Epiphany, 2013 – “Tell me the old, old, OLD, story…”

There may be nothing left to say about this Gospel Lesson.

There is a king – Herod –

afraid that his kingdom will come crashing down around him.

There is a kingdom – Judea – full of people who are afraid of this king,

and not eager to attract his attention.

There are the real rulers – the Romans –

who take the king’s part,

but care little for the local insecurities.

And there are these strangers – magi –

who wander into town with alarming news.

A king has come, they tell anyone who will listen –

And we need to find this king and pay our respects –

this to Herod, who is pretty sure that he is the king

(and more sure that he is not ready to give up the job) –

but you’ve heard all this before!

This is just as familiar as the Christmas story, yet somehow less exciting –

this is the let-down festival, the time between –

Epiphany, it is called, and you couldn’t care less.

And why should you?

What difference does it make to us that these hapless travellers,

following signs in the sky, come to the seat of power in Jerusalem and declare –

to the current regional dictator –  that his time is up, and a King is born?

What difference that they are so persistent in their search –

so genuine in their gratitude and so willing in their worship ?

We are determined to expose the mythical elements of the story –

there were three gifts, but how many givers?

Think of the stories that have evolved around this tiny fragment of the story of Christ –

what difference does it really make in our approach to our faith?

Well, it makes all the difference in the world, actually.

In this little corner of the Gospel according to St Matthew,

a pattern is set for our continuing encounters with the power and presence of God

Here, the manner and substance of the Incarnation are given life –

God is shown to be already present, yet ignored by the nearest of neighbours.

Here, evangelism finds its purest form –

not the fanatical raving of a charismatic white-guy

alone on a stage with a wireless microphone and an inflated sense of drama –

but the sharing of a story so unbelievable that it just might be true.

Beyond the fantastical stories of Jesus birth –

most of which were given their final form after Christ was safely Risen and Ascended –

this is the first hint that there is a new power in town –

Here, “Epiphany” Happens!

An epiphany is a realization that an event or an idea

(or, in this case, an individual)

has special significance; Holy significance.

And these star-chasers are completely convinced –

foreigners though they may be –

that the event of THIS BIRTH has cosmic implications; Holy implications.

Our tradition has turned these mysterious visitors into kings themselves –

we give them credibility in the form of royalty after the fact – super stars of the star-gazing set –

but the real honours are all God-given.

They were touched by a vision, and followed it.

They saw and believed and offered worship.

They vanish from the story as quickly as they came,

But we continue to tell the story because of them.

Our ideas of “evangelism” start with these outsiders, full of visions and dreams

Who dared to tell the king they sought someone higher.

Our experience of the holy comes, not because someone of privilege gave us access,

but because someone, in faith, took a difficult journey

and discovered the truth of an Ancient promise.

Our epiphany happens when we explore the ordinary corners of Scripture

And find a story that speaks to us and opens us to the possibility

that God can indeed be known even in our ordinary circumstances,

or through such “human” means as this child we will call Christ.

So here, on the wrong side of our favourite holiday,

we have a choice to make.

We can follow our worst instincts

and wait for the better parts of the story to return and refresh us

(at Easter, and especially next Christmas) –

and we can grow tired and cynical,

and hoard our time, energy and talent  waiting for something meaningful to find us –

and we can resist real change in our ideas and attitudes,

because such things cause uncertainty in our otherwise-well-ordered universe…

…or we can follow the example of these exotic strangers from Matthew’s gospel,

and consider that God continues to work wonders among us.

We might become curious about the signs God has given us –

we may decide to engage the world through our faith,

rather than placing our faith in the world.

We can choose to speak the truth (in love) to those in power (at our peril, of course)

about the nature of real power such as we find revealed in God through Christ.

We should seek signs of God’s grace, and offer gifts and worship in unlikely places,

and we can let these encounters change us in ways we cannot imagine.  Amen


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