Happy New Year! This Sunday is called Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany falls on January 6th. It is during this time that we celebrate the revelation of God to the world as we remember the story of the wisemen who came bearing gifts for Jesus. In our secular language, an epiphany is a new way of seeing or understanding. I think that it is appropriate that we should begin a new year with an epiphany, a new way of seeing, a vision, an image of what our world can be, of what our lives may yet become.
One day a family was on vacation and driving through Kansas. Their Five-year-old son was looking out the car window, and he said “Boy, it’s so flat out there, you can look farther than you can see.” That’s a great phrase, isn’t it? –“you can look farther than you can see.” That is the kind of vision we need for the New Year. In the late 1800’s among others Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt called for the building of a bridge over the Straits of Mackinaw. Standing before a board of directors meeting at the Grand Hotel, he summed up his feelings, declaring that “what we need is a bridge across the Straits.” But because the technology to build the bridge had not yet arrived, it took until the 1950’s for the bridge to be built. But without people who could imagine the possibility, the bridge may have never come into existence. Building the bridge required someone to look farther than what they could see.
How important it is to have a vision that exceeds the potential of today’s horizon. We need to see beyond what simply is, to what can be –to what is possible even beyond our own selves. Individually, as a church, as a community and nation we must have a vision that call us to greatness.
We can see this type of vison in the wisemen. Astronomers tells us that in 7 B.C. the planets Jupiter and Saturn appeared very close together in the night sky, casting a bright glow like that of a single large star. The following year, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were also closely aligned. This has led some to argue that one of these two events is the explanation for the Bethlehem star that the wise men followed. However, no one really is certain of what the Christmas star was. I once heard a preacher describing it as being the divine Glory of God, and not a star at all. He could be right, but what really makes me think is that of the thousands of other people that saw the star, only the wisemen acted because of it. I think the difference was their vision –their ability to imagine a new possibility within their world. –Their willingness to keep looking up despite the challenges and uncertainties of life. Yes, to look farther than they could see. So much so that they traveled to a foreign land to offer their gifts to one whom they believed was born the king of the Jews.
If we compare ourselves to these wisemen, does our imagination, and anticipation of the future match theirs? Are we living with that kind of an understanding of God at work within our world, so much so that we are compelled to act, trusting that God’s word is sure?
As I think about our world, I often think that people need the hope of a good word. The proclamation of a living God. A direction that will bring forth life, rather than death. The knowledge that God is alive, and God has a plan, and God has invited us to be a part of the salvation he is offering. We live in a time when the worries and fears of Covid are still controlling the news, the politics of our nation remains overly polarized and often ineffective in solving our problems, more people are living with a subjective set of ethics, and so many people judge the church as being irrelevant. As a church are we not like almost every other church –desiring growth and revitalization. Isn’t it time to move beyond the world’s horizon and live according to the sure vision of God’s greater day? We must be able to look farther than we can see.
Perhaps one way of getting there is to follow the wise men. To begin with they were searchers who set out on a journey of faith. This is important. There are many journeys people take. Some people journey into alternative lifestyles, some journey into alcohol and drugs. Others journey into atheism, agnosticism, or eclectic spiritualism.
The magi had a specific goal in mind for their journey. We find it in the very first verse of our lesson for today: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'” They were looking for the King of the Jews, the Messiah, so that they might worship him. There are many journeys we can take in today’s world, many voices we can listen to, many stars that we can follow. But only one leads us into the path of abundant life. Only one leads us to discovering the truth that God gave birth to within our world.
I would challenge you today to intentionally set out on or continue in this one journey of faith in this new year. Jesus is not a metaphor for spiritual truth. Jesus is not parable or myth. Jesus is not fairy tale or a fictional story. Jesus is the living Son of God, and all who truly come to him will not be disappointed but find forgiveness and eternal life. The desire to worship him is the real and natural response to perceiving the holiness and glory of God. This is what we are journeying towards.
Further more we read the when the wisemen found him they bowed down before him and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were expensive gifts. Maybe this is why tradition calls them the three kings. Some have treated these gifts as symbolic–gold to represent his kingship, myrrh to represent his death on the cross, and incense, as homage to God. These gifts represent most of all, the magi’s devotion. They gave of themselves.
Besides the necessary singular devotion to seeking the divine truth God has given us in Jesus, we too need to offer to God our devotion. Ask God where in your life your faith needs to grow, and seek in a consistent manner to achieve that growth. Be part of a Bible Study or a Sunday School Class. Maybe start a new group and lead it. Strive to spend more time in prayer –be intentional about it. Maybe you don’t have much gold, but there is the gold of your time and service. Maybe you don’t have the riches of rare incense, but there is the power within your prayers, and maybe you don’t have the sweetness of myrrh, but can offer a heart of love and concern to those in need.
There it is. Epiphany. Seeing life with new eyes. Vision. Seeing in the world new possibilities. That is what I wish for each of us this day. The magi came searching. Their search took them on a journey of faith. When they found the newborn king they offered him gifts, gifts that represented the best that was in them. This is the kind of vision we need as we begin this new year–a vision to build new lives and a new world.