Sunday, January 27, 2019

3 Epiphany


Annual Meeting Sunday

January 27, 2019

Luke 4.14-21


+Today is, of course, our Annual Meeting Sunday. And it’s the Sunday when I usually preach a sermon about the uniqueness of this place we call St. Stephen’s. And I will do it again today.

We ARE, as you all know, a unique place. There are not many church congregations like us. 

We are a blend of all the things that makes the Church what it is.  But our uniqueness is not just in our blending of Protestant and Catholic, in Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic, in Broad Church and High Church—all of which make us truly and totally Anglican.  We are, after all,  Episcopalians within the Anglican tradition. And this is Anglicanism.

 Our uniqueness is not just in the fact that we honor Scripture and the saints and social justice and the worth and dignity of all human beings all at once.  There are other congregations like that in the Episcopal Church

Our uniqueness is just in who we are. Our uniqueness is in the fact that we are not a highly polished church with matching pews.
 Our uniqueness is in the fact that when it seems the odds were against us, we find they have actually been with us.

We are a little church building, far off the beaten trek. We are here, tucked away in the far corner of northeast Fargo, in the shadow of the much larger Messiah Lutheran.

If we brought one of those experts on church growth in, they would tell us this: sell this building, move into a storefront or into some more visible place with much better foot traffic; conform a bit more to the Diocesan standards of what a congregation should be; don’t be so radial in what you do; choose one Christian expression and stick with it; if you’re evangelical, then go with it, if you’re Anglo-Catholic, then go with it. Advertise! And please, don’t be so liberal! Otherwise, they’ll never find you. And you’ll never grow.

And, of course:  progressive congregations don’t grow!

I know that’s what they say, because I’ve heard it again and again.

But not us. Not the rebels that make up St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.  Not this Island of Misfit Toys that we are!

And yet, when I tell people about St. Stephen’s, when I tell them about the amazing growth and vitality here, when I tell them about the diversity and the unique blend of people and spiritual expressions we have here, they are amazed by it.

Inevitably, I am asked, again and again, what is the secret of St. Stephen’s success. And what do I always answer?

The Holy Spirit.

Actually, no secret at all. And that is what it all comes down to. It is our total and complete surrender to God’s Spirit, working in our midst that is our success.

Well, that, and the hard work we are compelled by the Spirit to do here and in the world.

That’s it, in a nutshell.

Now, in our Gospel reading for today, we find a seed for all we do here at St. Stephen’s.  We find this story of Jesus, standing up and reading this amazing scripture from Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

He then, after rolling up the scroll, says,

‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Those words echo in our midst, here at St. Stephen’s this morning.

Do you hear it?

Listen.

‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Because, yes, today, that scripture from Isaiah has been fulfilled in our hearing.

By Jesus standing and proclaiming who is and what he has come to do, he really sets the standard for us here at St. Stephen’s on this Annual Meeting Sunday in 2019 as well.  We too should proclaim our faith in Jesus in the same way.

Now, as I say that I pause.

Most Christians take that to mean something I did not intend it to mean.  When I say “faith in Jesus,” I don’t mean we should be obnoxious and fundamentalist or bullies in our views.  You have heard me say a million times from this pulpit that I think way too many Christians proclaim themselves as Christians with their lips, but certainly don’t live it out in their lives and by example (and I am guilty of this myself).

As the great theologian Richard Rohr famously says,

“We worship Jesus more than we follow Jesus.”

And the longer I am in the Church, the more I see this to be true. And the more I rebel against this traditional view of worship of over following Jesus. 

I see so many people in the larger Church staying safety in their church buildings, safely worshipping Jesus, but not going out into the world and living the Gospel of Jesus in their lives. To me, that is a classic example of Jesusolatry. That dangerous “me and Jesus” attitude is rampant in the Church. And all it is does is make Jesus into an idol, and it makes the Church an angry, exclusive country club.  And it is something at which I bristle again and again.

But for us, this Gospel reading for today speaks loudly to us and what we do as Christians, as followers of Jesus, as members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.  Because the Spirit of God was upon Jesus, and because he was appointed to bring good news to the poor, that truly becomes our mission as well because we follow Jesus and the Spirit of God rests upon each of us as well.  Because Jesus breathes God’s Spirit upon us, that same mission that the Spirit worked in Jesus is working in us as well.  

And we should, like Jesus, stand up and proclaim that mission to others. We, like Jesus, should breathe God’s Spirit on others.  That is our mission as followers of Jesus.

How do we do that?

Jesus has empowered us to do what he says in that reading from Isaiah:

We are to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of the sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Well, that sounds great. But…how do I do that in my life? It’s easy for priests and poets to say that, you might say. But how do I do that in my own life?  What does that mean to us—to us who are here, in this place, in these mismatched pews, who may be quietly judging this sermon with arms crossed?

It means that we are not to go about with blinders on regarding those with whom we live and work.  

It means that we are surrounded by a whole range of captives—people who are captive to their own prisons of depression and alcohol and drugs and conforming to society or whatever.

People who are captive to their grief or their pain or their own cemented views of what they feel the Church—or this congregation of St., Stephen’s—SHOULD be.  Our job in the face of that captivity it to help them in any way we can to be released.

It means that we are not to go about blind and not to ignore those who are blinded by their own selfishness and self-centeredness.

I am still so amazed by how many people (especially in the Church, amazingly enough) are so caught up in themselves.  I really think self-centered is a kind of blindness.  And Jesusolatry—me and Jesus—only feeds that self-centeredness.  

One of the greatest sins in the Church today is not all the things Bishops and church leaders say is dividing the Church. The greatest sin in the Church today:

Hubris.

Self-centeredness.

Selfishness.

Bullying.

That “me and Jesus” attitude that essentially throws everyone else to wayside.  Hubris causes us to look so strongly at ourselves (and at a false projection of ourselves) that we see nothing else but ourselves.

By reaching out to others, by becoming aware of what others are dealing with, by helping others, we truly open our eyes and see beyond ourselves.

When we do these things, we are essentially letting the oppressed go free.

Finally, we are called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  This is simply the icing on the cake.  Once we have proclaimed that God favors us—all of us—not just the single me—that God loves us—not just me—we must then proclaim God’s blessings on us and the work we are called to do.  And by doing so, we truly become liberated.

God favors a liberated people.  God does so because God can only effectively work through a people who have been liberated from captivity, blindness and oppression.

This to me is where the heart of all we do here at St. Stephen’s lies. It is not in our blind faithfulness to the letter of scripture. It is not in our incense and beautiful altar frontals and our stained glass windows and what hangs on our walls. (If you are caught up in those things, then there is blindness in that as well).   It is not in our smugness that I—the great and wonderful singular me—somehow knows more than the priest or the Church or the Bishops or our elders.

It is in our humility and the love of God that dwells within each of us.  It is the Spirit of the living God that is present with us, here, right now, in this church.  It is in the fact that even if this church building gets blown away, or even if we gloss ourselves up and match our pews and spit-shine our processional cross and preach sermons based squarely on the correct interpretation of scripture (whatever that might be) , we would still be who we are, no matter what.

We need to be aware that the poor and oppressed of our world—here and now—are not only those who are poor financially.  The poor and oppressed of our world are those who are morally, spiritually and emotionally poor. The oppressed are still women and LGBTQ people in the Church and in the world, or simply those who don’t fit the social structures of our society.  They are the elderly and the lonely.  They are those who mourn deeply for those they love and miss who are no longer with us.  They are the criminals trying to reform their lives, and for those who are just leading quietly desperate lives in our very midst.

We, as Christians, as followers of Jesus, are to proclaim freedom to all those people who are on the margins of our lives both personally and collectively.  And often those poor oppressed people are the ones to whom we need to be proclaiming this year of the Lord’s Favor, even if those people might be our own very selves.

This is the year of the Lord’s favor.

I am not talking this particular Year of Our Lord. I am not talking about this year until our next Annual Meeting.

I am talking about this holy moment and all moments in which we, anointed and filled with God’s Spirit, go out to share God’s good news by word and example.  This moment we have been given is holy. And it is our job is to proclaim the holiness of this moment.

When we do so, we are making that year of the Lord’s favor a reality again and again.  This is what we are called to do on this Annual Meeting Sunday.

And always.

So, let us proclaim the good news.  

Let us bring sight to the blind, and hope to those who are oppressed and hopeless.  

Let us bring true hope in our deeds to those who are crying out (in various ways) for hope, which only Jesus and his followers can bring.

And when we do, we will find the message of Jesus being fulfilled in our very midst.







Friday, January 25, 2019

20 years ago I began the ordination process


As I was cleaning out the last of my things from the Rectory I was pleasantly surprised to come across my Commonplace Book. This was the book we were expected to keep throughout the process of ordination in which we kept copies of all our documents, applications, etc. (are Commonplace Books still used in the ordination process?). I was also surprised to see that I began the process twenty years ago this month. 

Looking back on it, I realize it was a long, often overwhelmingly difficult journey for me to the Priesthood. 

The odds were most definitely against me. In fact, the first clergyperson I told I wanted to be a priest told me in no uncertain terms, “No. Absolutely not! It’s not going to happen in this Diocese…” 

But, as often happens, the doors that needed to open, opened. And by the grace
(and mystery) of God, I somehow made it, even despite the homophobia, the cancer diagnosis, the opposition of some downright mean-spirited people, people who both vocally and privately opposed me being a priest  along the way, the very intentional roadblocks that were put in my way.

But more importantly than any of that,  there were many, many more loving, supportive and caring people who truly held me up, who prayed for me and who walked alongside me. I am grateful for them all. And when I think of them, I realize that the Church, when it’s done right, is incredible and amazing!


Sunday, January 20, 2019

2 Epiphany


January 20, 2019

Isaiah 62.1-5; John 2.1-11

+ I know. I joke about it often. I say I don’t like doing them. But…I actually really do. I really do like doing weddings. And I have been really fortunate to do some really great weddings in my career as a priest.

When they’re good, they’re great. When they’re not good…well…let’s just say, they’re not great…

Still, I actually do enjoy weddings that are truly joyful events in which two people express their love and their commitment for each other.  Of course, I have done my fair share of weddings in the fifteen years I’ve been a priest.  And I am grateful that I am now allowed to do same-sex marriages in this diocese.  So, weddings actually are pretty good.

In our gospel reading for today, we find what seems to be one of the really good weddings.   But, it actually might not have been that great after all. There’s a problem at this wedding feast.  The good wine has run out and the wedding feast is about to crash quickly.  But Jesus turns water into wine and when he does, there is a renewed sense of joy and exultation.

That I think is the gist of this experience from our gospel reading.  It is not just some magic trick Jesus performs to wow people.  It is not some action he performs at the whim of his mother.  He performs this miracle and in doing so instills joy in those gathered there.  But more than that, by doing this he does what he always does when he performs a miracle.  He performs miracles not just for the benefit of those at the wedding.  It is for our benefit of us as well.

Because by performing this miracle, he is giving us a glimpse of what awaits us all.  If we look closely at the story and at some of the details contained in it, we will find clues of the deeper meaning behind his actions.

First of all, let’s look at those jars of water.  This is probably the one area we don’t give a lot of thought to.  But those jars are important.  They are not just regular jars of water.  They are jars of water for the purification rites that accompany eating in the Jewish tradition.  That’s important This Jewish sense of purification is important still to us. If we think purity isn’t important to us, we’re wrong. Purity is important to us. Cleanliness and purity are still a part of our lives.

I recently heard this interesting story. Back in the 1990s, Paul Rozin, a social psychologist, did an experiment he called “Hitler’s Sweater.” Dr. Rozin displayed a very old tattered sweater to a group of people, telling them that it was a sweater that belonged to Adolf Hitler. The sweater, he said, was worn by Hitler the week before he committed suicide in April of 1945. The sweater, he said, had not been washed and he even showed them the perspiration stains on the sweater.

He then proceeded to ask people if they would like to try the sweater on.  Most people, as you can imagine, refused. In fact, several people said they were uncomfortable even being in the same room with the sweater.

Richard Beck, a  psychologist, wrote of this experiment:  

“What studies like this reveal is that people tend to think about evil as if it were a virus, a disease, or a contagion.  Evil is an object that can seep out of Hitler, into the sweater, and, by implication, into you if you try the sweater on.  Evil is sticky and contagious.  So we stay away.” 

I think most of us feel this way to some extent.  But I would add, most of us, at least on some base level, think of evil as “unclean,” as well as “sticky” and “contagious.” Sin is “unclean.” There are things in our lives that we simply view as “unclean.”

So, those stone jars of water at the wedding feast  are not just for thirst.  They are about uncleanliness.

Scot McKnight writes in his wonderful book,  The Jesus Creed:

“The water in these stone jars is not for hygiene. This water is sacred. This water is used to purify people and things. People and things are made pure to get them in the proper order before God, to render them fit to enter into God’s presence. Observant Jews wash their hands in this water so they can eat their food in a state of purity.”

Over and over again in the Gospels, if you notice, Jesus seems to have issues with these laws of purity. Or rather, he has issues with people getting too caught up in the rituals of purity.

So, what we find is that Jesus turns these waters of purity into wine.  And not just any wine.  But abundant fine wine that brings about a joy among those gathered. 

In a sense, what Jesus has done is he has taken the party up a notch. What was already a  good party is now an incredible party. It’s a beautiful image and one that I think we can all relate to.

The best part of this view of the wedding at Cana is that Jesus is saying to us that, yes, there is joy here in the midst of us, but a greater joy awaits us.  

A greater joy awaits when the Kingdom of God breaks through into our midst. When it does, it is very much like a wedding feast.  When it does, the waters of purification will be turned into the best-tasting wine because we will no longer have to worry about issues like purity. In God’s Kingdom, there is no impurity, no sin, so racism, no homophobia or transphobia or sexism. There are no arrogant, angry people confident in their privilege.

To some extent, the wedding at Cana is a foretaste of what we do every Sunday (and Wednesday) here at this altar.

It is a foretaste of the Holy Eucharist—the meal we share at this altar.

And the Jesus we encounter at this feast is not a sweet, obedient son, doing whatever his mother says, though I truly believe there is an almost playful attitude between Jesus and Mary in their exchange.  

Both Mary and Jesus know who he is and what he can do. They know he is the Messiah.  They know that is he is this unique Son of the Most High God. They know that because he is, he is able to do things most people cannot.

Now, to be fair to Mary, however, we must realize that at no point does she actually request anything from Jesus, if you notice.  All she does is state the obvious.

“There is no wine,” she says.

She then says to the servants, “Do whatever he asks.”

No one, if you notices, asks Jesus to perform this miracle.  And that is important too.

The great Anglican poet W.H. Auden once wrote:

“Our wishes and desires—to pass an exam, to marry the person we love, to sell our house at a good price—are involuntary and therefore not themselves prayers, even if it is God whom we ask to attend to them. They only become prayers in so far as we believe that God knows better than we whether we should be granted or denied what we ask. A petition does not become a prayer unless it ends with the words, spoken or unspoken, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’”

I will take this one step further. I have a standard message at most of the weddings I do.  It’s adapted to each couple, but the message remains the same. And the message carries within it my own understanding of how love and marriage works. (And granted I’m definitely not the world’s greatest expert in either of those fields—love or marriage)

I say this at weddings:

Love and marriage are a grace from God. But to truly understand that statement we have to understand what “grace” is in this context. My definition of grace is this: Grace is a gift we receive from God that we neither asked for nor even anticipated.  It is something God gives us out God’s own goodness. Love and marriage are often—often, not always—signs of grace. Oftentimes the right person comes into our lives at just the right time. No matter how much we might want to control such situations, the fact is we cannot. That person comes into our lives on God’s terms, not ours. Often it happens when we least expect that person. But when they do come into our lives, our lives change.

That is how grace works. Grace changes our lives. We can’t control God’s grace. We can’t really even petition God and ask God for a particular grace. Grace is just there because God chooses to grant us grace.

That’s how grace works.

It just happens on God’s own terms. Sometimes we might not deserve it. But God—in God’s goodness—just gives us this one right thing in our lives.  And all we can do, in the face of that grace, is say, “Thank you.”

McKnight probably sums up the miracle at Cana most perfectly in this phrase:

“When the water turns to wine and the eye of faith peers into the purification vessels, it does not see sacred water but sacred wine. The eye of faith sees not an image of itself but the image of Jesus floating on the surface of the wine. Jesus is seen in the wine for who he is really: the one who not only provides but is himself the joy of the kingdom.”

I love that!  And that to me only cements the fact that what happens at Cana happens each time we gather together at this altar for the Eucharist.  Here too, at this altar, we see Jesus reflected in this wine. And in each other!

The wedding at Cana, this Eucharist we celebrate is a foretaste of that meal of which we will partake in the Kingdom. In that meal, the words of the prophet Isaiah that we heard earlier this morning will be spoken to us as well:

“for the Lord [will delight] in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you.
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.”

God rejoices over you! In God, our truest and deepest joy will come springing forth.

So, as we come forward for Communion this morning, let us do so with that image of the wedding feast of Cana in our hearts and minds.  

Let us look, and see the image of Jesus reflected in the Communion wine. And in one another.  

Let us know that we come forward to not just a magic trick.

We come forward to a miracle. We come forward to a sign of God’s kingdom breaking through into our very midst.  And all we can do, in that holy moment, is say,

“Thank you!”






Sunday, January 13, 2019

Baptism of Our Lord


January 13, 2019

Luke 3.15-17, 21-22


+ I know it’s not something we want to hear about today, on this bitterly, bitterly cold morning. In fact, just thinking about it makes us even colder. But there’s no getting around it.

If there’s a theme for this Sunday it’s…

Water.

And it’s a very good thing to be considering. It is probably the natural element we most take for granted. And yet it is one of our most vital.

We depend upon water.

It nourishes us.

It cleans us.

It delights us.

In our Western society, we take for granted the fact that our water is clean.  In other parts of the world, water isn’t so clean. In other parts of the world, water sometimes is a source of illness. In some parts of the world they have little idea of the luxury of something like cold water—or even ice for that matter.  

As we’ve known here in this part of the country over the years, water can also be a destructive force when it comes to the matter of floods. Water, as vital as it is, can also destroy. It can destroy property, hopes, dreams and even lives.

For us, as Christians, water truly is the source of our spiritual lives.  Throughout Scripture, we find ourselves nourished by and reminded of the importance of water.  The authors of our scriptures, coming as they did from such an arid place as the Middle East, no doubt appreciated water in ways we don’t. And that appreciation certainly affected their spirituality.

Certainly, we find the image of water returning again and again in scripture. Each time Scripture references water, it does so as a source of life, as a source of renewal, as a source of God’s saving grace—even in the instance of Noah’s flood.  Water is important to us as humans. And it is important to us as Christians.

In today’s Gospel reading, we find probably the most profound expression of how important water is to us as Christians. We find that first great example being set. As Jesus comes out of those waters, as the Spirit, like a dove, descends upon him, he hears the words from God:

“You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Here the standard is set. Here the breakthrough has happened. From now on, this is essentially what has been spoken to each of us at our own baptisms:

“You are my child, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

For most of us, we have no doubt taken for granted our baptisms, much as we have taken for granted water itself. We have viewed baptism as no more than a christening service for babies—a kind of dedication ceremony.  Baptism is, obviously, much, much more than that.

As you hear me say again and again, baptism is THE defining moment in our lives as Christians.  Whether we remember the event or not, it was the moment when our lives changed. It was the moment we became new. It was, truly, our second birth.

When some Christians ask you, “Have you been born again?” you can tell them in no uncertain terms: “Oh, yes I have actually!” You can, “I was reborn in the waters of life and marked as Christ’s own forever on the day of my baptism.”

But even that doesn’t truly convey what baptism is for us. What happened to Jesus in those waters, happened to us as well. In the waters of our baptism, we were reborn as children of our loving and caring God.  We became what was Jesus is. We became children of God.  We can, from the very moment of our baptism, trace our relation with God our Parent—the God who recognizes us and loves us and accepts us and embraces us. I have preached this so much over the years about this, but because of this relationship formed in our baptism, our own baptisms are important to us.

Yesterday, we baptized Briar and Harlen Stears, grandchildren of Kris and Kip Vossler. It was a beautiful baptism.  It was a morning of happiness of and joy. But it was also an immensely important day in the life of those children.

So, why the importance of this one single event?  Well, the bond that is made at baptism is one that truly can never be broken. That relationship that was formed with God in those waters is eternal.  In baptism, we truly do  become God’s child.    

For ever.

We becomes God’s own Beloved.  It is a bond that can never be broken. We can try to break it as we please. We can struggle under that bond. We can squirm and resist it. We can try to escape it. But the simple fact is this: we can’t. For ever is for ever.

Now, we might not want to have this bond anymore.  Some of those babies we have baptized in the font in the narthex who grow up will make clear later on that they don’t want this bond anymore.

But, no matter how much we may turn our backs on God, God never turns away from us. No matter how much we try to turn away from God, to deny God, to pick God apart and make God something other than who God is, God never turns away from us. God never denies us.

Why?

Because that bond, formed in those waters, is eternal and binding. And God will never turn away one of God’s children.

What Baptism shows us, more than anything else, is that we always belong to God.  It is shows us that God will never deny us or turn away from us. It shows us that, no matter what we might do, we will always belong to God.

Always.  For ever.

In this way, Baptism is truly the great equalizer.  In those waters, we are all bathed—no matter who we are and what we are. We all emerge from those waters on the same ground—as equals.  A bishop or a king or a president is no greater than you or me in those waters.  And, as equals, we are not expected to just sit around, hugging ourselves and basking in the glow of  the confidence that we are God’s own child.  As equals, made equal in the waters of baptism, we are then compelled to go out into the world and treat each other as equals. We are called to go out into the world and make a difference in it. And we are called to act like Children of a loving God. That means we have to fight ourselves sometimes. We have to fight to not become negative people.

We, as loved children of a loving God, must work hard to not be manipulative, controlling, gossipy, backbiting, unloving people. We must not be what our critics accuse of us being. We must love and respect each other equally.

Our baptism doesn’t set us apart as special people. It forces us out into the world to be a part of the world and, by doing so, to transform the world.

So, in those waters of baptism, something truly incredible happened for us. We went into those waters one person, and emerged from those waters as someone else completely.

It was an incredible moment in our lives, just as it was in the life of Jesus, who led the way and showed us that Baptism was an incredible outpouring of God’s love and light into our lives.

So, with this knowledge of how important it is, let us take the time to meditate and think about your own baptism and the implications it has in your life.  And when we do, let us remember and celebrate the bond that was formed with our loving God in those waters on that marvelous day we were baptized.

In a few moments, I will come through the nave and will sprinkle you with water. As that water touches, remember how God loves you and cherishes you. And when you enter this church, and when you leave it, pay attention to the baptismal font in the narthex and the blessed water in it. Touch that water, bless yourselves with it, and when you do, remember it as a reminder of that wonderful event in your life which marked you forever as God’s very own.  Those words spoken to Jesus on the day of his baptism are being spoked to us again and again.

Let us listen to those words.

Let us believe those words.

And let us celebrate those words that God speaks to each of us—

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”





Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany


January 6, 2019

Matthew 2.1-12

+ Some days, I wish I had a sign like these wise men in our Gospel reading for today had. I wish I had something real and tangible like that in my life. A star I could see and follow. And not just me, but others too. As though they too could validate this sign from God.

I don’t get signs from God like that. Do you? If you, I would love to hear about it.

I mean, look at it!   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 actually follow a star.  We certainly wouldn’t follow a star with some vague notion of a divine 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 valuables like gold and spices into that time of hijacking 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 was actually na├»ve and dangerous.

Originally, of course, the word used for these people 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.

It’s a fascinating story. Certainly, it might seem strange that I am even 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 Year’s.  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.  (Yes, I am a Christmas curmudgeon)  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 last night.

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.   And in the story that we hear this morning, it is the appearing of Christ 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. 

The feast is all about the fact that the Messiah was sent not only for the Jewish people, but for all people.  Epiphany is the manifestation of God’s Son in our midst. 

Epiphany is a moment of realization.   In this feast we realize that God has reached out to us—all of us, no matter our race or our understanding of this event.  No matter who we are.

Epiphany is the realization that Christ has come among us. Not in some blazing cloud. Not in some pillar of fire. Not with a sword in his hand, to drive out our enemies and those with whom we are at war, as many people believed the Messiah would do.  But in the person of this little child, Jesus, in God’s own Child. 

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’s Holy One to come to us.  Christmas was the time of awe.  The Messiah, the Christ, 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 story, 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.   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 and, in this moment, we have this warm reality.   God’s anointed One, the Messiah, the one the generations were looking for and longing for, has finally appeared to us. 

When we look upon the face of the child Jesus, we see ourselves.  We see that just as Jesus is the Son of God, we too are children of God.  In this Child the divine and the mortal have come together.   And that, as children of God ourselves, we too can find the divine and the mortal within us as well.

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 same God as well. In this season of Epiphany, we are definitely being reminded that we are children of God.

Next week we, celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, and our are reminded of our own baptism.  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 one 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’s Messiah 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.

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 in every place we look.

So, let us look for him.  Let us see him in our midst—here in our life. Let us, like the Magi, adore him as he gazes upon us.  And whenever we recognize him—that is our unending feast day of Epiphany.