Sermon from Epiphany Sunday (transferred) – January 7, 2018
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Well, the candles have been extinguished. The hymns have been sung. The readings have been read. The story has unfolded. The food has been eaten. The decorations have been (or soon will be) stored away. And perhaps the true tell-tale sign is that the local radio stations have returned to their regularly scheduled programming.
Christmas is over. And so, now what?
I mean, what are we supposed to do now? Now that the silver bells have been stored back in the attic? Now that the family gatherings and parties have been cleared away? What are we supposed to do now that Christmas has given way to a new year?
Well – and in my opinion – the answer is that we need to get to work. (And hopefully, not just by shoveling snow, either!)
Howard Thurman, was an African-American author, theologian, and civil rights leader. As a prominent religious figure, he played a leading role in many social justice movements of the 20th century serving also as a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. In his book, “The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations,” Thurman writes:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are 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 rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
I think that he has a point there.
As Howard Thurman says in his quote which seems to stirringly surface each January – when all the hustle and bustle of Christmas has drawn to its wintery conclusion…it is now that the work of Christmas begins. It is now that we, God’s people, are sent out to bear the very light we have proclaimed has come into the world. It is now that we are sent to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, and to make music in the hearts of friends and strangers alike. It is now that we are called to live as manifestations of the hope of the gospel.
And that seems fitting because, and after all, the word EPIPHANY literally means to manifest, or to unveil, or to reveal something. Depending on which church God’s people are sitting in this morning will determine which lesson they hear. For some, as for us, it has been the story of the wise ones from the east who come bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A manifestation of the incarnation, the birth of God in human form. For others, it will be the story of our Lord’s baptism. An unveiling of Jesus as the Son of God. And still for others, it will be our Saviour’s first miracle, the wedding at Cana when he turned water into wine. A revelation of God in Christ as the source of our every need. Each of these present us with an appearance of God in ways that we never could have expected! Each of these are an EPIPHANY [PAUSE] You know, I think that our world needs more epiphanies — and not just the ones that we point to, or name, or describe, either. But rather, I think that our world needs US to be EPIPHANIES. Just imagine: what if living out our baptism in the world meant that we were committed to doing just that – to manifesting, and unveiling, and revealing God? To be the ones who tear apart the boundaries that try to keep God from whom God loves? Who tear apart the boundaries that inhibit others from experiencing God’s grace? Who tear apart the boundaries constructed to determine who is saved and who isn’t? Make no mistake – the world needs more epiphanies: and dear friends, that boundary breaking work rest with us!
And so let me ask you: will you resolve to labor in the work of Christmas beyond these twelve days? Will you include a commitment to the gospel in your list of New Year’s Resolutions? Because the work that we have been called to do isn’t the work of one…or two…or three people. It isn’t limited to pastors, or bishops, or even council members. This work, Christmas work, Gospel work – is all of our work. It is the work of the young…and the not-so-young. It is the work of the energetic as well as the tired. It is the work of the rich but also the poor…the every Sunday attendees but also the occasional visitor…the certain but also the questioning. The good news is that we can accomplish far more together, than we ever could accomplish apart.
Perhaps this year you might consider lending your hands to help with our children’s or youth programs? Maybe you would consider sharing your talents in our choir, handbell, worship assistant or readers ministries. Perhaps you would be willing to offer your gifts of leadership to our congregational council, or to one of our many committees? Maybe yours is the gift of art…or instrumentation…or gardening…or financial expertise. Perhaps you might like to help distribute communion to those who are homebound, or visit with those who reside in local nursing homes. Or maybe…just maybe…your talents and gifts may lead to new ministries the likes of which we haven’t even considered yet.
Christmas may be over, dear friends. But I am so excited, TRULY, that the work has only just begun.
May the light of the star which guided the magi to worship the light of the world, now rest upon us: as we walk…with joy and hope…into the days ahead. May our labours, for the sake of God’s kingdom, be ever in service to those who yearn for the hope of the gospel. And may this year be filled with new opportunities to continue the work of Christmas as we bear Christ’s redeeming light to all the world.
Thanks be to God! Amen