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The Feast of the Epiphany

By Another Road

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

We are at the beginning of a new year. It is an exciting time as we consider all the possibilities that this year may bring. As we ponder the challenges of the past year, we may be overcome with fears and anxieties, or we may be filled with hope and anticipation about what this year may bring. It is a time during which we make resolutions to follow new paths, new goals, new attitudes, new motivations. What paths are being opened up for us as we enter a new year?

Matthew tells the story of a path made through the desert and of a change of path as travellers find a new way home. The story begins with a new star appearing in the sky foretelling a child born king of the Jews. Its appearance was noted by wise men from the East. They were seekers, these Magi, searching for something, for someone, willing to follow the path wherever it might lead. You do not scan the sky night after night unless you are searching. They were hoping for something new and wonderful. They packed their luggage, saddled their camels and followed the star. It was a struggle, the road long and tedious through desert and storm. They slept by day. By night they scanned the skies. They had no exact directions; they simply followed a pinpoint of light in a dark sky. It was a journey fraught with difficulties. But they followed the star through the dark nights and at the end of the journey they met Christ. God, the God of Israel was revealed to them, and ultimately to the world.

It is a beautiful story of seekers willing to leave everything behind to follow a dream. It is a story too of missed communication, for the Magi follow the signs but miss a turn in the road. They find themselves in the court of King Herod in Jerusalem. It makes perfect sense to them that the child would be born into a royal household, and Herod, though not of royal lineage is king. He is a king who rules through fear and intimidation. The time of King Herod is for the people of Israel a time of oppression, suffering, brutality and fear. When he hears about the birth of a young king he is filled with rage at the thought of his power being usurped. In his devious ways he convinces the Magi to return to him with news of where the child is born. But God intervenes. God speaks words of warning to them through a dream. They go home by another road, saving the child from the wrath of the king.

The question is what do we hear in this story? How do we connect ourselves to it? We would hope, I suspect, to be the Magi, traveling from distant lands, on a long journey as we seek out the son of God. We see ourselves following God’s lead. We see ourselves not counting the cost, but journeying on seeking the Christ child. We see ourselves kneeling in awe before the infant king, worshipping the one revealed to us as the Son of God. As we kneel there we offer the richest and rarest of gifts that we can imagine. We offer our very selves to God.

Are we also Herod? In our desire for power and wealth do we simply forget about the needs of the poorest of the poor? As Canadians we overuse the good things of the world. We are careless of our beautiful natural resources. In our quest for material goods, we dirty our waters and produce mountains of garbage. We build up debts, living beyond our means. We allow our government to implement oppressive policies that hurt the most vulnerable of society.

How do we hear the story in its many facets? It is the story of how a newborn baby can terrify a mighty king. It is the story of how God uses the most unlikely people, the outsiders to bear the message of salvation to the world. It is about how God uses them even when they miss the road. It is the story of how God’s grace can extend beyond our human imagination. It is a story of transformation and change. It is the story of how light has come into a world of darkness.

The magi were transformed by their visit to the manger. They went looking for a king. Their searching and yearning turned to fulfillment as they discovered in the infant Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. The gifts they offered were rich and exotic and rare. But the real gifts they offered were themselves. The seekers became believers.

In what way has my life been transformed? Do I continue to walk in old paths, in old ways? Then what has Christmas accomplished? What paths are being opened up before me as I enter a new year? Am I a new person? How has my encounter with the Christ child affected my life, my way of living? What is God trying to accomplish in me at this very moment?

The New Year is a time to reflect on the changes that we wish to make in our lives. What will this year bring? It is time to go in new directions. It is a time to make resolutions that we will try to keep throughout the year. Let us not focus on the latest fad diet or using our membership at the gym more often. Don’t get me wrong. Those are good goals. Let us think instead about the gifts we bring to Jesus. What loving actions can we offer to help spread God’s realm? What can we do to help transform our own lives and the lives of those we touch? Let your loving actions be a part of your prayers for them and for others.

There is a lovely hymn in our hymn book written by Georgina Christina Rosetti. The last verse in particular speaks to the gifts we bring.

What can I bring him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man I would do my part.
But what I can I give him, give my heart.

We are not poor. God has given us such wonderful gifts, gifts that we can share: the gift of love and compassion, the gift of grace, the gift of prayerfulness and spirituality, the gift of good health, the gift of wisdom, the gift of joy. Let us resolve to affirm the gifts that we see in one another, and most of all let us resolve to offer our gifts, as insignificant as we may think they are, to God.
Jesus comes to us as a little baby, drawing us closer to God. As the wise men bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, so we bring our gifts of love to God. And in so doing we reach out into a needy world with the light of Christ, a light that transforms all of creation.

The way lies before us. Where will the road lead? Let us move forward with confidence that God, Emmanuel, will lead the way.
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