Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

Epiphany, 2014
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Let us Pray:
Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Today, we celebrate the Epiphany. The technical definition of this particular celebration is: the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. Christ comes to all people. He brings the ancient Jewish Law, the Mosaic Covenant, to all of the earth's people. He fulfills the ancient prophesies and appears as a tiny infant in the City of Bethlehem. And who are the first to recognize His presence among them? The Magi, certainly, the Wise Men from the East. They have read the signs perfectly and will find their way to the King of Kings, to the place where Emmanuel has been born. But there is another who has become aware of the birth of Jesus. Herod, the King of Judea, has heard rumors of a certain star. This particular star, one that had risen in the East, signaled the birth of the King of the Jews. And Herod was deeply troubled. So, too, was all of Jerusalem. Herod wanted to deal with this issue, the issue of a King of the Jews. And he would do so brutally if necessary. But first, he needed to find the child. He summoned the Wise Men and told him that when they found the child they should let him know. That he, too, might worship the King.

 

Who were these Wise Men? The earliest accounts call them "sages" or "astrologers." It was only much later that they were called kings or, as Origen calls them, "almost kings." But they had received a gift of discernment; they could read the signs that heaven had sent them and they knew they received a message from God. They may have been somewhat primitive, these ancient astrologers, but they knew when God spoke to them. They knew when they were in the presence of God.

 

Maybe some of you remember the olden days – back in the Nineteen Sixties. Among some groups of people (particularly Californians), astrology was a very popular pastime. At various West Coast gatherings, by way of introduction, a person might ask your name. Then, he would ask your "sign." If your signs were compatible, a conversation might follow. If signs were not compatible (or even potentially conflict laden), an embarrassed pause might ensue. People might mumble, "nice to meet you." But they wouldn't really mean it. Astrological signs were sometimes used in hiring decisions. Ok if you had one of the more popular signs. Not ok if you didn't. Some people with the lesser signs would come up with creative ways to evade the question. When asked: "what's your sign?" they might reply: "soft shoulder" or "falling rock" or "exit two miles."

 

Fortunately, astrology is not as popular as it once was. Perhaps its promise of wisdom, understanding and quick divination just hasn't proven true.

 

But what about those ancient astrologers? How did they find their way to Jesus? Though they had only the most primitive tools, they found their way to God because they were looking for God. Though they were from another country, far from ancient Judea, they knew where to find God because they knew in their hearts and minds who it was they sought. They knew that Jesus was God incarnate, perfect man and perfect God. They knew he would live and die as a human child. It is why they brought the gift of myrrh, a spice used in the preparation of the dead. The gifts that the Magi brought signified both the divinity and the humanity of the child who is a king.

 

As Scripture tells us, the Magi, the foreigners who journeyed many days, were the first to visit and to recognize Jesus. Lancelot Andrewes, the great Anglican divine, wrote a sermon about the Journey of the Magi. The first line of that sermon is truly memorable: "what a cold coming they had of it..." It was an arduous journey, a journey as difficult physically as it was spiritually. The physical journey had to have been through numbing cold. The spiritual journey was, if anything, even more difficult. It required that these Wise Men transcend their culture and their primitive understandings in order to reach God. But they made their journey, they met the God of their creation. And they brought gifts.

 

Herod did not make the journey. Though he was not all that far away in Jerusalem, he chose to send others to find the child. Find him for me, said Herod; let me know; I will come and worship him. This sounds a bit like our contemporary atheists: prove to me God exists and I will worship him. But for Herod, the idea of worshipping God was so foreign, so entirely alien to a ruler who governed with hatred. Herod had no way of understanding God or of loving Him. Though he was physically close to Bethlehem, he was spiritually very far away. He had no desire to search for God himself. There is some evidence that he didn't even see God's star. Couldn't he, we might wonder, simply go to his window, look out and see the great star for himself? But perhaps if he did go to the window and looked out toward heaven, he might not have seen it anyway. God is there. But there must be eyes to see.

 

God meets danger in this world. Herod was only the first who met God with evil. God does threaten the evildoers. It is why they want to eliminate Him.

 

But there are those who recognize the God of their creation. The Magi knew perfectly who it was they worshiped. They brought their gifts. They had, in their short time in Judea, seen both God and Herod; Herod, a stand-in for Satan. Herod had asked the Magi to return to Jerusalem and tell Herod where the child was. But the Magi followed God. They did not listen to evil. And they returned to their far country by another way.

 

Before God in Jesus Christ could speak with a human voice, He spoke to the world in a star over Bethlehem. There were those who saw that star. They knew that it was God's word. And through every danger they encountered, they followed it to the place where all that mattered in this world had come to be.

 

Let us pray:
O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end.
Amen.