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Epiphany Sermon: That Heavenly GPS Light

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the Hill in Alexandria, VA January 6, 2014.

The Epiphany; Year A (RCL): Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12: Matthew 2:1-12

I speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

         I wonder how many of you have one of those talking Global Positioning System, or GPS, gadgets in your car. I’m more of a map guy myself. For the longest time, before my copilot wife got a Droid, we would navigate roads and circumvent traffic accidents or longtime delays or stops on the highway using maps if we had them in the car, and when not, would resort to the position of the sun if it was daytime, or the compass in the car if it were nighttime. And Yes, when pressed, I will stop for directions when lost.

           These GPS devices show you how you’re going on as you move between Points A and B. Sometimes there’s a cheerful voice that alerts you, “in one hundred yards turn left” of maybe if you miss a turn or an exit, you hear that dreaded “Recalculating.” I keep thinking that if I should ever decide to get a GPS for my car, I’d want the voice to be that of John Cleese of Monty Python fame. I’d probably play with it from time to time, purposefully missing turns in hopes of frustrating it so badly, that Cleese would begin calling me a ‘dithering twit!’ But the value of these devices is that you are never completely lost, right?

           I marvel at the faith of the magi that sent them on their mysterious journey with nothing like a GPS, only a star to guide them, we are told! I am also fascinated by the joy they must have felt when they finally knelt before the Lord of Heaven made human.

           The magi looked up and followed this star for their directions, and still it likely involved some detours, some of those ‘you can’t get there from here‘ moments, before it finally guided them to Bethlehem. Don’t you wonder what the journey was like for them? Don’t you wonder how you might have felt with them when those detours appeared? This makes me know that we also may need to change directions on our own journey through the twists and turns of life.

           We gather this evening to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, and to acknowledge the end of the twelve-day church season of Christmas.

Epiphany comes from a Greek word epiphainein that means “showing forth, appearance, manifestation, revelation.” On this day, we celebrate the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles - that is, to all nations. Some Christian traditions celebrate three great epiphanies on this day: The Magi’s adoration of the Christ child; Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan; and his first miracle in which Jesus changes water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The Word and Sacraments are for us the great epiphany of God’s grace and mercy. We go forth into this night to witness to the Light that shines brightly in our midst.

           Isaiah tells us that Jerusalem is assured that nations will make a pilgrimage to her, because the light of God’s presence is in her midst. The bountiful food of the sea and the profits of international trade will come streaming to Jerusalem and thereby declare God’s praise.

           In the letter to the Ephesians, what had been hidden from previous generations is now made known through the gospel of Paul and others. In Christ both Jews and Gentiles participate in the richness of God’s promised salvation.

           Matthew’s Gospel tells us that God’s promise shines bright in the night as the magi follow a star to honor a new sovereign king. Strangers from a faraway land, they welcome the long-awaited messiah of Israel. Here in our midst, we have two depictions of that bright night light, the star that led the magi to Bethlehem: on our liturgical banner for the season of Christmas, and on our new parish banner, signifying the Light of Christ come into the world as Immanuel, God With Us.

           The central image from all these readings is Light. The star symbolizes a new light in the cosmos. The dawn pierces the thick darkness that has obscured our vision. During January, the northern hemisphere experiences a gradual lightening of the darkest time of the year, an appropriate time for the Church to praise Christ as the Light. This is the same light that shines again at the Easter Vigil.

           We all know about the gifts of the magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, because they have been made popular in hymns, pageants, and creche scenes.   Gold denotes Jesus as a king. Frankincense and Myrrh are sweet-smelling resins that were used as offerings to a god or at status burials. These are symbolic gifts for the divine king who has come to die to redeem the world.

           The ancient political idea was that monarchs, rulers and kings were supposed to ensure the safety of their subjects. Jesus Christ, not Herod, is the true King who gives life, rather than death, to all the peoples of the earth.  

           I am sure each of us has seen many gift bearers over the past several weeks. Some were handing us their offerings, some were folks loading up presents into their cars before heading off to spend Christmas with family and friends. In this very space, we witnessed the incredible outpouring of offerings for Christmas families that threatened to completely overtake the altar! The Magi were just such generous gift bearers. Yet the feast of the Epiphany reveals a gift of greater magnitude and scope. God comes among us in Jesus Christ, bringing God’s gifts of grace, mercy and forgiveness. God’s Love is wonderfully revealed not to a few but the whole world. So let your light shine for we are all now ‘gift bearers’ of divine grace for the entire world to see and share in.

           Epiphany is a time for remembering the recognition by many people of Jesus Christ as God made man; among them were the magi, John the Baptist, Jesus’ disciples, and Christians in every age, including our own.

           In Epiphany, we remember Christ’s baptism and our own. Just as the disciples were called, we received our calling or vocation as Christians through our baptism. You will notice that the theme of discipleship will be the initial focus in the readings for the Sundays after tonight.

           Epiphany is a time to recall the signs of Jesus that revealed his presence among the people, as in the first miracle in Cana and the feeding and healing miracles. Healing and the anointing of the sick, and caring for those who hunger, physically and spiritually, are other important themes for Sunday readings after this Epiphany.

           So Epiphany is also a time for rededicating ourselves to our ministries and missionary tasks -- to continue to spread the Light of Christ throughout the world in our own time, thorough our circles of life, in whatever way we know how. God will show us the Way. We must see, obey, follow and do.

           I realize now that those times when Chrissie and I were traveling on this earth without a map, or when we would go home by a different way, we still could always rely on the True Light we had to guide us. With the sun by day, or a compass by night, always with God in our hearts and side-by-side, Heart Of My Heart and I know that we are never truly lost in this life. I hope that you all can feel that internal GPS also!

           So tonight let us again give thanks for the manifestation of Jesus Christ, the Light that came into the world to scatter the darkness, for all the peoples of the earth. For we know and believe that when ‘the Christ in me greets the Christ in thee,’ we shall see and know Immanuel, God With Us, here and now, among us.

           I wish you and yours a Happy and most blessed Epiphany!