January 1, 2016 – The mystery of Christ

Epiphany Sunday   January 1, 2017  Psalm 72, Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12 The mystery of Christ **************************************************** Who are these mysterious Magi from the East, who come following a star? Seeking a newborn king… Coming to pay him homage… Who are these mysterious travelers? We really don’t know, but… One solidly conservative bible commentary nicknames this episode “The Original Star Trek…” Which has me re-imagining the Magi – as time-traveling Captain Kirk, Spock and company, coming to Jesus, saying “Live long and prosper.” And to everyday people of Bethlehem, these Magi may indeed seem almost as strange as visitors from outer space… Who are these guys? The term Magi can cover a wide range of activities, including astrology – which, in those days, was a blend of simple astronomy and what we now call astrology. (These guys had to be serious sky watchers to pick up and follow the star successfully. These were obviously not just casual horoscope readers.) Scholars guess they may have been Zoroastrian priests. Dream interpretation and wisdom teaching may have also been part of their job description. These are good guesses – but we really don’t know – because the gospel doesn’t tell us… But… we do know the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh they bring are expensive. So probably they are wealthy. Quite possibly they have servants and body guards with them. Perhaps they are members of the royal court in their home country. (They seem unfazed in King Herod’s presence when summoned by him.) We don’t know what country or countries they come from – except they’re from the East. Most scholars guess they’re from Persia… Though again this is only an educated guess. Contrary to one of our songs today, nothing in the gospel indicates there’s three of them, or that they’re kings. The guess that they may be kings comes mostly from two of our other readings today, Psalm 72, which speaks of Kings of Sheba and Seba bringing gifts, including gold. (We might remember also the Queen of Sheba, who came to visit Solomon, back in 1st Kings 10, bringing gifts of gold and incense…) Isaiah 60 also speaks of kings bearing gifts of gold and frankincense, proclaiming the praise of the Lord…coming to the light of a redeemed Israel, with a multitude of camels… But again – there’s nothing in Matthew’s gospel naming the Magi as kings… What we know from scripture is that the Magi come into Jerusalem, asking directions, seeking to find the king of the Jews, saying, “for we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” We also know the news of this royal child brings – not joy – but great fear – in Jerusalem. Fear, predictably, for King Herod, who is intensely jealous of his royal privilege as top dog in the nation. Fear, also, though, for all Jerusalem. (Unexpected change often elevates anxieties… even when we know we ought to be open to changes that might bring us joy…) But Herod is not into joy. Herod is into power. He summons the chief priests and scribes of Jerusalem, asking where the Messiah (the “anointed one”) is to be born. The religious leaders point to Micah 5, which points to Bethlehem, home town of King David,...

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January 3, 2016 – Home, by another road

Epiphany Sunday   January 3, 2016   (Psalm 72, Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-6) Matthew 2:1-12      Home, by another road ********************************************************* Following a mysterious star that rises in the East – searching for an infant king. Magi from the East, on a journey of faith… Arriving now in Jerusalem. Looking for the child born king of the Jews. The star they’ve followed from it’s rising has brought them all the way here… But now they’re not sure exactly where the star is leading. So they ask directions. (Unusual men.) Asking first of the local ruler, King Herod; who has no idea, but is immediately fearful and anxious, though he hides this from the Magi…(Kings don’t like to hear someone else might claim their throne.) And we may wonder now about the wisdom of these wise men, telling their mission to Herod. Herod sends for the high priests and bible scholars of Israel – who do know, as it turns out, where the Messiah is to be born. They know the prophesy; they quote the prophet Micah. They let Herod (and the Magi) know the nearby village of Bethlehem, King David’s hometown, is the place where the Messiah is to be born… But the religious leaders seem utterly disinterested in seeing the Messiah for themselves. And all Jerusalem, with King Herod, is fearfully disturbed by the news… Thus the story of the Magi, bearing gifts for the Christ child, begins… A story some of us have heard since early childhood. A story told every year in churches that celebrate Epiphany. Epiphany meaning the revelation of Jesus as Messiah, not only of Israel, but also for all the nations. A message proclaimed by the prophet Simeon last week in the Jerusalem temple. But now the Magi are the first from afar to seek and find Jesus. The first in the gospels to be seen worshiping Jesus… And the story is at once so very familiar…(I can remember singing We three kings of Orient are back in first grade…) And yet still so very strange… As we consider… The bible never tells us these Magi are kings, and there’s no reason to think they are – except that Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60, that we read every year on Epiphany, both mention kings bearing gifts… Likewise, calling the Magi ‘wise men’ is a stretch, a guess at best – since the ancient word Magi included astrologers, dream interpreters, fortune-tellers, and Persian priests of various religions…But there’s no evidence for the word Magi meaning wise men – though bible translations have often gone that route, following traditions from outside the bible. And we have no idea how many Magi there were. The Eastern Orthodox church says a dozen. The Western church usually says three because of the three gifts the Magi bring. (Don’t worry, we’ll still sing We Three Kings and The First Noel… Which do get the most important parts of the story right…) And maybe the term ‘wise men’ actually does work – since the scribes and chief priests of Israel, supposedly trained in biblical wisdom, fail to see fulfillment of scripture happening, even virtually in front of their eyes – while foolish star-gazers from afar demonstrate genuine wisdom… as they journey earnestly seeking Jesus… Not many people travel today following a star...

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January 4, 2015 – The Star – (Bourne UMC)

Isaiah 60:1-6 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. Ephesians 3:1-12 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. Matthew 2:1-12 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...

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January 5, 2014 – Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2:1-12 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Magi 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 Magi 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 worshiped him. 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. *** Epiphany (Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:2-6 – these readings found below)  Matthew 2:1-12   Seeing into believing ********************* In the words of pastor-poet Howard Thurman – “When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock… (now–) The work of Christmas begins… Epiphany begins on the last of the twelve days of Christmas… and runs til Lent. Epiphany, the day and the season, is actually older than Christmas, and for several hundred years was a bigger event than Christmas in the church year. Epiphany, in the language of the church, means seeing, not just with the eye, not necessarily even with the eye…but seeing something of the mystery of God in the birth of Jesus…. the revelation of the incarnation… the coming of Christ into the world. The coming of the Magi is always the gospel reading for the first day of Epiphany. These visitors from afar have come to symbolize those who’ve been in the dark about God’s purposes… now coming to see… As if seeing – recognizing – matters perhaps as much as the fact of the holy birth. (When bright and beautiful snow is falling…snow on snow… What if no one notices this miracle of God’s creative grace, shining in silent splendor? Is the miraculous really happening, if nobody notices?) Maybe the miraculous is always miraculous? I’m not sure – but – I am pretty sure scripture is telling us – that our seeing of God’s grace...

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