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The Blessing of Epiphany
January 1, 2012
01-01-2012 Sermon I wonder if they were surprised. Those three wise men, those three Magi. If we could have only seen the look on their faces. I would imagine the scene to look something akin to three well-groomed men in tuxedos showing up on the set of the Beverly Hillbillies. We imagine them in lavish garments, fitting of the office of Royal Vizier, of wise sage – garments of fine purple perhaps. We imagine trappings of gold, silver, and precious stones. After all, these three men had traveled from Persia, a kingdom known for world conquering wealth and power. We imagine their caravan, three of the finest camels and bags laced with exquisite foods, perfumes, and wine for the journey. We imagine the gifts they brought, a chest of purest gold, a box of the most sacred temple incense, and a jar of the most exotic Myrrh. They had come to worship at the cradle of a king, of a Messiah, one of whom prophets had foretold. One of whom the heavens had produced a special star.
These three magi had come ready to bestow their blessing upon the King of the Jews. Hmm. If we could have only seen the look on their faces.
I wonder if they were surprised by the royal family? Dressed in common clothes, residing in a common home, eating common food. The child, the future king, wrapped in rags. I wonder if their gold shown as brightly in the dimly lit home? I wonder if the scent of the frankincense covered up the smell of the smoky cooking fire? I wonder if the royal camels had ever been tied up next to a cranky old donkey? If ever two different worlds had collided, this was that moment. Rich and poor. Powerful and powerless. Nobility and commoners. I wish we could have seen their faces when they realized the scope of the scene that lay before them.
In this first Sunday after Christmas, our attention turns a bit from the wonder of that holy night to the realization that there is more to this life of Christ than his miraculous birth. Our minds kick into gear as we begin to grapple with what a world that has felt the footsteps of its maker looks like. Today we look ahead to the Day of Epiphany, which will be celebrated the world over on this coming Friday. Epiphany is about the manifestation of God on earth, of God becoming one of us. Epiphany causes us to reorient our understanding of who God is and what God is doing in this world. We have celebrated the birth of this Emmanuel, this God with us, and now we begin to come to terms with what that means. In our lessons and carols service, we read the Bible story of Adam and Eve. We remember our common story of the entering of sin, of failure to depend on God, into the world. We remember our common story of being cast out of the garden, out of this place of harmony and peace, where humanity was designed to live in relation with a God who provided for all their needs.
We remember our common story of God telling Adam and Eve that they will no longer live in harmony with the world: that they will have to fight for their food and the earth will fight back and that pain will accompany the continuing of the human race. We remember this story because it reminds us that the earth, which was created to be good, to be holy, to be set apart for God’s presence among the creatures, had been marred by sin. We remember this story at times of drought, of famine, of natural disasters, of disease – times at which it seems the earth is working against it’s inhabitants. Yet on Christmas, God entered into the world as a creature, a human born of a human. By taking on flesh and dwelling within creation, Jesus Christ reorients our relationship with this world. God was once again walking amongst the people. God was once again preparing a garden, a holy dwelling for the people. God revealed to us new understandings of who is included in the human family, in the family of the one who created us.
God opened our eyes to see the earth and it’s resources as holy, as being set apart for the worship of God. God unhardened our hearts to see our resources as holy, as being set apart for the care of others as well as ourselves. When God came into the world in the humanity of Jesus Christ, all the earth and it’s creatures were blessed.
I wish we could have seen their faces when they realized the scope of the scene that lay before them. The look of amazement on their faces when their world turned upside down. They had come with finest gifts to bless this little child, this King of the Jews, but instead were the ones who had received the blessing. It was not a blessing of material things, for they had all they needed and more. It was not a blessing of new power, for they were already powerful men in a powerful country. It was not a blessing of wisdom, for they were already learned. No, the blessing they received was one of reorientation, a conversion into a new reality.
In this moment, in this house, at this cradle of the Messiah, they understood what the prophecy had foretold: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” In the presence of this child, the realization had come. The colliding of two worlds: A world that had fallen and a world that was being redeemed. A world that had suffered under the weight of sin and a world that was being made new. This was the in-breaking of something new – a moment when divinity and humanity were colliding, intersecting. A moment in which the blessing of God had been restored to the world. God with us, once again.
The blessing of Epiphany. Blessings are something we often talk about in the church. We understand blessing as finding favor with God, of God’s presence being with someone, or the infusion of someone or something with the holiness of God.
To bless someone means to recognize God’s presence in them. Blessings act as repurposing agents. When we say, “may you have a blessed day,” we are really saying “May your day be committed to God and God be with you.” In the prayer, Hail Mary, it is said that “blessed art thou (Mary) among women.” Mary was set apart to bear the physical incarnation of God into the world, the presence of God was with her. Yet the blessing of God extends to all of us, in fact, to all of creation. God’s spirit is with us. God has entered into the world and in doing so, redeemed it and reconciled it back to God. The blessing of Epiphany is not one we bring to the Christ child, but one the Christ child brings to the world.
A blessing is a way of setting something apart to God’s purposes. A blessing signals the interaction of God with the common, the ordinary of this world. It makes everything different. It infuses things with a holy purpose. In our communion prayer, we remember that Jesus broke and blessed the bread, setting this common bread aside for a holy purpose, a holy communion. In our baptismal prayers, we pray a blessing over the water that the Spirit might be upon it, setting these common waters of the font aside for a holy purpose. Today, as a way of celebrating Epiphany, we will be blessing two common things to this congregation, the lights of our church and our homes. In blessing our lights and our homes, we set them aside for holy purposes, for God’s purposes. We, in a sense, are opening wide the doors to our lives and saying, “okay God, do with us what you will. Interact with us, surprise us.” In a moment we will have the blessing of the lights of our church. We will set them apart to serve as symbols of Christ’s presence with us, for the passion that the Holy Spirit brings, and as beacons of hope in this world. After the service today, you will have the option of picking up one of these cards. Printed on this card is a blessing that you and your family can speak over your home.
You can even display this card in an entranceway if you wish. For centuries, Christians have blessed the places where they live as a way of being open to God interacting with every part of their life. Blessing the place where you live invites God into your home, into your everyday life, into your decisions and routines. But there is no magic in this. This is not a “live a better life now” scheme. If you speak this blessing over your home you will not win the lottery and lose 10 pounds of holiday weight. By participating in a blessing, you are simply recognizing that God dwells out there, in the real world, not just cooped up here at church. You are realizing that God has come into this world to redeem the world, to bring everything and every part of you back to God. But of course, you don’t need a card or a blessing to do that. God is here anyway, walking with us. This is simply a way to recognize it and participant in it.
So this week before Epiphany – be open to the blessing of God’s presence in this world, in your world. Be open to the mysteries it will unfold. Become aware of what God with us looks like. Notice God with you as you brush your teeth, with you kiss your children before they head off to school, with you as you sit at the dinner table, with you as you struggle, with you as you rejoice. Speak God’s presence into your homes, for God is already there. Speak God’s light into the church, for God’s work is to be done. And speak God’s favor over one another, for God is with us. Amen.