Homily: Home by Another Route

How well we know the story of Epiphany and the wise men. Yes, we know the story. We know what’s coming, after the wise men make their way to Bethlehem, find the child, are overwhelmed with joy, offer their gifts, fit for a real king, and pay him homage, and then, after being warned in a dream, return home by another way.

We know what’s coming because we’ve heard the story many times; we know what Herod will do with this knowledge. the story that tells us so graphically just what lives in the heart of Herod, what fear and insecurity, arrogance and a greed for power can do.

When Matthew told the story of the wise men, he placed it in this big picture so that those who heard the story were able to connect with the ancient story of God’s marvelous work. The whole story held together for them, it made sense, and they could see themselves within it.

Don’t we want to find ourselves in the story, too, to hear what happened so long ago, and to connect our own lives with it? We want to feel ourselves, strangers from a distant land and far-off time, kneeling with the wise ones from the East, in awe and joy for the gift of the Divine Child before us.

And we want to know how God is still at work in this world we live in now, how God is still speaking to us, today, as God spoke through the prophets, through dreams and angels and a bright, shining star, so long ago, and how the magi had the faith to experience unbridled joy.

                  The rest of the story

These mysterious figures from the East play an important role in the bigger story of Matthew’s Gospel. These strangers from the East represent long-standing resistance to Western imperialism, These very high ranking political-religious advisors to the rulers of the Median and the Persian empires, which were roughly where the modern countries of Iran and  Iraq are.

Yes; ironically, today’s biblical story leads us to ponder the meaning of visitors from the very places we fear most right now. Imagine a visit to our local church by religious or political leaders from that same part of the world, from Iran or Iraq. But Matthew wants his audience to hear about the Good  News of God’s universal and all-encompassing grace, even if they’re offended that such “objectionable” people are included in the story.

This beautiful story of seekers from the East so long ago, bearing extravagant gifts for a king and being overwhelmed with joy, is not just a nice little story that decorates our Nativity sets and Christmas cards. This little story is part of a larger story that holds within it the suffering of the world, whether in sudden and spectacular devastation by earthquake, hurricane, or tidal wave, in the slow motion violence of poverty, in the anguish of those engulfed by war and the quiet agony of those who live and breathe the poisoned air of hatred and neglect caused by human sinfulness, in the pain of illness and injury, and in the private, personal sorrows of the human heart.

Years ago, a Christian church leader in China named Wang Weifan wrote about the three wise men from the East: ” The East, in its recent history, has been hammered on the anvil of extreme adversity, here forged and tempered for over a hundred years. Precisely because of this, should not the East be able to offer up an even more refined gold when it worships Christ? Out of this pain and agony, should not the East be ready to bring forth even more fragrant frankincense and myrrh?”

So, what do we hear in this story? We hear that God has sent a gentle shepherd who will nevertheless upset the powers-that-have-been. We hear that the smallest things, like a newborn baby, can terrify the mighty, and bring them down. We learn that God’s reach of grace goes far beyond every obstacle within or without, and pushes us beyond them, too. We learn that a great light has dawned that draws all people and calls us to live our lives illuminated by its truth. That’s what the Epiphany season is about.

If the light has come, those who have been seated in darkness awaiting its arrival are exhorted to greet that light and the new age that it inaugurates by shining in order to reflect its glory in all the activities and relationships of everyday life…to be the light of the world.  W.H. Auden’, in his poem, “For the Time Being” says, “To discover how to be human now / is the reason we follow this star.” And nothing will ever be the same. You don’t take the old road any longer. You unfold a new map, and discover an alternate path.   (Kathryn Matthews  Huey,  an ordained minister in Cleveland, Ohio. in the United Church of Christ

  • Weekly Prayer

Radiant Morning Star, you are both guidance and mystery.

Visit our rest with disturbing dreams, and our journeys with strange companions.

Grace us with the hospitality to open our heart and homes

to visitors filled with unfamiliar wisdom bearing profound and unusual gifts. Amen.

  • Questions for Reflection

1.  Who are the foreigners, nations, strangers, who are left out of this story as we tell it today? Do w recognize ourselves in their midst, or have we always experienced ourselves as insiders?

2.  In all the celebrations of Christmas and the Epiphany, have you at any time this season been “overwhelmed with joy”?

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