Texts: Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6
It is the 12th day of Christmas, and I have to apologize that I wasn’t able to find twelve drummers to drum for you today. The tree is still up, the banners are still hung, and we continue to have the Advent Wreath and the Christ Candle shining together on the table. Today is also Epiphany, and for those who celebrate Christmas in the Orthodox tradition, it is Christmas Eve. For that tradition, it was not so much the birth of Jesus itself that needed to be celebrated, but rather when the world came to realize it, symbolized in the visit of the Wise Men. The ones who followed the star to the home of the Christ child.
Before I get too far, I wanted to give each of you something. In these offering plates, there is a star. Please take one, but don’t look at the word printed on it until after you’ve passed the plate along. All I will invite you to do is to think and reflect on what that word means for you while I share a bit more about the meaning of Epiphany. I’ll be talking about them a little bit more later.
On more than one occasion, I’ve remarked before that we often try to do too much on Christmas Eve. We try to stuff the whole occasion into a single night, without trying to draw out the various themes and messages of the Season. We have Shepherds and Angels bumping into Wise Men and their entourage… it’s a wonder that Joseph, Mary and the Christ Child might have gotten any sleep whatsoever.
The reality is, the stories that Luke tells and the stories that Matthew tells around the birth of Jesus were never meant to be mashed together. Luke places this emphasis on the Christ Child being born into exceedingly poor circumstance, who is revealed to the unwanted and outcast.
Matthew works with a different group of people and a completely different timeline. He makes a completely different point by highlighting a story that would have taken place some two years after that first holy night.
Matthew brings in these characters from the east… mysterious figures… outsiders, but not outcasts like the shepherds… these are truly mysterious outsiders. The Greek word for them is Magi… It’s where we get the words “Magician” from. They are truly mysterious outsiders from a far-away land. Astrologers who look for signs in the stars.
They embark on a long journey, coming from the East searching for someone… something wonderful… something new. For them, they had an epiphany, a moment of realization… and their world and their lives were changed.
For many of us these moments of realization may not be as dramatic, but they can be just as profound. They are moments where we begin to see something in a new way. These moments of Epiphany, of seeing things in a new way, is so appropriate for this time of year.
In the western church, today is the first Sunday in the Season of Epiphany, drawing that link between Christmas and the rest of the church year. The visit of the Magi is celebrated on January 6th, the twelfth day after Christmas. The visit of these travellers from the east is symbolic of the revealing of Christ to the world. It didn’t happen right away, but would take some time before the wise men would knock on the door bearing their gifts. These travellers would come from far lands, revealing something powerful and pervasive about this new child to the entire world. Suddenly people would see this child born in a manger in a wonderful new way.
For Matthew, the visit of the Magi is indeed an Epiphany. This link to Isaiah is especially important… No longer is the Christ child revealed to a select few, shepherds, and innkeepers. The very nations come and gather to see the child, the courts of the rich and powerful are brought to their knees. The glory of the Lord is revealed for all to see. Things will never be the same again. Epiphany… we see things in a new way… and our lives will never be the same.
Seeing things in a new way is what Epiphany is about. For the next two months, all of the stories and scripture that we will be hearing are all about those moments of seeing God in our midst where we have not seen before. More often than not, it’s a discovery that God has in fact been there all along, and we have simply not seen. These moments of epiphany happen not only in the Bible, but are constantly happening in our own lives. By definition, an epiphany is a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence.
When I handed out the stars with words printed on them, one thing that you may not know is that there are no repeated words in all of the stars. In other words, the word that you received today is unique to you. It means that how you reflected on that word, while I was talking about Epiphany, means that you have received a message is your own experience, your own reflection, and quite possibly your own moment of Epiphany. What you choose to do with this word is up to you, but some may find it helpful to take it home, and to place it somewhere where you can see it every day for the coming year. Maybe it may help you to see where God may be working in your life, or where God is calling you to be. What is your moment of Epiphany?
I want to share with you a poem from the artist Jan Richardson:
Following the star is
“not any map you know.
Forget longitude. Forget latitude.
Do not think of distances or of plotting the most direct route.
Astrolabe, sextant, compass:
these will not help you here.
This is the map that begins with a star.
This is the chart that starts with fire,
with an ancient light that has outlasted generations, empires,
Look starward once, then look away.
Close your eyes and see how the map begins to blossom behind your lids,
how it constellates,
its lines stretching out from where you stand.
You cannot see it all, cannot divine the way
it will turn and spiral,
cannot perceive how the road you walk will lead you finally inside,
through the labyrinth of your own heart
and belly and lungs.
But step out and you will know
what the wise who traveled this path before you knew:
the treasure in this map is buried
not at journey’s end but at its beginning.”
Our challenge is to allow ourselves to be open to those moments of Epiphany… to be able to see those things, those moments in our lives where all those things we have taken for granted suddenly look and feel different. This can be in a spectacular way, but more often than not it may be from something more mundane. It can be anything from seeing the wonders of the natural world… to playing along with my daughter’s imaginary friends. Ultimately, seeing something in a new light changes the way we act and behave, these moments of Epiphany can have life-changing results, as God calls us to follow our star.
Arise, shine, for your light has come!