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January 6, 2019

“Star: Preserving the Truth”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Isaiah 60.1-6

Matthew 2.1-12

January 6, 2019

Whenever I am on the east coast one of my favorite activities is to watch the sun rise over the beach. While weather apps and stations can tell you the exact time of sunrise, it is actually a process. Anyone who has ever taken the time to watch the sun come up over a horizon knows that it begins with complete darkness and ends with an explosion of light. In fact, the light sort of creeps up on you. The rays of the sun come up first, lightening the sky just a little bit, and most of the time the sky is nearly light before you can see the actual sun itself. Yet, the sky becomes lighter and lighter. Eventually, we are overwhelmed with the light. The sky is consumed with light until the sun sets again.

We have metaphors for light in both the Matthew and Isaiah passages today, and how that light comes gradually, as a process.[1] This metaphor works as we celebrate Epiphany, as well. Today, January 6, is the day of Epiphany – the story of the magi. When we think of the word “epiphany” we often imagine it as a moment in time – a light bulb going off when you have an idea. Yet, often we know that our best ideas come through process.

Creativity is a process. All artists know that their first draft or first attempt at art is never the best. They edit, they sculpt, they work on it. What their artwork looks like in the first iteration probably does not resemble the final project. As a writer, I often find that I start with one topic, which spurs another, and then leads me to something that is even better. The epiphany starts with that first writing topic, and ends with the final piece that has been edited. Our faith journey is similar. We begin in one place, and we end in another, but the process is just as important. Our epiphany of faith is not just one day, but a process of experiences over time.

The magi in this familiar Matthew passage is one of process, as well. Over the years it has been assumed that there were three magi because of the three gifts, but the author never tells just how many people there were at the time. Maybe fifteen people traveled with three gifts. Or perhaps only two. The purpose, though, is not how many, but the shift that we see. Up until this point our stories have talked about Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. Now, we are reading about Gentiles – people who lived outside of Nazareth and Bethlehem, who had a very different culture and religious background, and they have heard about this baby being born.[2] They travel to see it, which also helps us see that the story has fast forwarded a bit. Jesus is no longer the tiny baby, but the babbling toddler.

Now, King Herod, who has control issues, has heard that these magi have come all the way from some distant land in the east to see this walking, talking Messiah. He becomes a little nervous, because he is hearing all sorts of rumors, I’m sure. He asks the magi about what they have heard, and then tells them to give his whereabouts so he can “pay him homage.” We know, and later the magi know, that King Herod actually wants to murder him. He does not like what he is hearing and is scared of this small child. Now, if you have ever had to clean up a mess leftover from a toddler, you know that sometimes fear is a good thing. Yet, this is a different kind of fear. This is of a “tyrant who is jealous and intimidated.”[3] King Herod cannot let go of his power and control. Perhaps in some ways this is our reminder of surrender – that we are not the ones in control, and that sometimes we have to push away fear we have – fear of the future, fear of the unknown – and surrender it to Christ, having faith.

The magi were the equivalent of “astrologists” in those days, which was why they followed a star. They also didn’t have AAA in those days, so they had to figure something out. Immediately, as they approach the holy family, the magi recognize this child and know that he is the Christ child. In many ways their first sighting of Jesus is their telling, but they have had quite a lead up to this moment. If they hadn’t had a dream to follow the star, or talked with Herod, would they have realized this if they had merely stumbled upon Jesus? Their epiphany was a journey.

Think to your own faith journey. Can you pinpoint one moment in time when you had an epiphany? What led up to that event? If not, can you think of a series of events or experiences that have shaped your faith? Perhaps there are people who have formed your faith over time.

The Isaiah passage does not refer to Jesus but of a revelation of light. “Arise! Shine! Your light has come!” The author informs the reader to “be radiant!” The people in this passage had lived in exile. The thought is that at the point this was written, known as Third-Isaiah, the people were back to living in the comforts of their own home, or at least had been welcomed. Their homes were not necessarily comfortable. They were still dealing with the aftermath of exile. Things were not “what they used to be” and they might have been experiencing deep poverty.[4] They may have returned, but this is not what they expected. Isaiah is attempting to cheer them up and remind them that God is with them. Their sunrise is on the horizon and God is near.

Each week throughout Advent we discussed one of the Great Ends of the Church, found in our Book of Order. These are parts of our calling as a church – as a faith community. Today we explore the preservation of the truth. We, as the church, are to seek the truth and share it, to witness to the truth. The beginning of the Gospel of John reminds us that John the Baptist came as a witness to the light, Jesus Christ. He witnessed the truth found in that light and shared it with those he met, calling for repentance. We, too, must witness to the light and share it with the world. We must be radiant and shine the truth in the world. We must be radiant and remind others that God is with us in times of trial and times of celebration.

We stand at the beginning of a new year – the dawning of a new time and new light. We mark our days and years to tell time, but we know that our journey is continuous and that we are ever growing and ever changing along the way. God is with us from one day to the next, and we pray for God’s guidance throughout time.

Last year on Epiphany we did a practice called “chalking the doors.” This is an ancient tradition in which we write the letters “CMB” on the doors, which, in Latin, is Christus Mansionem Benedict, or, “May God bless this dwelling.” I went to clean the doors off for this year, and almost everything had disappeared, except the phrase “filled with the Spirit.” It stayed the entire year, and I couldn’t fully rub it off. I think that is a sign – it might be a sign that someone used permanent marker instead of chalk, but still a sign. I do believe we are filled with the Spirit.

This year we will do the same, and I invite you to write a word you wish for in the coming year. Go ahead and we will come back here and I will close with a prayer…

 

 

These are our hopes for the year. These are what we pray for. We lift up our prayers to God and ask for God to bless this space. May we speak truth in our words and actions this year. Amen.

 

[1] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 69.

[2] Ibid., 72.

[3] Ibid., 72.

[4] Ibid., 68.