Sermon for 1/5/2014 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Epiphany-Greek for “manifestation” or “appearance.
The season of Epiphany begins on January 6th, the actual day of Epiphany. On this day, we celebrate the wise men visiting Jesus. This is significant, because the wise men were from the Eastt, and not Jewish. Thus, Epiphany is the time when the knowledge of who God is became known to all the world, and not just the Jewish nation, through the manifestation, or appearance, of Jesus Christ.
The story of the Epiphany is found in Matthew 2:1-12. Notice that the verses never say how many wise men there were.
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, 2asking, "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." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6'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.'"
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then 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." 9When 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. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On 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. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
This last week, James Avery died. For those of you not familiar with James Avery, he played Uncle Phil, on the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
For those of you still not sure what on earth I’m talking about, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was a comedy also starring the popular actor Will Smith, and it centered around…
Well, it centered around a teenager born and raised in West Philadelphia. One day, while shooting some bball outside of the school, this teen got into one little fight, his mom got scared, so he moved in with his auntie and uncle in a town called Bel Air.
In other words, the show centers around a young man from the urban “hood” suddenly thrust into the lifestyles of his rich family.
And, the heart of the show, was the relationship between Uncle Phil, the recently deceased James Avery, and his nephew Will.
Now, the death of James Avery this past week, caused me to think about this show I used to regularly watch, and I thought that it can be a lot like the church, and the Epiphany situation we have.
What I mean, is that at first thought, this whole situation that the Fresh Prince of Bel Air was based on, a young man who goes from being poor to living with his rich family overnight, seems so romantic. It seems so easy. It seems like if all the people involved can be joyful and loving, everyone should just get along great.
This is pretty much how we can view the church, and our faith as well. If everyone just loves each other enough, we can be a great big family without any problems. Today, as we celebrate the Epiphany, as we celebrate the Wisemen coming from long distances, as we rejoice over the fact that God’s love and favor is for all people, it can be easy for us to breeze past the difficulties crop up when more people are brought into the mix that is our faith.
But sticking with the Fresh Prince for a moment, though Uncle Phil’s family had the means and space to support Will without a lot of hardship, the attention that Will garnered from the family changed the dynamic of how they all interacted with each other. Uncle Phil’s family had their own way of doing things, and their own values.
In addition to Uncle Phil’s family, Will, had his own history that he brought into the mix. He had his own values and things that were important to him, including a pride about where he came from, that his new family had trouble relating to. Thankfully, there were plenty of laughs to help smooth the way, and each problem was dealt with in 30 minutes.
Sitcoms from the 90’s aside, as we think about the situation of the Epiphany, it’s really not about people coming together to be happy, join hands, and sing Kumbaya. As God is revealed to those wisemen from the East, in this baby named Jesus, the whole dynamic of our own human identity, throughout time and place is thrown off. When the wisemen followed the star, the Gentiles, were suddenly brought into the family that God had created starting with the Jewish people. The promises, the love, the will of God that had first been revealed to the people descended from Abraham, have now, suddenly, been shared with the all people. In this Epiphany of Jesus Christ, the appearance of God to all human beings, the whole human dynamic has been thrown off, dramatically, and that is a good thing.
As we’ve discussed, and I do feel a little funny going on about a sitcom, in the “Fresh Prince”, Will’s mother sends him to live with his wealthy relatives, because the future in store for him in West Philadelphia is not hopeful.
And, though it shook-up the lives of all humans, God sent Jesus into this world, because our lives living in sin were even bleaker than West Philly. It is hard to learn to live together, especially with people who come from different cultures, or backgrounds than our own. It’s hard to be empathetic and sensitive to those who we might think have a weird way of understanding something. It’s hard when someone else takes that which gives you pride, for granted, and things get really hard when we have to share or sacrifice for the sake of others. If we were stuck to our own devices, if we were mired in our own sin and selfishness, there would be no hope.
Now, over time, Uncle Phil and his nephew, Will, became closer and closer, and their relationship became like that of a father and son.
Through much more time, the Church, the family of God, the body of Christ, has struggled to live together and love each other, yet today we share in relationships that stretch farther beyond cultures and distance than they ever have. And even though we are still not united, we are learning to be a family with the Jewish people from whom our Epiphany, Jesus Christ came.
Most of all, we are learning to be a family with each other, and to make room for more and more people to find love and hope in this family at CtK. As we rejoice in this life together, we remember that it isn’t a romantic notion of harmony, or the power of positive thinking that keeps us together. Rather, it is this Epiphany named Jesus, that has called us and kept us in the unending love of God. It is Jesus who makes room for us by opening his arms on the cross to all people, and it is Jesus who maintains us with that love by pouring it out again and again for us in our meal of Holy Communion.
Today, we aren’t perfect, we aren’t always happy, and we can’t handle each issue in a half hour; but we are loved, and we will continue to be loved, and we will continue to be called to share that love, to share that life which is our Epiphany, the eternal life of Jesus Christ, with all people.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,