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Epiphany, Year C

Because God Deserves the Best

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

In his book, "Brother to a Dragonfly" Will Campbell, a civil rights activist, writer, and sometimes Baptist preacher tells a story about a bathrobe his Aunt Bettye received one Christmas. “And she wore the flannel bathrobe to church the very first Sunday after Christmas. Because it was the prettiest thing she had ever seen and the Lord deserved the best. And because it was 1933, and she didn't have a bathroom.”

How different from Christmas, 2009! At the top of children's wish lists to Santa this year were scampering hamsters called Zhu Zhus, a princess and a transforming robot. One parent got to the toy store intent upon purchasing a Zhu Zhu for her daughter only to find that they were sold out. She was almost in tears as she asked the clerk, “What am I going to tell my daughter on Christmas morning?”

If I were she I would begin by telling her the story of Aunt Bettye's flannel robe. And then I would go on to recount the story of Jesus. I would tell her about the Son of God, born in the smelly straw of a barn because there was no room for him in the inn. I would tell her about a family fleeing for their lives with their young child. I would tell her about a Saviour who came to give up his life so that we would have eternal life. I would tell her about one who came not to give us everything we want, but to give us everything we need.

The society in which we live gives us a sense of entitlement to have everything we want, especially at Christmas. Then after the day has passed we feel let down. We suffer from the aftermath of Christmas. I see it all around me. After the busyness of the day a kind of apathy sets in. People who couldn't wait until the first week of December to put up the Christmas tree now hurry to take it down. The decorations are put away. Wrapping paper and bows are recycled in a cupboard waiting for next year's rush. The perfect gift so carefully chosen by Aunt Sally is returned so that you can get what you wanted in the first place. The last bite of turkey disguised in as many creative ways as possible has finally been consumed. The dieting has begun in earnest.

There should, of course, be a Christmas aftermath, but it should not be one of depression, apathy or inactivity. Aunt Bettye's sense of giving the best of who we are should be our agenda, not just for Christmas Day but for every day of our lives. That is strongly the message of Epiphany.

It is the message of the Old Testament reading from Isaiah. He gave the very best of who he was to God. He shared it with his people. He called the people of Israel to take heart. He knew that God comes like light in the midst of darkness and transforms the world. He shared that message with people who needed that kind of transformation. They badly needed to be transformed by God's love. What a gift he gave to people who had been exiled for so long from their homeland! What hope he gave to people who had returned to a country now poor and shabby, a pale shadow of its former greatness. Isaiah's words assured them that God had not abandoned them. New blessings would transform Israel. Isaiah saw his nation possessing such light that others could not help but be drawn to it. He offered them great wealth, not in material value, but in spiritual things.

Paul, too, gave the best of himself to God. The hidden wealth for Paul, the mystery at the heart of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, was that the covenant with God that had been broken became the vehicle of salvation for all people. It transformed the whole faith. It broke down the barriers which had existed between God and humankind. It brought new light into a dark world. It brought joy as Paul communicated that inclusivity to those to whom he preached. He shared a wonderful message that we are all part of God's plan because God's grace is given for all of us to share.

We all know the story of the magi and their great gifts to the baby Jesus. The astrologers from Persia travelled long distances through adverse conditions to find a child foretold in the stars. They were seekers, these Magi, searching for something, for someone. 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 not an easy journey. It was a struggle, the journey long and tedious. 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 they met Christ. God, the God of Israel was revealed to the world.

It is a story about gift giving. The magi brought rich gifts to Jesus. The gift of gold, fit for a King! The gift of incense, it's lovely fragrance rising in the air as our prayers arise to God. A rare gift brought from the far east. The gift of myrrh, another rare spice related to incence, used by the Egyptians in embalming, a reminder that this child will suffer and die.

But most of all, they bring themselves, for 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.

It is a story of deep transformation. The magi were transformed by their visit to the manger. How could they not be transformed? That kind of spiritual journey through life has a profound effect on our lives. That giving of self results in a profound change in our lives.

In what way has my life been transformed? Do I continue to walk in old paths, in old ways? Then what has Christmas accomplished? New life means new paths, new goals, new attitudes, new motivations. 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? What of my self am I willing to offer to God?

There is a legend that the Magi were three different ages. They went into the cave one at a time. They each met someone their own age. Melchior met an old man who spoke to him of memory and gratitude. Balthazar met a middle-aged teacher who talked of leadership and responsibility. Gaspar met a young prophet who spoke words of reform and promise. Afterward they entered the cave together and met a baby twelve days old.

The message of Christ speaks to us at every stage of our lives. Christ continues to be revealed to us as we grow in faith and maturity. To find Christ at any stage in our lives is to find ourselves. And when we enter together we find a deeper truth, that we are children of God. What a wonderful gift of God's grace! May we enter this New Year full of hope and joy, and ready to offer ourselves to God!
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