Written by Pastor Ed
Yes! Let It Be Declared
January 7, 2018 Epiphany Sunday
Isaiah 60: 1-6
Matthew 2: 1-12
You may remember some pictures I included in my sermon several weeks ago of a house that I worked on for ten years in Beatrice, Nebraska. While I never quite finished all the remodeling that the house needed, if you’re interested I have a whole notebook of pictures that I would be glad to show you and tell you about all the work that went into that project. I could bore you for hours.
When we have worked on a project for some time and finished it, we generally don’t hide it away and never speak of it again. Rather we like to show it off, tell about it, post it on Facebook or some other media. It’s why our refrigerators are covered with kids or grandkids drawings and why that clay art project still sits on the shelf in plain view, even though it’s become rather dried out and is, quite frankly, a bit ugly. We are eager to share pictures of the new arrivals, kids and grandkids. Social media has made it easy. I know about a friend’s basement renovation, the progress on a house being built, and the latest pottery project of an artist friend.
And what’s even better is if some strangers hear about it and want to see it. Our Beatrice house was part of a Christmas house tour the last year we were in town, and shortly thereafter we got a call from a family who said they had heard about all the work we had done on the house. As it turned out, they had lived in the house back in the 60’s and were having a family gathering in Omaha that summer and wondered if they could come and see the place. During their ownership they had “modernized” the place which meant that much of the work I had done was undoing their work, but we had a great time showing the place off, exchanging stories and learning more of the history.
Now of course, our house project didn’t have any major significance in the broader scheme of things, and yet I like to talk about it. I’m sure you have similar items. So why is it that we are so reluctant to share about God’s major project, the one we just celebrated? Yesterday marked the 12th day of Christmas, known as Epiphany. It recognizes the story we just read of the visit from the East, or the rising, of the magi, strangers who had recognized some sign in the sky that a significant birth had occurred. Astrologers would probably be a more accurate description of them than kings.
Now there is a lot of myth about this visit that has been passed down through the generations, like how many there were and even their names. As I’ve said about other parts of the story, the details aren’t really all that important. Matthew, the only gospel that includes the story, clearly has a point to make for while he begins his gospel with a genealogy that clearly establishes Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham thus making him clearly a Jew, as Luke pointed out with his accounts of the visit to the temple, Matthew also wants to be clear that this event has a significance well beyond the children of Israel.
And so these stranger show up, foreigners about whom we can really only speculate, although their appearance in the small town of Bethlehem must have caused a bit of a stir. What would you do if a group of travelers showed up at your door saying they were looking for a new king? After all they had been on the road for some time and undoubtedly were a bit worse for the wear. Maybe they had had a chance to clean up while visiting Herod, but still they probably wouldn’t look all that fresh.
Well, in the current climate of the world, many people might lock the door and call the authorities. Or maybe even try to scare them off with threats. In the US guns would undoubtedly be drawn and they would be lucky to escape without someone getting hurt. We’re taught to beware of strangers. And these guys would have clearly stood out. They weren’t from around here and I’m sure the neighbours were at the windows watching to see what was going on.
Or perhaps we would simply try to ignore them and hope they would give up and go home or maybe decide this wasn’t the place for them after all. After all, the message that you aren’t welcome can be just as clear when delivered subtly as if it were shouted. I’m sure many of you have had the experience of going to a new place where there are lots of people and yet feeling as though you were invisible, ignored and left to find your own way. I’ve even felt that way when I’ve visited some churches! It doesn’t take long to figure out whether you’re welcome or not.
But evidently these strangers were welcomed, invited in and, we are told, they paid homage, opened their treasure chests and offered gifts, spices that were deemed to have strong medicinal usages, and gold. In fact one commentator went so far as to suggest that one of the more astonishing things about this birth is that Mary survived, and that these medicinal gifts of frankincense and myrrh may have certainly helped that cause. And certainly the gold would have expedited the journey to Egypt where the family now fled as refugees.
The story of the magi’s visit reminds us that this good news, this in-breaking of God into the world, is a story to be shared with all who come seeking. It is a message for the whole world, a light to be shared rather than covered over and kept just to ourselves. And if we ignore the stranger who comes seeking, or chase them away, we too run the risk of missing out on the gifts that they have to share with us.
Yet all too often we give in to our fears and uncertainties. We are afraid of what welcoming those strangers in may mean, what changes they might bring by offering the gifts they have to share. But the message of this entire Christmas season is that of incarnation, of God coming into a messy, dangerous world and identifying with us. And now the torch has been passed on to us to incarnate God’s love to the world, across the street and around the world.
The light has come into the world. Yes, let it be declared to all.