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January 7, 2018

“Chalk it Up to God”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Acts 19.1-7

Matthew 2.1-12

January 7, 2018

            Today we hear about two important moments in Jesus’ life, at separate ends of his life. The first is Epiphany, and the second is the baptism of Jesus. Epiphany is a day when we celebrate the magi visiting the toddler. The latter is when John baptized Jesus and Jesus began his ministry. Epiphany is a time when we recognize God manifest in this human divine – where others began to recognize his importance to the world. There was a moment of realization during his baptism, as well, as the dove descended and a voice boomed from heaven. Jesus was fully human and fully God from beginning to end, but the epiphany, or the moment of clarity, happened at different times for people. We might still have epiphanies as we seek to better understand the Messiah. These are passages in the journey – moments when we pause to figure out who Jesus is to us, but we also remember that we cannot stay there, and we must go through the threshold to the other side.

            We begin with Epiphany. Even though we sing about three kings, the passage never concludes how many there were present at the scene.[1] We have assumed there were three merely because of the three gifts given. The magi noticed this star, which seemingly moved. We might find this to be bizarre since we have more knowledge of science. Was it a planet? A comet? Something else? Dante wrote “God is the love that moves the star.”[2]  This is interesting to ponder, considering we know that when we look at the stars, we are seeing the light of something from millions of years ago, depending on how far the planet is from the star. At the speed of light, we could be looking at a star that burned out already, but it takes time for the light to make it to us. The magi could have been looking at a star that had already burned out.

Whether or not you believe God moved the stars, the point is to show how these people from a foreign land heard about Jesus and traveled great lengths to see him.[3] Some Sundays it is difficult to roll out of bed to arrive at church, especially on cold, snowy days, but we remember the long journey that the magi made. If they were around now they might even say something about how they had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to see Jesus. Or maybe they’d be a little more compassionate.

            The magi go to Herod, the king, to find Jesus. What we need to know about Herod (which you might already know) is that he was full of himself. This leader saw himself as strong and powerful and supreme to all people. He was, indeed, very powerful, but his narcissism was also his weakness.[4] Since he was so focused on his power, he was more insecure than he let on, and that made him weak. He tries so hard to be in control of everything, but ends up losing control, instead. When he hears about Jesus, he panics, because he is no longer the fairest in all the land. Like the evil queen in Snow White, he acts out of fear and sends the magi to do the dirty work.

            The magi go, not realizing at first that Herod is sending them to trap Jesus and give him the information he needs to kill him. They spend time with this toddler who is both God and human. Can you imagine a two year old with the power of the Messiah? Waddling around, running into things and having fits when he’s tired? These magi see him for who he is and love him deeply, leaving him these gifts.

            Before they leave, they have a dream that tells them not to go back to Herod. They obey this warning and go a different route. They visit with the Christ child, enjoy him, worship him, and then they go a new direction. This is a turning point in their lives and they move forward.

            Fast forward some thirty years to Jesus’ baptism. We are reading about a response to his baptism in Acts, so this was well after his death and resurrection. This is the response of a new Christian community as they try to make sense of this.

            Before this passage, Apollos tells a group in Corinth about baptism. Like responsible Christian leaders, Priscilla and Aquila pull him aside and correct him in secret.[5] However, then he did not change his ways or inform those who had already been baptized, because Paul comes along and finds the people completely clueless about the Spirit. They had not heard about a baptism of the Spirit, and so he teaches them. He informs them about the Holy Spirit, which is probably one of the harder theological concepts to grasp. This intangible being that is so important to our faith is difficult to describe, yet Paul does so and encourages them to be baptized again. In our Reformed tradition, we do not baptize a second time – we believe that one baptism is enough. In this instance, I believe Paul did not see the first as a true baptism, since the words “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” had not been uttered.

            In early church tradition the celebration of Epiphany included baptism. It was a time to welcome people who converted to the faith and people who were studying faith.[6]  So, even though these events were at different ends of Jesus’ life, they were related and important. Both were places of transition – precursors to sending people out into the world with the good news of Jesus Christ – this fully God fully human who came to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us, was in the flesh, caring for the poor, eating with sinners, and loving the unlovable.

            In Matthew we see a transition from babyhood to toddlerhood. From infant to king. In the baptism we notice a recognition of others, seeing Jesus as just a man, to understanding him as divine. The people go from being unsure of their purpose, to being called. These are places of transition, and we can pause in these places, but we cannot stay forever.

            There is a tradition of chalking the doors on Epiphany. It literally means taking chalk and writing on the doors of one’s home or work or any building and asking for God’s blessing. The numbers of the year are written, interspersed with the letters CMB – which is the initials of the Latin Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which translates to “May Christ bless this dwelling.”[7] I find it interesting that doors are the chosen place for this writing, as doors are places of transition. We do not stay in doorways, but find ourselves inside or outside.

            Today, we will chalk the doorways of the church. I ask you to write a word or two of hopes – your hopes for the year – for yourself, for someone else, for this place, and we will end with a prayer.

 

            Chalk it up to God to bring a baby into this world, a baby who was born into a manger and lived in a lowly status, yet was born a king, who would grow up to be baptized and preach about peace and love and hope. Chalk it up to God, for God alone is the One who could have such a vision in a world so filled with chaos. May God hear our hopes. May God bless this place and bless this year. And may God bless you. Amen.     

 

[1] Shelley D. B. Copeland, “Matthew 2.1-12” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 217.

[2] James C. Howell, “Matthew 2.1-12” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 214.

[3] William V. Arnold, “Matthew 2.1-12” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 212.

[4] Copeland, 213.

[5] Douglas F. Ottati, “Acts 19.1-7” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 230.

[6] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 75.

[7] Rachel M. Srubas, “Observing Epiphany” in Presbyterians Today, December 2017/January 2018, Vol. 107, Issue 6, p. 21.