Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany


January 6, 2009

Matthew 2.1-12

Very few of us, I think, would do it. Very few of us would follow a star. We certainly wouldn’t follow a star with some vague notion of a king being born. It probably wouldn’t mean much to us, prophecy or not. It would take great faith and great bravery to load up everything, including valuable like gold and spices into that time of highjacking and robbery and just head off into the unknown. But these mean did just that. These “wise” men did something that most of us now days would think was actually naïve and dangerous.

Originally, of course, the word used was “astrologers,” which does add an interesting dimension to what’s occurring here. Astrologers certainly would make sense. Astrologers certainly would have been aware of this star that appeared and they would have been able to see in that star a unique sign—a powerful enough of a sign that they packed up and went searching for it.

And it certainly seems like it was a great distance. They probably came from Persia, which is now modern-day Iran. And they would’ve come in a caravan of others.

These Magi are mysterious characters, for sure. We popularly see them as the three wise men, but if you notice in our Gospel reading for tonight, it doesn’t say anything about there being three of them. There might have been four or five of them for all we know.

Certainly, it might seem strange that I am talking about the Christ child and the Magi. It’s the beginning of January, after all. Christmas happened almost two weeks ago. Most of us have put away our Christmas decorations. Trees came down quickly in the first few days after Christmas, the rest in the days immediately after New Years. Since we’ve been hearing about Christmas for months, we are maybe a little happy to see the Christmas season go away for another by this time. We’re ready to put those trappings aside and move on. The fact is: the Christmas season, for the Church, began on Christmas Eve and ended only last night, on the eve of this feast of Epiphany.

So, what is the Epiphany really? Well, the word itself—Epiphany—means “manifestation” or “appearing.” In this context, it means the manifestation of Christ among us. God, in Christ, has appeared to us. And in the story that we hear tonight, it is the appearing of God not only to the Jews, but to the non-Jews, as well, to the Gentiles, which we find represented in the Magi—those mysterious men from the East.

Epiphany is the manifestation of God in our midst. Epiphany is a moment of realization. In this feast we realize that God is truly among us—all of us, no matter our race or our understanding of this event. Epiphany is the realization that God is among us in the person of this little child, Jesus.

Over the last month or so, we, as the Church, have gone through a variety of emotions. Advent was a time of expectation. We were waiting expectantly for God to come to us. Christmas was the time of awe. God was among us and there was something good and wonderful about this fact.

Epiphany, however, gets the rap for being sort of anti-climactic. It is the time in which we settle down into the reality of what has come upon us. We realize what has happened and we accept it. A bit of the awe is still there. A bit of wonder still lingers.

In this evening’s Gospel, the wise men are overcome with joy when they see the star stop over Bethlehem. But, for the most part, despite the joy they felt, we are now moving ahead. There are no more angels singing on high for us. The miraculous star has begun to fade by this point. The wise men have presented their gifts and are now returning to home to Persia. It is a time in which we feel contentment. We feel comfortable in what has happened.

But, in a few weeks, this is all going to change again. We will soon face the harsh reality of Ash Wednesday and Lent. Now, I know it’s hard even to think about such things as we labor through the deep freeze and heavy snows that have descended upon us lately. But it is there—just around the corner. The time of Christmas feasting will be over. The joys and beauty of Christmas will be replaced by ashes and sackcloth and, ultimately, by the Cross.

But that’s all in the future. Christmas is still kind of lingering in our thoughts tonight and, in this moment, we have this warm reality. God has appeared to us, as one of us. When we look upon the face of the child Jesus, we see ourselves. But we see more. We see God as well.

In this Child the divine and the mortal have come together. And for this moment—before the denial of our bodies in Lent, before the betrayal and torture of Holy Week, before the bloody and violent murder of Good Friday, we have in our midst, this Child. We have God appearing to us in the most innocent and most beautiful form of humanity possible.

I have always liked the tradition in the Roman Catholic Church of their devotion of the Infant Jesus. I have always been fond to borrowing the devotion myself. I have always had a special devotion to the Infant of Prague, which was a statue of the Infant Jesus, dressed in ornate royal robes.

My family on my Dad’s side has some Roman Catholic Bohemian lineage amongst them. And for them, devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague was very important. And because of this Bohemian heritage and devotion, I have had a very special devotion myself to Jesus as he is represented in the statue that is now venerated in the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague.

To imagine and picture Jesus as a Child is very meaningful to me and to many others. And it is one that I’m sad to say has not crossed over into other non-Roman Catholic denominations very often.

But it is the Child Jesus we delight in now. It is the Christ Child we find ourselves worshipping at this time. And in the Christ Child we find ourselves amazed at the many ways God chooses to be manifested in our midst. For now, we are able to look at this Child and see God in our midst. With Lent coming upon us soon, we will find God manifested in other ways—in fasting, in penitence, in turning our eyes toward the Cross.

For now, we are the Magi. We are the one who, seeking Christ, have found him. We are the ones who, despite everything our rational minds have told us, have decided to follow that star of faith we have seen. We, like them, have stepped out into the unknown and have searched for what we have longed for. We are the ones who have traveled the long journeys of all our lives to come to this moment—to this time and place—and, here, we find Christ in our midst. We have followed stars and other strange signs, hoping to find some deeper meaning to our lives. We have trekked through the wastelands of our life, searching for Christ.

But our Epiphany is the realization that Christ has appeared to us where we are—here in our own midst. And this is what we can take away with us tonight—on this feast of the Epiphany. This is the consolation we can take with us as we head through these short, cold, snow-filled days toward Lent.

No matter where we are—no matter who we are—Christ is here with us. Christ is with us in all that we do and every place we look. So, look for him. See him in your midst—here in your life. And whenever you recognize him—that is your unending feast day of Epiphany.

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