Monday, December 30, 2019

Looking Ahead to January 5, 2020 -- Epiphany Sunday (and the 12th Day of Christmas)

This being the first Sunday of January we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion

Adoration of the Magi
In the seasons of the Church Year the 12 Days of Christmas begin on December 25th and go until January 5th, the day before Epiphany. Epiphany is a feast where we remember the story told by Matthew about the Magi visiting Bethlehem. It is common in some churches to celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday preceding it, which we are doing this week.

The Scripture Reading will be the story of the Magi and what happens after they visit. You can read it in Matthew 2:1-23

Flight into Egypt
The Sermon title is Adoration, Murder, Refugees

Early Thoughts:  Such a warm story, uplifting, joyous -- until it isn't. Where there is light there is a shadow.  Maybe that is why we need to find another road.

The birth of Christ, of the Word made Flesh, means that nothing will ever be the same again. In some way the Herods of the world know this to be true and so they strike out. Which means we may have to return home by another road. It also might mean we need to weep and wail for a time.

The basics of this story are well known.  Matthew tells of visitors, wise men from the east, who come searching for a new king. They visit the current king in search of information. They end up in Bethlehem in a house with a young child (up to 2 years old to judge from the later events in the story). They produce rich gifts and then go home by a different path, choosing not to inform the current king where the child is.

Then it gets less cheery. The child's parents are warned to run for their lives, and so they head to Egypt. They seek refuge in a strange land, fleeing from certain death, never to return. Sadly the king is not worried about finding the right child. So he orders the death of any possible pretenders to the throne. Later the child and his family, wary of the king's son, return to a different place where the child will grow up, to emerge into public life some decades later.

Merry Christmas! Happy Epiphany!

God breaking into the world means nothing can be the same again. God breaking into the world and declaring that it is time to lift up the lowly, to cast down the mighty, to live by a whole different set of priorities threatens the comfort of the way we are used to living. And the world continues to strike back in various ways.

The Epiphany story, in full, pushes us to ask hard questions. It is nice to think of "what a wonderful event this must have been that people came form far away to give this young child such rich gifts". But, as we have shown, that is only half the story. I think we need to focus on the rest of the story.

Massacre of the Innocents
Herod felt threatened. Herod struck back in a murderous fashion. And the Holy Family became refugees, never to return home (in Matthew's story we have no reason to believe that Mary and Joseph were not originally from Bethlehem). The world was changing and Herod wanted to keep that from happening.

What does Christmas threaten in our world? Who are the Herods of our day? How are they reacting to changes that threaten their comfort or their worldview or their position? Where are we in that equation? Who is forced to seek refuge because they are part of the change that is happening?

I find these to be hard questions. Partly because I suspect sometimes we are striking out against the change that God is bringing forth in the world.  Partly because change is challenging. Largely because I am not convinced there are clear-cut easy answers.

But there is one line that echos in my soul in this story. It comes from the middle, as we transition form joy and worship into fear and murder and flight: " they left for their own country by another road". The Magi make this choice out of fear for the child (and possibly themselves). Why might we need to find another road? Maybe we do it out of fear. Maybe out of desperation. Maybe because we have changed where we think we are going?

What road will we take into the post-Christmas world this year?

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