A little quandary: January 3 is technically the 2nd Sunday after Christmas. But with Epiphany falling mid-week, and the Baptism of our Lord looming on January 10, we will observe Epiphany this Sunday at my place. With, given the mindset of our people, the feel of New Year's, new beginnings, resolutions made, not yet broken.
Mind you, the 2nd after Christmas texts are lovely. Paul’s crazily long 202 word sentence that is Ephesians 1:3-14 Jan 3 – 2nd after Christmas (a) declares we were chosen by God before the universe was even created, (b) we are “holy and blameless,” either aspirationally or in fact because of Christ, and (c) the “mystery of God’s will” is indeed a mystery but it has been “made known.” I made this into 3 sermons back in September when we departed the lectionary and ran a series on Ephesians. And here’s my blog from yesteryear on this text.
John 1:(1-9) 10-18 includes the eloquent vs. 14, but we did this at Christmas.
So our texts for Epiphany. Ephesians 3:1-12 could not be more timely: not losing heart? Breaking down the dividing wall of hostility? Reconciliation? I preached on this in our Fall series, and commend that sermon to you. So much in there about reconciliation of the unreconciled, so crucial for our folks during these days. I illustrated what can happen, with God, with two vignettes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi: the story of the wolf of Gubbio, and Francis showing up on the 5th Crusade against the Saracens, befriending the sultan, Malik-al-Kamil.
Isaiah 60:1-6 soars far beyond “So rise and shine and give God the glory glory.” The dead stand, as people formerly downtrodden, about to receive extraordinary news. They shine, not because they have pretty faces or are in a chipper mood, but because the reflect God’s glory, like Moses did in Exodus 34. I love Oscar Romero’s benediction: “When we leave Mass, we ought to go out the way Moses descended Mt. Sinai: with his face shining, with his heart brave and strong to face the world’s difficulties.”
Light in the darkness: I will prepare by going out at night, or down into my basement where it’s dark, and just being in the dark, or lighting a candle, feeling with it’s like. Isaiah’s vision involves a great gathering of nations, kings – and I dream of recreating the mood of the dramatic ending to “Field of Dreams.” Corny? It’s moving, touching something inside that is of God, not just Hollywood. John August Swanson’s marvelous “Festival of Lights” paints a hopeful picture of God’s future ingathering.
Notice Isaiah includes camels toting gold and frankincense in his scenario – an exotic touch. Not a prophecy of the magi coming… but even so: Matthew 2:1-12. Christmas as sweetness and light? There’s no eluding Herod though. Nearing his own death, he inflicts death on so many innocents. The magi were lucky to survive after cheekily saying to his face “Where is the king of the Jews? We have come to worship him.”
I get tickled over the magi, and I wonder if Matthew somewhere in the back of his mind saw a comic element here. You have the hilarious scene in “The Life of Brian,” when the magi show up at the wrong house; and Owen Meany’s moaning over “We Three Kings”: “Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying doesn’t sound very Christmasy to me.” Christmas pageants can be funny, the wise men wearing cardboard crowns, trying to muster a wise face.
They were magi – astrologers! What bawdy humor: non-Jews who practice illegitimate arts find the Christchild, while the Bible people missed it. God is so very determined to be found. A Libra, a Pisces and a Taurus worshipping Jesus – a Capricorn? What are Capricorns like?
Typically around Christmas I fume about the commercialization of the holiday. Can we blame the magi for kickstarting this with their gifts? Yet it is a season to “traverse afar” and give to those we love. If the Christ child is the one we love, notice they brought gifts of immense value, what was precious to them. Can we give Jesus, and those who are marginalized who bear his image, not our leftovers but what is especially valuable to us?
And I can never neglect the tantalizing ending: “They left for their own country by another road.” Frightened by Herod? Of course they did. But isn’t there some mystery here – that once you’ve met the Christ child, you don’t keep plodding along the same old pathways. It’s a new day, a new road. T.S. Eliot ended his poem about the magi with “We returned to our places… but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.” Jesus doesn’t make my life easier or more comfortable. The closer we are to Jesus, the more we sense our dis-ease in this place.