From the Bible: Matthew 2: 1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.” When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
All around us Christmas is over.
Packed up and put away.
But here, it lingers for a few moments more.
So, out of sync or onto something, you decide.
This morning we celebrate Epiphany.
Remembering the journey of the magi…and the final day in our celebration of Christmas.
One carol that we do not often sing as we get ready for Christmas is The First Nowell.
But we will sing it this morning as we remember and retell the story;
A verse or two at a time with brief reflections between our singing.
The carol is #56 in your hymnal.
The First Nowell (verse 1)
I read it on Christmas Day or maybe the day after.
A tongue in cheek response to a comment someone made about not having gotten everything done in time for Christmas. “Don’t worry,” the responder said. “Christmas has just begun. You have 12 more days to get it all done.”
And, so we did.
Not to get it all done, per se but to remember and relive the story.
Where the world “out there” ended Christmas on December 25th, for Christians,
If we allowed it…
If we made space for it…
Christmas was just beginning.
Twelve days to allow the unfolding story of shepherds and angels and wisemen and child;
And a pondering what it all meant young mother to weave its way into our lives again.
And, while the 12th Day of Christmas – Epiphany – was two days ago, here we are, just in time, to recall the story one more time and to do our own pondering about what it meant and what it means, and to allow it to sink deeply enough into our hearts, minds and souls so that weeks from now or months from now, when you need it most, the meaning and message and promise of these days might find its way back into your life again.
Here we are – Epiphany.
The First Nowell (verses 2 and 3)
Star-struck star gazers.
Whoever they were.
Courageous enough or crazy enough to leave it all behind and to follow a star.
What strikes me as I listen, again, to the way the author of Matthew’s gospel tells the story is this:
In a world dominated by family and clan and tribe and nation;
Where ethnicities and language and customs carved out sharp dividing lines between peoples;
Making clear who was in and who was out;
Who was to be trusted and who was not;
Who was a friend and who was the enemy;
These star-struck star gazers leave not just home, but all the rest of it behind, as well.
Crossing borders and barriers and all kinds of boundaries…
To follow a start.
To find a “king” who was not their own, but who, in another way, was.
Maybe there is a lesson in all of that for us.
For our world still divides itself along those very same lines of clan and tribe and party and wealth.
The God of this story from the Bible…
The God who comes, again, to be God with us…
The God whose name and presence we invoke each Sunday;
And, also, each time we whisper Thank you God or Please God;
That very same God comes to be the God of all, not just our God.
And, maybe there is something about that God’s call to us…
A call for us to find ways to reach across and to step across all those self imposed, self erected boundaries to meet the one on the other side.
God calls to us to use our faith;
And, our everyday witness to what we believe;
And our everyday efforts to put into practice our best hopes and our bravest values;
In such a way that faith and God and what we believe are experienced by others…
More as a door than a cause of separation;
More as a window onto the Holy than a wall which divides;
More as an open hand than a back turned.
More as an invitation than a threat.
An invitation to see in the other…
In all others…
The imprint and image of God.
Maybe a star still beckons…
And God still waits for us to follow.
The First Nowell (verses 4 and 5)
So, here we now are…
Almost at the end of Christmas for another year.
For all the excitement and anticipation leading up to Christmas , it often comes as a relief when it is finally over and the decorations are repacked and put away and the trees are taken down and life returns to a more normal pattern.
But, before that all happens here…
Look around one more time.
Take one more moment to ponder in your own heart the meaning and message and promise of Christmas.
The promise that God comes to be God with us.
Not above or aloof or apart for us, but with us in the very midst of life as it is.
And, to remember and to hold on for dear life to the Christmas dream of Peace on Earth.
A dream which is still sung or hummed and hoped for and worked towards by hundreds, if not thousands or tens of thousands, of everyday angels.
Can we, too, take up that angel song?
Take one more minute…
To remember and to claim, again, the promise and the hope of Christmas.
The First Nowell (verse 6)
Benediction – The Work of Christmas
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are back home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To make music in the heart.
– Howard Thurman