January 6, 2019

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12

So, what do you think of the Epiphany Nativity Scene? Did anyone come into the sanctuary and not notice that our Nativity Scene has changed? And, be honest, whose first reaction was to giggle? And then, the question marks began to swirl in your head. Welcome to our Epiphany Worship. Today we celebrate the power of light! Today we celebrate the end of a very long journey for the wisemen or the Magi. Today we will unpack a few misconceptions of about Christmas so that we can truly celebrate Jesus; Emmanuel; God With Us!
On Christmas Eve I think I made a couple of our kids a little bit uncomfortable. I was with Emilia Smart, and her Friend Kiley in the sanctuary and something in our conversation came up about not doing Christmas on Christmas day. I simply said that it really doesn’t matter if this is done on December 25th, because that isn’t actually when Jesus was born. This came as a shock to the girls, and I assume that they are not alone in this confusion. So, let’s unpack a few things. No one knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth. We can’t even know for certain the exact year. There are references outside the Bible that lend clues, but, we do not know the exact date and, it doesn’t matter. We do know that it isn’t December 25th. The easy evidence of that is that “The Shepherds were in the fields watching their flock by night when an angel of the Lord appeared.” The Shepherds would have their flocks out in the fields in the spring and summer, not in the winter. So, December doesn’t make sense. There are lots of reasons given why December 25th is used, and many may be a part of the big picture. But one simple explanation is that many of the our Christian celebrations were placed at the same time as festivals of other religions. AS people were already accustomed to celebrating at certain times, they simply altered their celebration to reflect their new Christian faith. The winter Solstice is a time of celebration for many religions, so this was a great time for Christians to Emphasize Christ coming into the world. It doesn’t matter what date this happened. We celebrate because it DID happen. God Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, came into to the world and turned the world upside down. So if you cannot Celebrate on December 25th, it is perfectly okay. Just find time to celebrate God with us….. Really, celebrate that everyday.
That brings us to the this lovely new Nativity Scene I have created for you. Thank you to the Children’s school for allowing me to borrow the tools to make a small, simple home, and to present Jesus as a boy. It should have been a toddler, but Linus is as close as I could come. This is another misunderstanding about our Christmas Story. Throughout the world people place manger scenes in front of their homes and churches expressing the joy of Christ’s humble beginnings in the stable. Many of those scenes, mine included, have the three Wisemen presenting their gifts to the baby Jesus. BUT……. The Wisemen were never at the manger unless Mary and Joseph made that stable their home for the next year or two, and let’s face it; that didn’t happen.
Our Gospel lesson tells us that the wise men came to the King to see where they could find this child that HAD BEEN BORN. The chief priests explain that he child was to be born in Bethlehem and so the wise men go. They don’t find the baby Jesus lying in a manger. They find Jesus with his mother in a house. Personally, it comforts me that Jesus didn’t have to live in the stable for very long. They kind of stink.
What we do know that soon in the gospels we will hear that Herod calls for the killing of boys 2 years old and under as he tries to get rid of Jesus before anything gets started, but that is for another day. The fact is that the wise men visited Jesus when he was a toddler, in a house tells us there were no shepherds still hanging out and there is no mention of the angel singing glory to God in the highest. This was a very important, yet very private and I am guessing, intense moment for Mary and even Joseph though he is not even mentioned here.
These men; these non-Jewish men; Wise Men who studied the stars; traveled a great distance, following a new star to find this very significant person. Please take note that some of the first people to acknowledge how significant Jesus’ entrance into the world was, were people from the east, who were NOT a part of the faith that had long awaited the coming of the messiah. And Just a side note. We have no idea how many Wise men were traveling. We know it was more than one, and it probably wasn’t like 10. But we really do not know. We know that they brought 3 gifts of great significance, but beyond that, we don’t know anything about numbers. 3 gifts; 3 Wisemen made sense but IT DOESN’
It is important to hear that some of the first to see Jesus for who he is were not the people who had been waiting for him. They were not the people that believed they were to going to have God’s ultimate plan revealed to them through a Messiah. Yet, these Wisemen saw that things were changing. They saw the power of God changing the night sky and it they knew this was important. They had to come and see and pay homage; Show respect, and Jesus wasn’t even one of them.
Here is the big take away for me. God is going to get God’s message out. People are going to know the love of God which we learn of in great ways through Jesus. And yes, you and I are baptized children of God, called to go into the world to reflect the love and grace of God; we will be very surprised the people and circumstances and ways in which people see that Love and grace. I promise you, all too many times, it isn’t from us Christians. In fact, it kills me to admit that it is Christians who are often the greatest barrier to some people understanding the love of Christ. Have you ever wondered why wise men from the East came, following a star, rather than Chief Priests and Pharisees and other leaders of the faith that Jesus comes from came to honor Jesus? It is because our, and yes I mean our, ability to see beyond the box that we put God in is so small that God has to be revealed from the outside.
The religious leaders of Jesus time were so set in what they believed would happen when the Messiah came that they couldn’t see the Messiah before them. The fact that this Messiah would turn their world upside down and strip them from the power they held was something they couldn’t get past. For God to show God’s love and grace to the world he had to start from scratch with people who hadn’t even been looking.
Then there are these gifts that they bring. As a child I never thought about the gifts themselves. I knew what Gold was so that was great, but the other things, I had no idea. I think many Christians go their entire lives without considering the gifts that are presented to Mary for her son and the impact they had to have.
Of course who wouldn’t want Gold. Right! Gold is the gift given to kings and Jesus was the “King of the Jews”, and the rest of us. Frankincense, was incense that was burned to bring great fragrance to the deities. Frankincense reminds us that this child is God with us. And then there was that Myrrh. It was an expensive perfume that was used in anointing the body after someone died. While expensive, this is not a gift one would want to get at the birth of their child! Yet, this gift, like the others, told the story of who Jesus is and what Jesus would do. 30+ years from this moment, women would go to the tomb of Jesus, carrying this very perfume to anoint the body of Their Lord Jesus. They went to do the last act of kindness to their friend and savior that they could do. The pain and grief of death would be lived out in Jesus and his mother. This perfume prophesied what was to come, and I can’t imagine that Mary was really excited about this gift, no matter how costly it was. We know the end of that story. The perfume would never be used. But the pain and suffering of death would be real in the life of this child. I am willing to bet that this final gift put a big damper on Mary’s ability to find joy in the first two. Mary was his mother after all.
So why do I feel it is necessary to put a touch of reality in the fantasy that we have made surrounding even the birth of Jesus Christmas story? Because it is important for us to not live in a fantasy world when it comes to our faith. We cannot continue to sugar coat the story of Jesus to make it nice and tidy and pretty. We cannot bend and twist the message of scripture to fit what makes us comfortable. From the beginning to the end of Jesus’ earthly life, IT WAS MESSY. Jesus didn’t wrap things up nicely to make it more comfortable or entertaining for the people who he encountered to hear. He didn’t soften the blow to make people feel better or like him. We need to read the gospels carefully. We need to hear the words of Jesus Clearly. We need to take off the glasses of faith we wear that make our faith one that is easy to live with and pay attention to what EMMANUEL tells us. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. “Feed the hungry and give water to those who are thirsty”. “Visit the sick and imprisoned”. “If a person takes your coat, give them your shirt as well”. “Do not judge”. “Welcome the stranger”. “LOVE ONE ANOTHER”.
We can justify our willingness to exclude people from coming into our country for all sorts of very good reasons. And the reality is that even in our country there are limited resources and we have to do what we can to keep people safe. But like the prophesy of death that came from the Magi, the gospel is a message that is difficult and messy and will make us very uncomfortable. Looking for easy answers is not going to do the trick. As people of faith, we must look deeper and harder to find the very difficult answers to our personal, community, country and even world issues that reflect great care and stewardship for all that God has entrusted to us, while always being a voice and agent of God’s love above all else. NOPE, I do not have the answers. Nope, we are not likely to find the perfect answers to all that this world throws at us. But like the Magi who take a very long time to follow a star in the sky, we have to take time to understand the light that Christ brings into the world. When we present our gifts and talents to God in whatever form they take, time, talent or skills, treasures; let them always be gifts like those of the Magi that proclaim Christ’s power, glory, and even death through love and grace and forgiveness that only comes from Light that comes to us in our baptism through our Lord Jesus Christ. If we are not willing to share the difficult journey of Jesus with the world, God will find someone else to do it!
Friday I leave for Ethiopia with Acts of Wisdom and I can’t wait. From the moment I decided to go I have heard all sorts of warning and concerns about the dangers of being in a foreign country, especially a country like Ethiopia which is not developed like our country. I am not stupid. I do realize there are dangers in the world and things can happen. But God has called me to be a voice of hope in the world. No I don’t have to go across the world to do that. But doing so will open my eyes to understand things that do not begin to touch us in this country. This trip, like the one I took to Turkey and Greece, will open my heart for those who are different than me, and I believe, help me to be a greater agent of God’s love right back here where I am called. There is danger everywhere including right here at home so I will go with the full trust that God will do something great in my life and in my ministry, no matter what happens. I fully expect to be back sharing amazing things with you very soon. But if not, God’s work will still be done! If we are to truly see God’s work done through our lives it is going to get messy, and scary. But God’s light, the light that directed the Magi, will guide and direct our path, if we but open our yes and follow.
Let your light so shine among others that they will see your good works and glorify our father who is in heaven.
AMEN