January 3, 2020
Grace Lutheran Church
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord -- Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
So, we’ve heard a good deal about holiday travel this year, haven’t we. There’s been lots of discussion about whether to travel, how to travel, staying home, who it was safe to go visit and so forth. And we may think back on years past when we did travel, perhaps some distance, to be with loved ones in this special time of year.
Perhaps you have memories of such travel – trains, cars, planes – and all the attendant stress and packing and maybe even desperate dashes to get to the gate on time. I recall many many hours spent in O’Hare airport as my family was traveling from Chicago to Minneapolis. Sitting on the floor, consoling young ones, trying to get a bit of rest while we can. Earl and I looking at each other with questioning eyes – when???Uncertainty. Fatigue. Impatience.
Haven’t we all felt that at one time or another. Uncertainty. Fatigue. Impatience.
Today, the Gospel reading appointed for Epiphany gives us a look at the sequel to the wonderful story we heard a few days ago of Jesus’ birth. We know that story well – we’ve heard it, we’ve read it, we’ve helped tell it. Mary, Joseph, road to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, stable, animals, away in a manger. It’s a boy!! This image of the Holy Family in the manger is imprinted on our greeting cards, the nativity scenes in our home, and in art over the centuries.
And today’s sequel often gets melded into the Christmas story and, while that’s fine I suppose, really it’s not. Because this distinct story must be heard as well.
Rather than looking only at that singular static image of the Nativity, let’s take a look at all of the movement in the Christmas Story – all of the travel from place to place. And much of it includes uncertainty and fatigue and impatience.
When Mary first learned of her pregnancy, she made haste to go to her beloved Elizabeth. And after a time she returned to Nazareth. Questions of all sorts. What would Joseph do? What will the delivery of this babe be like? What are mom and dad thinking? Uncertainty.
When the powers to be ordered a registration of all in the Roman empire, Joseph and his fiancé who was great with child traveled the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Uncertainty and fatigue.
When the angels knew of the birth of the sweet Son of Heaven, they said “Brilliant!” and then came to announce this to – well, to a small band of shepherds singing, Glory to God in the highest!
When the shepherds heard this amazing thing, they looked one to another and said, “huh, let’s go check it out.” Wondering and impatience.
And after seeing that all that had been made known to them was true, the shepherds returned to their flocks. Uncertainty. What’s next? What does this mean?
Meanwhile, in a land far far away, there was a group of unlikely folks. Tradition has named these three men Caspar, Melchior and Belthazar. They had their antennas up. They sensed that things were different in a land a long ways away. And then, there was that star that appeared. They’d never seen anything like it. So bright and moving in an entirely different direction than all other stars in the sky move. An anomaly. A star like this could only mean the birth of an important king. What king? Where? What nation would this one rule?
And despite the questions and their uncertainty, or perhaps because of it, they set off on a journey of a hundreds of miles following after a star to a destination that had not been revealed to them. Uncertainty. Fatigue. Impatience. But undoubtedly a sense of anticipation as well. On they went accompanied by their questions and wonderings and that persistent star, leading and guiding.
And we know that they went first to Jerusalem – the most important city in Israel. Exactly where one would go when looking for a new king or prince. When King Herod heard of this group of foreigners looking for the one who had been born king of the Jews, he immediately saw a threat to his privileged position of power. And he developed a scheme to find this new born. He learned from the chief priests that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The king then had a secret meeting with the wise men and said, “when you find him come and tell me so that I can go and worship him too.” Duplicitous and disingenuous and scheming. We know, of course, that King Herod did not have worship in mind.
The wise men went to Bethlehem and found the Holy Family and gave them the gifts they had brought from afar. And, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by a different way. And, of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. On December 28th every year, the Christian Church remembers the Holy Innocents – those children in Bethlehem who fell victim to King Herod’s evil plan of atrocity. Victims simply because they had been born, victims because of the fist firmly clenched on personal power by one in a privileged position. Victims.
So, what do we carry away from this amazing story?
I offer you this on this day that we observe the Epiphany, that is, the Revealing of Jesus:
First, the men from the East were foreigners who came from afar. Today, there is no shortage of concern about foreigners and strangers and people from faraway places. Instead, we remember that Jesus came for all, even those who are very different from us – because, let’s be honest, we are very different from those first followers of Jesus.
Second, the star was persistently present throughout their journey. This reminds us of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that accompanied God’s people as they journeyed through the wilderness, leading and guiding them day upon day. Often we may feel adrift or we may wonder where God is in all this current state of affairs. Instead, we remember that God never abandons God’s people. God is persistently present with us through it all.
Third, the men from the East returned home by a different way, a detour. Our journey as people of faith is seldom a straight line trajectory. We set out and must be alert and attentive to signs along the way that shift our course and direction. And these detours and twists and turns can confound us and worry us. Instead, we remember that like the men from the East, an encounter with God, in this case a divine dream, may sometimes change our plans too and then trusting, we move forward.
Jesus came for all. God never abandons God’s people. Sometimes plans change. Please pray with me.
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.