January 3, 2021

Feast of the Epiphany B

Seek the Lord, That He May be Found

GOSPEL

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1-12

SERMON

One of the things we do as human beings is to let others know who we are. This, as we are aware, can take time. There can be hesitancy on our part relating to our concerns about being accepted for who we really are, and, in the case of intimate relationships, of being loved.

And there is our having to deal with the projections that others lay upon us as to who they think we are. You know, “I thought I knew who he or she was” or, “I don’t realize that he or she was like that.”

Sometimes the revelation can be disconcerting or even shocking – either shockingly bad or shockingly good to wonderful. And so it is with God – the God who we want to know and who desires to be known by us.

Christmas is our celebration of the final revelation, manifestation, or showing forth of the God, who we want so desperately to know. That revelation began with the creation story and reaches it fullness in Jesus.

The first part of this final revelation, as recorded in Luke’s gospel, is to the shepherds who represent the people of Israel.

The second part of this final revelation, as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, that we celebrate on the feast of the Epiphany, and that we are anticipating this morning, is to the magi or sages who represent all the other peoples of the earth.

The Child born for us, the Son given to us is born for and given to all. God is the property of no one people, tribe or nation.

In Matthew’s narrative they are wise men. They are wise enough to seek the Lord in the heavens above as they follow a star in the night sky. They don’t confuse the universe for God, but rather see it as the vehicle that declares His magnificent presence. And they are wise enough to seek the Lord in the heavens within – in the rumblings of their hearts, in their curious minds, in their fertile imaginations and their dreams and visions.

They come bearing gifts – gold, incense and myrrh – to offer to the giver of all gifts. These wise, gift bearers find the light they seek in this baby born to Mary. In this Holy child the revelation of God in the evolving historical consciousness of the people of Israel, surrenders to and is fulfilled in a most extraordinary way.

The fierce God of Israel cedes to an embodiment of tenderness as soft as the skin of an infant.

The powerful God of Israel cedes to the embodiment of vulnerability as in a baby totally dependent on the care of and protection by others.

The demanding God of Israel cedes to an embodiment of desire as in a newborn seeking his mother’s breast.

The commanding God of Israel cedes to an embodiment of an inviting God as in a child silently searching out and responding to expressions of love.

The distant God of Israel cedes to an embodiment of intimacy – an intimacy that is a mutually nurturing communion – mother and child feed each other.

And in all this the mystery of God, the mystery of love, and the mystery of a God who is love is made manifest in a dazzling brilliance. It is the dazzling brilliance of total, unconditional giving of self in forgiveness and communion. It is the dazzling brilliance that spells the word JUSTICE as
M E R C Y.

These wise men come bearing gifts to a God who desires gifts that only human beings can give.
Gold as in a heart of gold. Incense as in the fragrant worship of a loving spirit. Myrrh as in a faith that persists even in the face of suffering, loss and even death.

Only fragile human beings can offer such gold, such frankincense and such myrrh as gifts to God.

Most of us have heard the story of the fourth wise man whose name was named Artaban. Like the other Magi, Caspar, Melchior and Baltazar, Artiban sees signs in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jewish people. Like them, he sets out to seek the newborn baby, carrying his gift to the child. His gift was a collection of three jewels – a sapphire, a ruby, and a “pearl of great price”.

Artiban sets out to meet with the caravan of the other three, however, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late. Because he missed the caravan, and cannot cross the desert with only the horse that he is riding, he is forced to sell the sapphire in order to buy the camels and supplies he needs for the trip.

He then begins his journey but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt. In Bethlehem He saves the life of one of the holy innocents who would have died at the hands of Herod’s soldiers using the ruby as ransom.

Artiban then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years while performing acts of mercy and charity along the way. After 33 years, Artaban is still a pilgrim, and a seeker after light. Artaban arrives in Jerusalem just in time for the crucifixion of Jesus.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, He is moved to spend his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery.

Not yet having laid eyes upon Jesus, he is struck on the head by a falling roof tile and is about to die, having failed in his quest to find Jesus, but having done much good during his life’s journey.

As he is about to close his eyes in death, he hears a voice that says to him “Truly I say unto you, in as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

He dies in a calm radiance of wonder and joy. His treasures he bore and gave away throughout his life were accepted, and the fourth Wise Man found his King.

My brothers and sisters, we know that we have all been gifted in so many ways. For sure we can spend our time and focus our attention on that we don’t have, never had or possibly no longer have, and therefore cannot reasonably expect to bring forth from any storeroom or treasury.

Or we can choose to regard whatever resources we have as our own for our own wellbeing, pleasure and progress. We can live life for me. You know, to live life for number one.

Or we can live our lives as journeying pilgrims spending our lives and our selves along the way. Such is the journey of a truly wise man or a truly wise woman. And it is to such seekers that the Lord will most certainly reveal Himself, in disguise along the way and in the full light of the eternal morning when we come to the end of our days.

Sometimes we can take our gifts so much for granted that we don’t even recognize them as gifts.

But if you are sighted cannot the gift of sight be used to light the darkness of one who is blind?

If you can speak, cannot your voice to be put to service in advocacy for those who have no voice?

Some of us are so gifted with the spirit of compassion. Is not the need for a compassionate response in shorter supply than the evident, glaring and too often unmet need?

We are resourceful enough to feed ourselves. Might we not participate in any one of the many food distribution programs presently in operation?

This feast begs us to think on our gifts, take an inventory of the many gifts we possess, and then let our minds and hearts take flight for ways to spend those gifts before we are called home to finally see the King whom you have been seeking during our life.

Today the Church bids us to deepen, even if only incrementally, the enduring bond of affection with which our heavenly Father ever embraces us.

Once again, the church invites us to taste and savor, even if only momentarily, the delight of cradling the God Child in our arms and experiencing anew the bond of brotherhood and sisterhood, that Jesus effected with us.

And holding the child ever so close, to take renewed delight in the mystery of our own adoption as sons and daughters, that the Father has affected with us.

Yes, my sisters and brothers, we hold a treasure. It is the love of God. It is both so firm and so fragile. Such is the nature of love.
The Lord’s Epiphany invites us to stretch ourselves, to leave our comfort zone and realize once again that life isn’t about me. Life is about us, about our shared inheritance, our membership in the one body. God has been manifest to all. The more we open our hearts and our eyes the more we will find God’s presence all around us.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
January 3, 2021