The Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
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.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Happy New Year. It is a blessing to be with you and to begin this new year of life and activity here at Christ Church.
We are a blessed people in so many ways and I hope that as we move through this year we will have the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy each other and this wonderful place. I often, during the Prayers of the People, pray this prayer, or a variation of it:
Thank you for the Godly heritage of this place. For the women and men, clergy and lay people who have provided leadership for this congregation. I thank you for our current leadership, and I pray that you will raise up for the future, men and women who will serve you in their leadership of this place.
I can say with great confidence that the Lord is at work among us and through us. Whenever I mention to people that I have the opportunity to serve here at Christ Church their most likely response is something like: "Oh yeah, that is the busy church down by the lake."
If I was to take the time to say thank you to everyone, who does something here at Christ Church, we would be here for a very long time. I am very grateful to have the chance to serve in a place where it is obvious that people love this place and love the ministry that happens from this place. So, can I just encourage us all to pause for a moment and look around at the people we are with this morning. I don't think it would be inappropriate for us to give those sitting beside us or across the aisle from us a round of applause.
Now, I want you to be very unEpiscoplain and I want you to clap, or shout, alright that might be a bit much how about you speak loudly and firmly a word of thanksgiving, or praise, or uplift, to the Lord for all that he has done and is doing among us. Doesn't that feel good? To recognize each other for wonderful things that we are doing, in the Lord's name, from this place. And then to recognize that the Lord is certainly active among us.
Now, there are some very tough things that people are going through, right now. There are some tough situations here in our community, and in the world around us there is no denying that. But how much time do we give to celebration? How often do we express our confidence in the work of restoration that the Lord is doing? Do we recognize what is going on right now, right here?
I have to confess that I am more likely to identify and to join with someone who begins to recite a litany of woe. It takes real determination, sometimes to break out of the cycle of despondency.
In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah this morning we hear that challenge. In an honest and forthright way the prophet acknowledges that there are challenges, but he points the people of Israel, and us, to declaring a greater truth.
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you."
When we choose to recognize what the Lord is doing, rather than what seems obvious to us, in our own lives, in the life of our community or in the life of the world, something dramatic happens. If we can encourage each other to look beyond the obvious, we can often times lift not only our spirits but the spirit of those around us?
I have to say that Jim Petersen and John Hamilton are both wonderful examples of this approach to challenges. John and Jim are both realistic about what is happening to them. There is no question that both of them would rather not have to go through this experience. But, after either of them speaks to you, you can't help but be encouraged. Now, they do share the hard parts as well. But then they talk about their expectations and their hopes. You know what happens when you walk away from talking to them? You feel encouraged and more hope filled.
Isaiah goes on in the reading this morning to talk about Israel's impact on the world around them when they choose to focus on the Lord.
"Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice."
Israel becomes a beacon of light, hope and enduring expectation. Nations, Kings, their sons and their daughters are drawn to their shining of their understanding of a new dawn. Then as an added blessing their own hearts thrill and rejoice.
As we turn to the Epistle this morning, we have to acknowledge that Paul is writing in the light of his experience of Christ. Paul points out that despite Israel's best efforts all of it came to naught. Salvation and restoration became a mystery.
Paul describes this as "the mystery of Christ." Paul says "this mystery was made known to me by revelation." That sounds like an Epiphany to me. I really like the definition of an epiphany I found this week: "an experience of a sudden and striking realization."
Now we all know Paul had no lack of enthusiasm for his task and a deep conviction of his role in sharing what was revealed to him. Sometimes that makes him unpopular. But he is very clear in his presentation of what he knows in our passage from Ephesians this morning.
"Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
Paul is helpful to us here because he shows us, in this passage, glimpses of a great truth: "the news of the boundless riches of Christ" and also "the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
But, Paul understands the limitations of his understanding. He shares that when he writes to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 13: 9, 10, and 12 "For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."
Paul recognizes that it is only with the second coming of Christ that all things will be revealed and all things known. Paul knows what he doesn't know. That makes him a wise man.
Now, if I could give a title to this last section of my message this morning, it would be: "even the wise get it wrong."
In our Gospel passage this morning we hear about a variety of wise people. In this passage we encounter the wise men, Herod, the chief priests and the scribes. All of these folks had degrees and types of wisdom. They all exercise their wisdom and each fails to fully comprehend what they are experiencing and what is happening.
The wise men, instead of trusting the guidance that brought this far, decided to seek the wisdom of a ruler, to complete their journey. Herod shows a degree of wisdom in seeking out the chief priests and the scribes, but then decides to use what he learns for his own ends. The chief priests and the scribes discover the wisdom of the prophets and share it with Herod, but choose to ignore the importance of it for themselves.
In this season of Epiphany I wonder what opportunities we will have to exercise our wisdom. What opportunities will we have to choose to experience God's blessings in our lives?
My prayer, for us all in the coming weeks of this New Year is that we will choose wisely whenever we get an opportunity. That we will acknowledge our gratitude and thankfulness, for all that the Lord has done for us, and to share that with those around us. That we might be a beacon of hope guiding others to the light of Christ. Who in his coming and his coming again will make all things complete.
Bishops & Father Mike