God and to others. It may be that we are simply made to keep each other warm.
May it be so. Amen.
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