Arise. Shine. For your light has come.
Happy New Year – 1st Sunday worship of 2019 – Feast of the Epiphany. Celebration not of light coming into the world (that was Christmas) – but that God revealed the light of Christ with a star – a sign to outsiders, far removed from the holy family.
This is Matthew’s gospel – written to the Jewish people, the children of Israel. It is the bridge gospel that begins the new testament canon. It is the gospel where Jesus often begins his teaching by saying, "You have heard it said, but I say to you." Because the hearers of Matthew's gospel would have heard it said through the teachings of Moses and the prophets.
But not “we three kings of Orient are.” The star is revealed to magi, astrologers Scholars tend to agree they were most likely of the Zoroastrian faith. A monotheistic faith that influenced Judaism and was around long before Christianity, considered the oldest active faith of our day.
Celebration of this Feast is seeing and lifting up the wisdom of God in its rich variety – as Paul says. That God’s plans disrupt ours. Why is that always the case? That God pulls outsiders into our story – Why does God always do that?
While our church still looks alot like Christmas - there is one thing missing - about 200 people. We saw over 400 between our two Christmas Eve services - big numbers something to celebrate right? But you know what? All those outsiders cause problems!
I'm sure many of you had challenges parking. If you didn't get here an hour early, you probably had to squeeze into a pew, and not in your usual seat. My hats off to our faithful ushers who helped shepherd all these people around who don't know how we do things around here. We had communion at the transcept, which is awkward no matter what. And while I know all of you are nicer than me, I have to admit to the gremlin voice in my head saying - You're so welcome, we're here every Sunday btw, but glad we could make your Christmas special!
And its not just church. Yesterday I went to my usual 9am yoga practice at the Y. Got there at 8:30am and had to drive all the way around to the other side of the building where I never have to park. Was grumbling under my breath for sure - and it wasn't "Namaste!"
We – people like you and me – people who show up regularly to church – we like things organized. We like our organized religion – we like our plans – our traditions – our rituals. We like things to fit, neatly, into our narrative.
Do you know why we read “wise men”? Because when they translated the first KJV in 1604 and encountered the Greek "magi" - they did not want to write "magician." It was too pagan a term, that's not how they wanted to tell the story - wise men, sounds, wiser.
Do you know why we think of them as “three kings”? Because a proper Episcopal rector wanted to tell the story his way in 1864 in his church's Christmas pageant so he based the text on the psalm we read, not the gospel. Kings sounds better, anyway, doesn't
We change the outsiders to be more palatable to our version of the story. But really and truly, these Zoroastrian astrologers were outsiders to this Jewish story.
They were outsiders who disrupted preconceived plans. This story shows two different reactions when our plans get disrupted. Take King Herod. He is frightened and scared by the new news and lets fear dictate his reactions. He isolates. He plots. He uses people and tells lies and secrets. Ultimately he resorts to violence, slaughtering all the children under 2 years old to selfishly hold on to his claim for power.
On the other hand, look at the magi. After all their hard work and travels, they still end up in the wrong place! Nine miles off course, they come to Jerusalem, only to be told you have to go to Bethlehem. It doesn't stop them, they don't give up, they trust and move forward. Ultimately reaching their destination which fills them with joy. But still, they have to change their plans again. Warned in a dream, they go back home by another road.
We like to go home on the route we've planned. Maybe sometimes God is encouraging us to find another road...
Yes, Christmas Eve was challenging and I think it always will be. But if you were here you too felt the joy in this place. In the signing of Silent Night, in watching children tell us the story of Love Came Down at Christmas.
Yes, parking was challenging with all the people getting healthy as a new year's resolution. But, when I got thru my practice and gratefully said "Namaste" - I remembered when I had been one of those newbies. Making changes to support my spiritual, physical and emotional health - and it was hard and new and thanks be to God for it.
I'm not trying to be "Pollyanna" about disturbances to our routines. But when we practice getting curious - when disruptions and outsiders cause us to get frustrated, angry or judtgmemntal. When we consider our reactions and choose - compassion, kindness, patience, maybe a smile. We are practicing for the big moments. Because I promise you that in 2019 our plans will get disrupted. Outsiders will break into our story.
Finally, Feast of the Epiphany also reminds us that we need Zororastrians. We need Muslims, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, agnostic - and yes, even atheists in our world. For God is limitless in the ways the bounty of riches is shared. There is a rich variety.
Arise. Shine. For your light has come. It is within you. It is around you. It is our task to seek it out – and follow to all the surprising places and people where it may lead. We don't have to reach the star, we just have to follow it. Amen.