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January 7, 2024        
Grace Lutheran Church    
Lakeland, FL               

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord -- Jesus, the Christ. Jesus, the Word made flesh. Jesus who came and dwelt among us. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Did you take note Friday night? Right about 11:59pm – things changed – the Christmas lights dimmed, the wreath came down from the door, all of the decorations marched their way to their storage boxes, the Christmas Tree dropped its needles. You see, it was Twelfth Night, the end of the Christmas Season.  

And like many of our liturgical seasons, Christmas too goes out with a bang! Because today is Epiphany!! And in many Christian traditions, Epiphany is as significant a celebration as is Christmas – gifts are given, parties are held, special worship services occur. Epiphany is not an afterthought to the Christmas Season – it is a next step forward because of the Christmas Season.

So before we put that crèche back into its packing boxes, let’s take a quick look at those pieces – Mary, an unwed mother; Joseph, a stepfather; glorious angels, the heavenly host; shepherds – the social outcasts of the day; bleating sheep; lowing cow. What a motley crew. What a diverse crew. Various ages, social classes, gender, and, particularly with the coming of the magi, various ethnicities and religions.

Yes, let’s hold these three wise men for a moment – well, we don’t know that there were three, we don’t know that they were particularly wise, and we don’t know that they were men. Of course it is said that if it Three Wise Women they would have been on time, would have brought some diapers, onesies and a casserole and would have tidied up before they left.  Nonetheless, these magi are part of the Christmas Story, an indispensable part.

The magi were members of the priestly class that studied astronomy and magic. Some say that they were Zoroastrian priests. They may have lived in Babylon that was a center of astronomy. They watched the stars and the heavens and how they changed through the year and through the years. They knew the night sky. And the time came that they saw an amazing sight – they saw a remarkable star at its rising. And they knew that it meant something astounding had happened and they set out to find out what it was. God acted and they responded. And their response was equal to the amazing event that had occurred. The magi traveled a great distance for a trip that probably lasted nearly two years. 
The journey of the Magi – a distance of hundreds of miles one way. This journey taken because of – in response to –  the mighty and divine actions of God.

We too are on a journey because of and in response to the mighty and divine actions of God. A journey or a walk with Jesus through the course of our lifetimes and the journey we undertake in our life together here at Grace as disciples in this community of faith. 

A journey that we take because of God’s action reaching into our lives, God, who out of abundant love for God’s creation and children, sent Jesus to become human, one of us. God with us, Emmanuel. 

Yet, the Epiphany is not something that happened only back then. The epiphany of Jesus continues in many diverse and refreshing and new ways every single day. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear. What then can we learn from the magi’s experiences? 

First, they were tuned in to seeking and looking and observing. Because they were attentive, they could see when something new and dramatic and perhaps even subtle was happening. We assume often that the star that they followed was big and bright there for all to see. But King Herod didn’t see it, the chief priests and the scribes didn’t see it, in fact, there is no mention that Mary and Joseph saw it. We learn from the magi to pay attention.

Second, the magi told King Herod, “We saw the star and we have come.” There’s no indication that they prepared a strategic plan for their trip or even consulted google or mapquest or AAA to determine the most efficient and economical route.  They stepped out in faith. They followed the star. We learn from the magi to respond to God’s action even if we don’t know the final destination.

Third, the magi’s journey didn’t go exactly as they had expected. They were pretty sure that meeting with King Herod was the right thing for them to do but that didn’t yield the result they expected. They were pretty sure that they would head back the same way they came. But along the way, God continued to guide them and the journey changed.  We learn from the magi to listen and change course.

So from the magi we learn to pay attention, to respond to God’s action, to listen and when instructed to change course.
Another thing we learn from this story is that God may show up in unlikely and sometimes quirky ways.  So there’s one more thing I want to share with you for the coming New Year.  Something that contains a bit of whimsy and perhaps wonder. 

Each of these stars has a unique word on it and I’d like each of you to take one.  The idea is to meditate on that word over the coming year, pray with that word, to open yourself up to the signs of God in your life.  And, no cheating: don’t try to pick a word that you think you want or need.  Let the Holy Spirit have some fun with you.  Then after you’ve lived with your word for a time, I want you to share your word with someone.  Share it with a friend or a loved one; share it with me, if you like.  Share your word and reflect on what God is calling you to do, how you feel that God is speaking to you, just as God spoke to the other wise ones 2000 years ago.

The kingdom of God is revealed in the everyday signs of God’s presence in our lives.  Be open to what God is already doing around you.  Be prayerful and faithful. Be mindful that Jesus Christ, the shining star, came into the world to brighten our journey and save us from fear and intimidation of all the worldly powers that surround us.  And be willing to accept that when you least expect it, God will shine forth and show you the unexpected path of your journey through the kingdom. And, as we journey, we too are participants in Jesus’ epiphany today. We too show forth God’s love to the world. We too bear this grace to those we encounter in our everyday life. We too are magi.

Let us pray. 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.