Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, January 9, 2017

Final Sermon at St. Paul Lutheran

Epiphany Jan 8th 2017
Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is the Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s an adaptation of Charles Dickens original Christmas Carol, with Jim Henson’s famous Muppets. Kermit the Frog is Bob Cratchet, Gonzo is Charles Dickens telling the story, and Michael Kane is the “regular human” playing a wonderfully grumpy Ebenezer Scrooge.  Naturally, it IS a musical, and in one of the songs the Ghost of Christmas Present sings these words: “[Christmas] is the season of the spirit. The message, if we hear it, is make it last all year.” And at the end of the story, when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning and realizes he gest another chance to right a lifetime of grouchiness, he exclaims, “I WILL honor Christmas, and try to keep it all the year!”

And Scrooge is right, Christmas is not just one day on the calendar. Long after the 70% off sales are over and the rest of the world has moved on, we are still celebrating Christmas, all twelve days, to be exact. And, following the example of Ebenezer Scrooge, we too honor Christmas during the rest of the year, by living our lives as if every day were Christmas Day. And that means, though our trees may be put away and normal life may be in its full, hectic swing, it means the work of Christmas is never done

Canadian Catholic theologian Michael Dougherty writes, “When the carols have been stilled, when the star-topped tree is taken down, when family and friends are gone home, when we are back to our schedules – The work of Christmas begins: To welcome the refugee, to heal a broken planet, to feed the hungry, to build bridges of trust, not walls of fear, to share our gifts, to seek justice and peace for all people, to bring Christ’s light to the world.”

We, who are fellow bringers of this light of Christ, celebrate 12 days of the season of Christmas, ending on the day of Epiphany, Jan 6th, which was Friday this year. Epiphany celebrates the light of Christ coming INTO the world in order to be given TO the rest of the world. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus was born for US too. It is the day when our familiar manger scenes are finally complete, with the addition of our three “king” figurines joining Mary, Jesus, Joseph, shepherds, and various animals.

A favorite youtube channel of mine, “Adam Ruins Everything” is a short show that does exactly what it sounds like…. Ruins things that you thought you knew all about. I apologize in advance doing my own little segment called “Pastor Lydia Ruins Epiphany.”

 So, our familiar crowned figures didn’t actually show up one the night of Jesus’s birth… or even 12 days later. They didn’t arrive on the scene until … MONTHS or even YEARS later. And by the way, they even weren’t actually kings.  “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” while a great song, is not entirely true (though the choir sang it beautifully just a moment ago!). The men we think of as kings are actually astrologers from an unknown eastern country. There might have been three, two, six, twelve or fifty. We don’t know. But we DO know that there ARE three gifts, all fit for royalty - gold for obvious reasons, frankincense and myrrh, both those used for both anointing and embalming.

But there are KINGS here in today’s Epiphany story. However, there are not THREE, but TWO kings. One of them is a false ruler set up to be a puppet king of by the absentee power of Rome – and he is certainly NOT the fun kind of puppet like in A Muppet Christmas Carol. The other king is the true king of the universe, the Lord of Lords, with a star to herald his birth. And no two kings could be more different.

First, though, we have to go back into our time machine of choice – TARDIS, Scooby Doo Time Machine, DeLorean – to last week’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, which actually happens AFTER today’s reading Did you catch that? It is a little confusing. 

Anyway, AFTER the wise men fade from sight, Herod finds out how wise they actually are by giving him the slip. This sets off Herod into a rage, and because he felt so threatened by this toddler king that he ordered the mass murder of all the children under two years old in and around Bethlehem. This is what the dream that Joseph had warned him about, and he took Jesus and Mary to safety to live as refugees in Egypt until Herod died.

Herod is a king that you want to avoid, rather than seek after. Herod is a childish king, a manipulative, power-hungry, insecure baby-murderer. Instead, the wise men were led to the child King, who was God in the flesh and the light to all the nations. This child king would later grow up to keep making powerful people – like Herod – tremble in their boots, by turning the “world order” on its head. This child king grew up to bless the poor, make the last first, and grant his people life by way of an instrument of death that we invented. In the Jesus regime, as described in Psalm 72, Mary’s song, and many other places - the needy are delivered, the poor are given justice, and their oppressors are crushed.  The light of this king shines forth in the darkness of the world, and we will be able to arise follow this light where it is leading us.    

The road that the wise men were led on took them far from home, through a strange country, and into the path of some scary people. But they were always guided by the constant light of the star. And, after finding Jesus, they were still guided out of harm’s way by taking a different road. They took a path that was unknown to them, but they knew the one who was leading them on their way.

A prayer I have prayed often, which is found in our hymnal, is known as “The Servant’s Prayer." It goes: “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What roads led you here today? All of us in the middle of this venture we call life, where sometimes the path ahead of us is hard to see and full of unknown challenges. Sometimes this road feels long. Sometimes this road takes us past all kinds of people, some of whom may be “Herods” in disguise.

Sometimes the path takes us to new places, away from the familiar, in order to do a new things and start new adventures. Sometimes our path takes a new turn, and we go by a different road than we had imagined ourselves following.

None of us really have any idea where this road will take us, but we know to WHOM this road is talking us, and who is guiding us along the way. Along the way, we find Jesus. And we are always guided by his light and love.

When the wise men found Jesus, they did not END their journey there, just as Christmas does not end on December 25th. Finding Jesus only caused them to get back out on the road. Like many of the wise men and women who have gone before us, we too are called to keep putting one foot in front of the other, continuing to do the work of Christmas by living the Jesus regime –“welcoming the refugee, healing our planet, feeding the hungry, building bridges, not walls, sharing gifts, seeking justice and peace for all people, bringing Christ’s light to the world.”

By Chinese artist He Qi
Hopefully we do go out “with good courage, not knowing WHERE we go,” but knowing that the hand of God is leading the way, like a bright beacon of hope, and the love of God is keeping us going, like an ever present companion. The path twists and turns, it goes through scary and beautiful places. But no matter where it may take us, we are going to be ok.

I have been taking down the wall art I’d hung up to get ready for moving to the next venture that God has called me to. One is a picture that hung in my office, a gift from another goodbye, of baby Moses in his basket of reeds, rescued by the princess of Egypt, after having been sent forth by his sister Miriam in the hope that God would make his journey a safe one. 

Another is a cross made out of broken ceramics put together with wise women, as we embraced our brokenness together and made something new and beautiful out of the broken pieces.

Another is a quote from C. S. Lewis, painted on wood reclaimed from the scrap pile, which says, “Courage, dear heart.” It’s a quote from one of his Narnia books, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The crew of the ship The Dawn Treader are lost in a magical cloud of darkness, and all despair of ever getting out. Then a white albatross flies overhead, whispers something to them, and then leads the way out into the light. What did albatross whisper? “Courage, dear heart.”

Take courage, dear heart, on all the paths the God takes you. Courage, dear heart, when the Herods of the world seem to loom large. Courage, dear heart, when traveling out on a road different than the one you arrived. Courage, dear heart, and keep walking. Amen.

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