January 6, 2019 – Epiphany – Year C
Epiphany! It is such a wonderful word. It almost sounds like a sneeze, doesn’t it? But, instead, it is that awesome day of the manifestation of the Christ Child to the world. There are fabulous stories that go with the revealing of the amazing Child. We hear about astronomers, or perhaps they were astrologers, or spiritual seekers, or maybe even Wise Men, or some stories call them Kings. Tales are told that even name them – Malchior – Balthasar – and Gaspar. Because the story reports 3 gifts, we choose to suggest there were 3 Magi. Yet, all this speculation and wondering does little to diminish the sense of wonder and awe. So, let’s get on with the story.
Think about it for a moment – the scribes knew where the promised Messiah was to be born. At Herod’s command, they searched their scriptures, and came up with the answer. Bethlehem. But until the Magi – strangers, foreigners, visitors from another country – come to see this Messiah, it didn’t matter.
Those outsiders can be crucial in shaping a nation’s self- perceptions. Depending on their interests, local people may suddenly see that their rivers can be dammed to generate electricity. Or that their mountains can be mined, for copper. Or that their lands can grow roses for someone else’s flower shops, or beef for someone else’s hamburgers. Until then – Bethlehem was the town proclaimed in Hebrew scripture for the coming King.
Fortunately for us, the Magi came to worship.
There’s an intriguing reversal in the story of the child they came to see. The stable where Jesus was born probably wasn’t a building, but a cave. Just think, Jesus’ life starts and ends in a cave. At his birth, people came into a cave to see him. At his death, people came into a cave and didn’t see him. It is a thought that bears more exploration and study. But, for now, we enter the cave and see the babe.
Here we have a poor family – peasants who are young and just starting out. What kind of gift would be most suitable? Clothes for the little one? Blankets – perhaps? How about some diapers? What gifts do you bring to new born babies?
But no, these fellas from the east bring gold, frankincense and myrrh. What kind of baby gifts are these? They are almost useless.
Some occasions do not necessarily call for the most practical gifts. We can get into trouble by being too practical-minded and getting a gift that isn’t especially thoughtful. Like the “Home Improvement” episode where Tim gives Jill a Power Window Washer for her birthday. Or the movie “Father of the Bride” in which the groom-to-be gives the bride-to-be very nice blender. He doesn’t understand when she runs up the stairs crying and wants to call off the wedding.
Some occasions call for impractical, extravagant gifts. The Magi were said to be learned, sophisticated, wealthy people. They gave the very best gifts they could give. It represents who they were.
By giving gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they were in a sense giving themselves to the Christ child. They gave the fullness of who they were. And they were overwhelmed with joy.
What is it you and I are prepared to give to God’s most well-known child? Each week in our worship service we take significant time to present our offerings. They represent our commitment to Christ’s ministry within this congregation and abroad. Are our Sunday by Sunday offerings similar to the gold given by the Magi? Is it a generous gift that will truly honour Christ? Do we give our commitment to serve Christ in ways of compassion, kindness, and tender-heartedness? Are our loving behaviours like the frankincense, permeating the very air we breathe and actions we make? Do we give so generously knowing that we need not hold anything back, for we are well prepared for our death? Are we so devoted to the Christ Child that we are fearless approaching death? Myrrh, the perfume used for preparing a body upon death, was the Magi’s gift to Jesus. Ours is complete devotion, even to death. The giving of our offering is very much like the Magi giving gold, frankincense and myrrh.
I have the privilege of reading to the Al Mohammed children every Friday afternoon. They are one of our Syrian refugee family’s. Shaad is 6, in grade 1, Yasin is 9 in grade 4 and Haadi is 10 in grade 5. I have been reading to them for just over 2 years and they teach me far more than I teach them. They work hard at school, diligently do their homework, and love playing soccer. They call Beryl, the secretary at St. Saviour’s Anglican church, “grandma,” and Gerry Neilsen and I have an honourary place in their lives. Like the Magi, the family travelled far from Syria to find a place of security. The whole family marvel at the beauty of the night sky. Growing up in Allepo Syria they didn’t see the beautiful moon and stars twinkling. Instead, they saw dust and smoke. It was not a star that led them out of the war-ravaged country. They fled to Damascus and then thanks to our generosity and that of the Anglican church, made Penticton their new home.
Darkness is real for too many people here in Penticton. The Safe Shelter is full with women who have fled abusive relationships. Our Narcotics Anonymous groups continually receive new people who are powerless over drugs. I hear more and more people who are addicted to gambling, and find the casino too tempting. Others find the darkness of loneliness and depression to be persuasive. What is your darkness?
With help from SOWINS, 12 step programs and Discovery House, as well as medical assistance the cloud of darkness can be lifted. By participating in this church community, many people have found relief from the very struggles I have named. May each of us see through the darkness and peek at the light of the night sky.
Perhaps, this evening, we need to step outside and marvel at the night sky. Moonlight and stars glistening are signs of great delight. “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Maker in heaven,” said Christ to the disciples early in his ministry. So, we ask ourselves, “By what light do we see God?”
Do we see God, made manifest in the manger in Bethlehem, by the light of the star that the magi are said to have followed? Is it a single star that guides our hearts and spirit toward the Bethlehem child? Or, do we see light in the eyes of a person of faith, radiating grace, justice and devotion. Perhaps we, like Isaiah, have seen the light of grace that touches God’s people with illuminating glory.
God’s call throughout the ages is “Arise! Shine!” We have the light and are to show it. It is as if God is saying to us, “find the darkness and show light!” As Christmas festivities have drawn to a close and Epiphany is upon us, surely the least we can do is radiate light into dimness. Perhaps it is donating to our food cupboard, knitting a prayer shawl, visiting one of the people on our prayer list, or devoting 10 minutes every day to praying for the people of this congregation.
Let us join the trek to follow signs of great joy! May we be transformed by what we see. And may we lead others to experience wonder, each day! Amen.