Glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen
Happy New Year and Happy Feast of Epiphany! We just transitioned from Christmastide and I’m sure most of you are excited to see the holiday come and go as you recover from spending your life savings on gifts and catching up on bills. If you haven’t already, I have good news for those who still have their Christmas decorations up.
According to tradition, you can leave them up until Epiphany, which is today or Candlemas, which is coming up on Feb. 2 or you can be like me, years ago, when I kept my Christmas tree up until Easter, establishing a groundbreaking record in my family tradition of “tree standing for the longest period of time” – (the lights were just so pretty).
The liturgical season envelopes the narrative of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. So it is important to know that when we come to worship on Sunday mornings, indeed are entering into another time and space, we are witnesses to things of the past, present, and future. Technically, we are time travelers (that was my pop culture reference, and I’m really serious about it).
During advent we lived into the season of “anticipation” and “preparation” for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ and explored ways in which we anticipate and prepare in our personal walks. We commemorated the birth of Christ, God in the flesh, Emmanuel on Christmas morning. Some went on to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas-maybe ascertaining: “7 Swans a Swimming, 6 Geese a Laying, 5 Golden Rings,” I think that’s the one part that everyone really knows…Oh and the partridge in a pear tree!
We have bore witness to and commemorated Christ’s birth, and now here we are in the story on Epiphany, when we commemorate not so much the birth of Jesus, but those who witnessed the nativity. We commemorate the sojourn of the magi who came to see “he born of King of the Jews” and “have come to worship him.”
Tradition has it that Epiphany is the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, highlighting:
- the messiah was for everyone and not for one specific group of people;
- the messiah was not exclusive, but rather was the hope of the world;
- the messiah, God on earth was for every entity represented in the nativity-human beings, creation (critters large and small), and even cosmos — the star that brought that magi to bear witness to this hope.
What is critical to note in the nativity scene, was that the act of God being present on the earth, united people and creation, erasing lines of intolerance, erasing lines of division, erasing lines that would have kept all present separated, but God brought them together.
Even the threats of the plot of King Herod to continue killing infants, was derailed by this very act of unification. The nativity revealed to us that we can unite, that we can come together in love, but we have to be willing to offer this gesture ourselves.
There was an epiphany of sorts, a revelation in a dream to the wise people, to not return to King Herod. I am thankful this day, for a dream that thwarted their path to return to King Herod, that would have reported the location of Jesus. I am thankful today for a dream that derailed a calculated perpetuation of violence against children. I am thankful today for a dream that derailed a plan to snuff out the light of this world, Emmanuel the future hope of God’s people.
The disturbing truth about Epiphany is that there will be divine revelations given to you, to each one of us that will disrupt business as usual, and we will have to respond to God’s call.
Much like the magi, there were many others who had visions and dreams that would call them to diverge from their initial paths, it would call them to uncharted territories, and reroute them from that they were on-sending them a new way. Time and history shows us different people who have had different visions and dreams that were life-giving and empowering.
One person in particular, who’s legacy we will soon celebrate, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also had a dream. He had a dream that,”one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” He had a dream that,” one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” He had a dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin had a dream.
If it were not for his dreams and others who dreamt like him, I might not be able to stand before you today. We would still be drinking from segregated water fountains, women would not see ordination, and poor whites would be forced to sit at the back of the church, because they couldn’t afford to rent pews in the front. Dreams are important. We are being called to be dream-following people. Just as God revealed a plan to the magi, to Martin, and to the countless others who seek to nurture creation and each other, God is stilling revealing God’s self to us today.
What are your dreams revealing about God in your life during this Epiphanytide?
I imagine a world, where when under threat of annihilation, will have the courage of the magi, to follow their dreams, to come together, and seek out hope. We don’t know much about the magi/wise men, not even how many there were- our tradition says three or in Syrian traditions 12, but the text does not note a number. We don’t know if they were really kings. We sometimes call them kings, assigning them kingship, but nowhere in the narrative does it assign the them royal lineage. We do not know how smooth or bumpy their journeys were- to get to Jesus, but we know that they had courage to go and seek out the messiah. Courage is right actions in the face of fear.We are often to call to do good and to perform right actions while being afraid.
“What is God revealing to you?” In what ways is God calling you into a season of deep reflection and spiritual groundedness? Just as God was revealed to Jews and Gentiles, what ways is God drawing you to be in fellowship with individuals and communities that are not like your own? How will Epiphany disrupt business as usual and reroute your feet to walk a path that requires courage, bravery?
The nativity models for us, how we ought to be in community: being unified; honoring children; honoring each other and honoring creation.
Each of you took a star that has a word of inspiration on it, to help you reflect, question, and implement courageous actions into your daily lives. This year will hold many pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Some of our paths will require courageous actions that will deepen our walk with God and one another path. Do not be afraid, be comforted, for God is with you in this journey-always.
May your dreams guide you on a prosperous and holistic path that is transformative in ways that are healthy. Have a blessed new year and may this Epiphanytide deepen your faith, your walk with God, and one another. Amen.
This sermon was preached by the Rev. Deacon Shayna Watson at St. Stephen’s Cathedral on January 6, 2019, for the Feast of the Epiphany. The texts for the day, which can be found at this link, are:
- Isaiah 60:1-6
- Psalm 72:1-7,10-14
- Ephesians 3:1-12
- Matthew 2:1-12