Sunday, January 10, 2016

Epiphany sermonlet: Light For All

Grace Presbyterian Church
January 6, 2016, Epiphany C
Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Light For All

So here we are for Epiphany. At last, our long-suffering Magi can finally join the others at the manger. (For now we’ll leave aside the fact that the shepherds would likely have been long gone by now.)
I don’t know that this church has ever had a service specifically on Epiphany, January 6, unless it happened to fall on Sunday. After all, we tend to mash the main event of Epiphany – the homage offered by the so-called “wise men” or magi – into our Christmas Eve stories, even if we don’t explicitly read the Matthew account. Note how many of our Christmas carols throw the shepherds and sages and everything all into the same pot – a verse for one, a verse for the other. The stable and manger, the shepherds and the angel chorus – those are all Luke. But the magi, and the star, and angels appearing in dreams (and Joseph as anything more than a bystander, for all practical purposes) – those are Matthew’s contributions.
Matthew also gives us political intrigue, and terror. The wise men somehow seem less than wise when they show up at Herod’s court asking about the newborn future king. Herod’s panic is palpable. All of Jerusalem is troubled, because when the king isn’t happy, nobody’s happy. Hoping to use the sages to smoke out the child, Herod directs them to Bethlehem, and waits his chance. When the sages foil Herod’s plans by taking a detour home, Herod reacts with the rage of the tyrant; beyond the bounds of this evening’s reading we see children, all age two or less, massacred, and Joseph and Mary and their new son on the run, fleeing to Egypt. Refugees.
But back to the visit itself. We don’t know exactly where these Magi come from, but most scholars think they were most likely from Babylon, the region encompassed today by the nation we call Iraq. Wherever their home, they were outsiders to this scene, definitely not wanted by Herod, and probably a puzzle to the new parents. And they were Gentiles, not participants in the Jewish faith or tradition.
Even at this earliest stage of his story, Matthew is clueing us in that this newly born Messiah, this Son of God, is not just a local story. This revelation of God, this new Light of Heaven to which the travelers were guided by that heavenly light, was not only for the nation or people into which he was born. He was, as the old prophets had said, a Light for all the nations.
The letter to the Ephesians alludes to this, written as it was to a church that already showed this in practice; that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs” to the gospel, to the good news, to the Light. In a very real way these visiting sages are our entry into the Christmas story, for we are only heirs to this gospel and this Light because it is indeed a “Light for all the nations,” a light that the darkness could not overcome, could not prevent from shining out to all the world. More than anybody else in the story, they are us.
So it is fitting to give the event its due, all on its own. It is right to remember the star and the sages and the odd gifts, and to be reminded that our Holy Family were forced to flee for their lives because of a jealous tyrant, and that Joseph actually had a role to play. And most of all, it’s good to be reminded that this Light really was, even from the beginning, a Light for all of us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (PH ’90): “O Gladsome Light” (549), Psalm 72: “All Hail to God’s Anointed” (205); “From a Distant Home” (64); “As With Gladness Men of Old” (63)

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