The Epiphany of Our Christ – January 6, 2017
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
For many people, Christmas is now a past memory. We are back in ordinary time and the quotidian we’ve returned to seems so ordinary, busy, and challenging. We are tempted to fall back into old ways, succumb to hopelessness and self-interest, and reduce our scope of interest to those who share our lifestyle, belief systems, and neighborhoods. We need to be reminded that sacred and secular interpenetrate one another and form one living dynamic reality. God is with us and in us. We can encounter God in ordinary life as much as in “sacred” times and spaces. We need an epiphany, a revealing and an inspiring.
There’s nothing ordinary about Epiphany. It is the season of magi, baptism, and God’s presence in unexpected places. The manger child is born anew each moment and each moment can be an Epiphany, an unveiling of divinity in everyday life.
Magi come from the East. They come from another religion and nation. Followers of Zoroaster, trusting the ultimate victory of light over darkness, they come to worship a simple, working-class child. The fullness of God is not to be found in the Jerusalem temple, the halls of Congress, Trump Towers, board rooms, or even basilicas. God is in these places, of course, but Epiphany reminds us that God comes to us among the poor and vulnerable, in the life of a little child, whose parents must soon run for their lives to save their newborn.
Magi reveal the truth of John 1:9 – the true of God, coming into the world, enlightens all creation and every person. Every child is an incarnation of our beloved Savior.
But, the magi discover graphically that the rich and powerful have a vested interest in destroying God’s light. While politicians promise to shake things up and drain the so-called swamp, their words reveal more heat than light. The rich and powerful want to remain rich and powerful even if it means holding onto the status quo of widespread poverty, destruction of species and the ecosphere, and the growing disparity of the rich and poor. As they confront the machinations of the rich and powerful, a dream warns the magi to detour around Jerusalem, taking another path home than they had imagined.
One of my favorite passages from scripture simply states, “they left for their own country by another road.” We make plans and have to adjust to new insights and intuitions. Divinity intervenes in a dream or hunch and our anticipated future must be jettisoned for another possibility. Sometimes, we get to choose the other road. Other times, it is thrust upon us by unexpected election results, job loss, illness, divorce, national upheaval, or natural disaster. We have to rewrite our life-scripts, plan alternative futures, and go forward not fully knowing where our path will lead. While the magi were privileged and could choose their path, to some extent, even the wealthy and powerful, the faithful and compassionate, may have to turn around, letting go of one future to embrace another.
Many preachers and congregants are uncertain what road our country will be taking in a few weeks. The positive gains in responding to climate change, human rights and equality, and health care are at risk. The president-elect threatens deportation of undocumented workers and banning of Muslim immigrants. Laws protecting our financial system – created to protect ordinary people’s life savings in the wake of the collapse of 2008 – are being threatened as well. What will the future bring and what will response be? Some want to turn back the clock, while placing creation at risk. That other road appears to lead to death, but how do we choose life, when we expected another outcome?
We are on another road and we have to find our own stars to guide us. We can’t let, as Isaiah proclaims, our fears of darkness dampen our lights. When political leaders lack a moral compass, we must supply a new ethical and spiritual direction. When religious leaders sell out their faith for power and the return of the good old days, we must chart a different course. Not letting go of the name, “Christian,” despite the foolishness of popular Christian leaders, we must redefine Christian faith for our time to transform the world and to witness to those who have been traumatized or scandalized by “captivity of the church” in our time.
Our light has come and it is for everyone. Paul proclaims the mystery of God that reaches out to the Gentile world. Today’s Gentiles are immigrants, Muslims, transgendered persons, and the forgotten working poor in inner cities and rural America. Our faith must include the “other” and this faith must be embodied in acts of kindness, political involvement, and community transformation. To those who proclaim an individualist faith, unrelated to the realms of economics, government, business, and foreign policy, the words of the Psalmist and Isaiah are a wakeup all; they were, after all, directed to the politically and economically powerful as well as the downtrodden. The rulers God affirms, so says Psalm 72, gain legitimacy not through threats or tweets or bloviating but through justice to the poor and defending the cause of the needy. The ruler that God affirms has a servant’s and places the well-being of the poor above the wealthy.
The Epiphany readings truly chart another course for us, our churches, and our political leaders. Will we take another path to save the Christ-children born in our midst during the Christmas season and in 2017?
Bruce G. Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, Centerville, MA. He is the author of forty books including The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh, A Center in the Cyclone: Twenty-first Century Clergy Self-care, Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry, and Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God. He can be reached at email@example.com