Sermon for January 6, 2019 Epiphany “Following Stars, Trusting Heart”
“Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” These words in Isaiah 60 form part of the prophetic literature that speaks of the birth and ministry of Jesus.
I Isaiah’s day there was darkness on many fronts: the political leaders were more corrupt than usual, neighbours and families were growing distrustful of one another, the basic tenants of the law were being ignored and apathy was the tone of the day. Isaiah was calling on the people to not only see the light in their own day and lives but for the lives of generations to follow. The people of Israel waited and hoped for this light for about 750 years. Through it all there was a sense of hope, sometimes it was thin and hard to see and other times it was bright and followed by many.
In the fullness of time the light so longed and hoped for arrived. One of God’s great surprises is that the King of Kings, Mighty Counselor, Wonderful, Mighty God, Everlasting Father the Prince of Peace, came to earth as a baby. For all the fanfare and prophecy, the Light of the World was born just like everyone else, with all the hopes and dreams of Mary, Joseph and God nestled in swathing bands of cloth.
In Stephen Bauman’s commentary on Matthew, he writes “From Matthew’s point of view, the three magi were authentic spiritual seekers. Even though their methodology was stargazing, they discovered a remarkable truth that transcended their immediate context and led them into alien territory. In a surprising location for from home, they found what they had been searching for in the birth of a child to a young peasant woman. We live in a time of great spiritual agitation; our culture is rife with seekers of every sort, who attempt to make their way to the most fulfilling destination as they respond to deep interior longing. Many follow or dabble in myriad spiritual approaches, including ancient esoteric traditions like astrology and psychic phenomenon, as well as amalgams of Eastern practices and Western science. Every variety of religious expression is as available as a click of a mouse or a meeting with one’s next-door Neighbour. The church has often condemned or ridiculed these alternative spiritual means and their practitioners, yet in this famous story of the magi’s trek to Bethlehem, Matthew takes a different measure of the integrity of their purpose. Indeed, even Jewish scholars are summoned to confirm the potential in the magi’s quest. From Matthew’s perspective, these foreign exotics are better informed about the nature of this child than most inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
It is important for Christians to remember that the entire birth narratives of Jesus come from the Jewish Midrash tradition. That is the stories of God’s encounters with the Hebrew people. No one in the story comes from the Christian tradition, so all involved come from his or her own experience to marvel at what has happened, what God has done. The Magi story can serve as a cautionary story that enables Christians to be open and available to conversations with seekers and even non-believers. It has been the practice of the church for centuries to slam the door on any who do not subscribe to its particular code of doctrine. Looking back at our history we wince with shame…and yet in our 21st century way continue the practice.
The magi were greeted with hospitality by Mary and Joseph, so much so that they heeded the caution and soon packed their bags and went to Egypt. As those who are seeking come into our midst may we follow that same example and welcome with open arms and hearts. For Christians, the greatest commandment is to love one another. As that is our mission we will be more concerned about hearts and souls and less concerned about fitting into our prescribed box. We are, or let me say, I am a seeker and I cherish the companionship of other seekers along the way. Sometimes my head is star-gazing and sometimes my heart leads the way. No matter, concern and love for God, others and self is the guiding light.
In our day it seems that darkness of leaders of nations is the norm. From walls, to wars, to aggression, to armament challenges, the divide between rich and everyone else and a protectionism that seems to be flourishing, it can be said that we are living in a dark time. The words of the Prophet Isaiah and the power of the teachings of Jesus do give us hope for brighter days to come. It is up to us, so Arise shine for the light shines and we are called to reflect and refract that light so its radiance will fill all with astonishment.