Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Second Sunday After the Epiphany

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 214


Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14;
Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

This year the Visitation of the Magi is on Saturday.  On the next day, January 7, the first Sunday after The Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

The Feast of the Epiphany is central to the story of Jesus but it has become peripheral to most of us in our context today.

Let me take up that assertion in reverse order. The Epiphany -- the Visitation of the Magi -- has become peripheral to very many because January 6 does not fall on Sunday but every six years or so. I cannot remember when most church people stopped attending non-Sunday services other than Christmas Eve; this has been happening for quite some time.

To be clear: I am not going on a rant here about church attendance. I am only naming the reality that most Christians in our little part of the world miss out on most Feasts and Fasts that fall outside of Sunday: from The Epiphany to Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to Easter Eve and the Ascension. We are sorting through this cultural shift in the United States.

Why not just add them to the Christmas story, like "The First Nowell" (Hymn 109) and so many carols do?

We can admittedly debate the merits of conflating and combining the stories from Luke and Matthew into one single narrative. My answer is that we blunt the stories when we combine them. Luke has shepherds coming to the newborn's manger while Matthew has wise men visiting the infant in a house. Now you know why the magi no longer appear in the Christmas Pageant. Our crèche at the back of the nave also shows the Magi in transit on Christmas (though look for them to adore the Child this Sunday before we take it down).

The shepherds get directions from a choir of angels while the magi follow a star. In Luke, the Archangel Gabriel appears to Mary in the midst of her day while in Matthew an unnamed angel speaks to Joseph at night in a dream. The stories are very different, with different chronologies. As long as our calendar separates the shepherds from the Magi, we will tell their stories at different times.

What makes the Visitation of the Magi a central story is that it proclaims the universality of Jesus.

This child, born to two displaced parents who are striving to survive in a conquered nation that is but a little corner of a vast empire, has come to transform our world and indeed all creation. The heavens rejoice with a new star. People from all over the earth seek to worship him. Herod shakes in his throne and eventually unleashes all the violence he can muster, to no avail. The sages who come from afar seeking "the king of the Jews" delegitimize the self-importance of all earthly kingdoms and their pretentions of ultimacy. Magi bearing regal gifts show us that God and only God is worthy of our complete worship, allegiance, and obedience. All other fealties are partial and relative.

The Visitation of the Magi then shows us the universality of God's love. God's tribe is much bigger than our limited experience and understanding can imagine. Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel. But just who is this "Us" that God is with? The coming of the wise men uncovers the truth that God actually does love everybody, without exception. Nobody is left out of God's embrace.

The Feast of the Epiphany is therefore not only central to the story of Jesus but to the human story itself because it expands our awareness that, on earth, in this little corner of the cosmos, no one is Other -- we all belong together, to each other and to God.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

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