January 3, 2016
+ Now, I try. I try very hard to read the “signs” when I see them or hear them. God sends us signs as times in our lives. Little reminders. Sometimes, those signs in our lives are blaring at us. Other times, they are so subtle, we wonder: is that a sign from God? Should I be responding to it in some way?
I wish I could have a sign like these wise men. I mean, look at them. A star! Not very subtle.
Still, even if a star like that appeared as a sign, I’m still not certain I would follow it. I doubt any of us would. 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 high jacking and robbery and just head off into the unknown.
But these men did just that. These “wise” men did something that most of us now days would think wasn’t that wise—in fact, it was 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 today, it doesn’t say anything about there being three of them. There might have been four or five of them for all we know. But, I love the whole story.
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. I, for one, am happy we don’t have Christmas commercials and songs all over the place.
We’re ready to put those trappings aside and move on. The other day I saw St. Patrick’s decorations for sale. So, we’re definitely ready to move on. The fact is: the Christmas season, for the Church, began on Christmas Eve and ends on Wednesday evening with the actual feast of Epiphany, which we re celebrating today.
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 has appeared to us. And in the story that we hear today, 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. Not in some blazing cloud. Not in some pillar of fire. But 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 the 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 winter, as mild as it has been. 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 today though 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, what do we see? 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. And this Child reminds us that we are Children of this God as well.
Today, we are definitely being reminded that we are children of God. Today, we celebrate the baptism of Parker. Our baptism reminds us very clearly that we are children of a loving and caring God.
The Episcopal priest and biblical scholar, Bruce Chilton, once wrote about baptism:
“Baptism…was when…God sends [the] Son into every believer, who cries to God, ‘Abba, Father.’ The believer becomes a [Child], just as Jesus called upon his father…The moment of baptism, the supreme moment of faith, was when we discovered one’s self as a [Child] of God because Jesus as God’s Son was disclosed in one’s heart.”
For now, we are able to look at this Christ Child and see God in our midst. But we are also able to look at this holy Child and see ourselves as well. And, in looking at this Child, we see ourselves as holy too. We are able to see ourselves as truly loved children of our loving God. That was made possible through the waters of baptism.
Today, as Parker is reminded that he is a beloved child of his God and is washed in those waters of life, so we are reminded of our own special relationship with God. Epiphany is the realization that Christ has appeared to us where we are—here in our own midst. Christ has appeared to us, in us. We realize at Epiphany that we often find Christ in our own mirrors, staring back at us.
And this is what we can take away with us this morning. This is the consolation we can take with us as we head through these short winter days toward Lent. No matter where we are—no matter who we are—Christ is here with us and within us. Christ is with us in all that we do and every place we look.
So, like those wise men, let us look for him. Let us, like them, see him in your midst—here in your life. Let us adore him as he stares back at us from our very own eyes. And whenever we recognize him—that is our own unending feast day of Epiphany.