“The Gifts we Receive” Colchester Federated Church, January 3, 2021, Epiphany Sunday (Matthew 2:1-12)
On Epiphany Sunday we celebrate the revelation of Jesus Christ to all nations, represented by the magi from the east who come to worship Christ. It’s amazing to contemplate the willingness of these wise people to follow the light of the Christmas Star. Or maybe it was the light of the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter that we saw in our own night sky not long ago! Well, no matter what celestial happenings were about at that time, those wise people followed. That took a great deal of faith and courage. And because of their courageous journey of faith, the whole story of Jesus’ birth changes on Epiphany. Christians can celebrate Jesus Christ as the light of the whole world, not just as an exclusive messiah to a select few.
Epiphany is a story centered around the magi who came from the east to Jerusalem—navigating by the light of a star to find their way to Christ. Though we can be honest that there are some gaps in the story. For instance, we don’t know the country of origin and no number or names are given to these wise people. We often say that there are three because of the gifts given to the holy family—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But there could have been five magi, and those other two forgot their gifts (so we don’t talk about them.)
We don’t know if the magi were following the light of a single star, the Great Conjunction, or some other astronomical event that occurred at that time. Plus, the Greek word used for these folks is magoi which elsewhere in the New Testament means “magicians” and is used negatively. Did Matthew not want to say that a bunch of local magicians showed up to see baby Jesus in Bethlehem, so he claimed that they were magi from the east following a star in the sky? Finally, let’s contemplate those gifts (which are not all that practical to give to a family with a newborn anyway.) There’s a joke that if three wise women had shown up, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, brought practical gifts, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and there would be peace on earth! Just sayin’!
This is one of those stories where we are certainly entitled to question some of the details and what it all means. The truth is that Christians sometimes have the bare bones of stories and we put flesh on those bones. Epiphany is a story about trusting God. It’s about getting outside our own comfort zones. It’s about humility in recognizing that even if we’re rich or wise or powerful, God is always worthy of our love and devotion. It’s about the unconditional love of God being extended to all people, even people whose paths are far different than any of our individual paths.
Because Jesus came into this world for everybody everywhere, not just as a Savior for a select few. That’s an important aspect of our Christian faith to always remember. The doors are wide open. The table has been spread for you and for me. “Y’all come” is central to Jesus’ message. And it’s what we see in this morning’s Gospel story when people come to encounter Jesus who may have been from a different part of the world entirely, from a different culture, speaking a different language than the people of Judea. Jesus and his teachings are for everyone willing to follow. God shows no partiality. Because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to follow that metaphorical Star of Bethlehem to get home to God. To fall on our knees out of pure love and devotion before God and because of the miracle of God born in our midst.
Which is why once again this year we’re receiving the gift of Epiphany Star Words. Since we are not able to safely worship together right now due to the coronavirus, we are going to receive our star words a little differently this year. As usual, Nicole cut out all of the stars and I wrote a word on each one. Those words come from a few lists of Epiphany Star Words by now. They are varied and unique with the hopes that your word will somehow speak to you. The star words will be put into a card and mailed to everyone’s home this week. The stars were face down on the desk when selected (just as they are always face down on the table when you select them.) And Nicole did her best with all sorts of mailing lists that we have here at church to be sure our members and friends all receive these Epiphany Stars. If you don’t receive a card or we somehow didn’t include enough stars for your family, please let Nicole know and we will be sure to send some more out to you as soon as possible.
Consider the star words to be a gift for your own journey of faith as we enter this new year before us. It might be clear right away what the word may mean for you and how God is still speaking through that word in your life. Your star word may make no sense at all, even after you’ve looked up the meaning in the Dictionary and sat with it for a while. Put the star on your refrigerator, dresser, or desk—somewhere where you can see it and ponder its meaning. The prayer is that the word will somehow guide you on your way just like the magi of old.
With everything that we sometimes give in the life of the church, it’s important to be on the receiving end of gifts too. To recognize that all life is a gift and that God gives spiritual gifts to us. So that we can shine our lights brightly. So that we can help God mend the world.
There’s nothing that we have to do to earn that star word for the journey. Though we are invited to follow and see where it may lead. Perhaps relying on trust even when there’s mystery. We can remember that the magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the holy family. Those gifts were received with open hands and open hearts. On this first Sunday of a new year, we can ask God to renew gifts in us—the gold of our potential, the incense of our prayers and aspirations, the myrrh of healing for our pain. May 2021 be a year that lands more gently for us all. And may you receive gifts from God all along the way, gifts that will sustain you and bless you on your own journey of life and faith. Thanks be to God. Amen.