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January 6, 2019

The Epiphany of Our Lord

Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 2:1 Traditionally wise men
  2. Matthew 2:6 Micah 5:2,4

Sermon: “Star-Crossed

A couple of stories caught my eye the last few days that were about people getting more than they bargained for, though not in a good way.

Let’s start in Charlotte, North Carolina where, on January 4, a man tried to force a woman into his car. He did this outside a karate studio, which is just where the woman went when she got away. The man was foolish enough to run in after her. He didn’t run out. Police carriedhim out, on a stretcher.

This next one you’ve probably heard of or, more likely, seen. Let’s start with a brief video clip.

Clip

That was an unhinged customer named Daniel Taylor yelling at and then physically assaulting McDonald’s employee Jasmine James because there were no plastic straws.

Taylor eventually left, but not before kicking another employee in the stomach on his way out. Police took him into custody not long afterwards, and he now faces two charges of simple battery.

Ms. James is using her moment in the spotlight to lobby for better safety measures for fast food workers. That’s a good thing, and much needed. But, as did the karated kidnapper, Mr. Taylor got more than he bargained for.

We do, too, when Matthew tells his version of the Christmas story. Let’s start by relabeling the characters. We’ve got it all wrong.

There are only twokings, and their names are Herod and Jesus. From the instant Jesus was born, Matthew tells us, these two kings and the systems they stand for were at odds.

The Herod of Matthew 2 was a Roman client king who died around 4 BCE. He spent lavishly on building projects, including the Temple. Herod ruthlessly put down any threat to his rule.

He killed his father-in-law, mother-in-law, several of his ten wives, and two of his sons when they got in his way.

Unlike a fine wine, Herod didn’t get better with age. Some scholars think syphilis slowly drove him mad. We catch up with him here near the end of his life―paranoid, fearful, and willing to do anything to keep his grip on power.

That’s why, when the Magi arrive, Herod summons his advisors. They’rethe wisemen in this story. When it came to answering Herod’s sneakily paranoid question about where the Messiah was to be born, these chief priests and scribes knew more than Herod and the Magi put together.

The trouble is, it didn’t do them any good. Rather than leading them to the Messiah, it got them involved, first, in an attempted murder and, later, in the mass execution of children.

For Matthew, having faith but not acting on it makes us the worst kind of sinners. Jesus later made that perfectly plain in a parable where those he calls “goats” ask, “’Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and didn’t take care of you?’.”

He will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The Magi didn’t stand still, but used the gifts that God gave them to follow the star. When they finally reached Bethlehem, they worshiped Jesus, a powerless child born to nobody parents in a less than nothing province. He could hardly be more different than the crazy king in Jerusalem.

Matthew contrasts Herod’s deadly use of power with the life-giving power of Jesus. Later, Matthew would tell how Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies, and not to repay violence with violence.

Bethlehem’s King would show his power healing, confronting injustice, freeing those gripped by demons of every sort, and showing, in words as well as miracles, that suffering, sin, and death would never have the last word.

Of course, all that’s still to come. In today’s verses, it’s the Magi who stand, not just front and center, but on the edge.

Sociologists who study the business world speak of “playing the edge,” or “edge work.” The idea comes from the natural world, where the zone between two ecosystems such as water and land or field and forest is where we find the greatest diversity and most life.

Our edge is the zone between God’s vision for our life and our life as it is. It can be a place of great challenge and change, of joy and of knee-knocking fright. Society needs edge walkers, psychologists tell us. So does the church.

Business trainer Brendon Burchard says edge walkers, “refuse to…[heed] the advice of…realists, who tell us to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound). These types of attainable goals never spark the imagination or fire the will.”

“You want to change?” Burchard asks. “Then do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to settle on a vision or calling that is uninspiring.”

The Magi looked beyond what the world called SMART to the spiritually inspired, and call on us to do the same, to risk and to dare.

Today we celebrate the twelfth day of Christmas, Epiphany Sunday. The word “epiphany” means showing, making known, or revealing.

 In our case, what’s revealed is the light of God in Jesus Christ. Epiphany is about the many ways that light breaks into our lives.

The Magi’s epiphany happened not just on the edge but on the run, far from home, as they travelled, first, to Jerusalem, and, from there, to Bethlehem. I think most of our epiphanies happen on the run, too.

The Magi remind us that life is a journey in search of the One who calls us beyond ourselves to faithful service. Those who dare walk on life’s spiritual edge will get more than they bargained for, finding the One before whom we can offer the best of whatever gifts we have, flawed and unworthy though they may be.


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301 S Market St,
New Athens, IL 62264