Ah, Epiphany! I remember as a kid singing the song about the Kings of Orien Tar. Now, I didn’t know what Orien Tar was, I guessed it was kind of like Dubuque Steel or something. And the part that really confused me was why these three kings would try to smoke a rubber cigar; totally confused me. But I guessed if you were silly enough to try to smoke a rubber cigar, when it explodes you shouldn’t be too surprised.
But seriously, like many of you, I grew up with the tale of the three kings who would march around the living room to eventually show up at the stable just in time for us to take the Christmas tree down. Never quite sure why they were there or why they were late to the party. All I knew is these were kings and they brought some expensive gifts with them.
Well, as I grew, (and went to seminary!) I learned more about these kings. I learned that they probably weren’t kings at all and we really don’t know how many of them there were. We know that they are referred to as “Magi” which would lead us to believe that they were men of learning and highly respected. We are told that they were Astrologers, which had a very different meaning in Biblical times than it does now. Astrologers were the scientist of the times. They were the ones who would do the experiments and seek to find the truth. We also should remember that the Magi were probably Zoroastrians, a popular religion of the time, but definitely NOT Jewish.
So we have these odd men, these men from another county, and another religion, coming to seek Jesus. We have these scientists traveling to find Jesus. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Magi were scientists, or that they were from another religion. It shows us just how far reaching the message of Jesus is. This message reaches from the lowest of the shepherds to the learned and elite of other faith traditions. With the Magi, we are shown that Christ’s message is not just for the “in group,” but for the whole world! What we learn is that God is not going to settle for just the “tried and true” methods of spreading the message; God is going to use the unexpected, the absurd, and the preposterous. God is going to send the message out in those forms where it will reach the people who need to hear. We see the fulfillment of the spread of this message through these scientists of all people! Often the religious people of today would have us believe that the scientific community is trying to destroy God, but God, in the people of the Magi, is showing us that science is not something to be feared, but is also a valid way to spread the message.
I find myself being pulled by God to seek out new ways to spread the message, and from talking with many of you here; I feel that God is moving you in the same direction. We need to remember that one of the “locals” of the story, King Herod, was frightened by the message and the Magi. He was afraid of what might be happening and that he may lose his power in the process. Instead of embracing the message, Herod seeks to kill the massage. (Quite literally!) But even this one man’s powerful fear and powerful means of stopping the message would not stop the light of Christ from coming into the world. The message of Christ will be spread, but will we be part of the process, or will we stand in its way?
The Epiphany can make us shudder in fear. Our familiar and comfortable ways of experiencing the message of Christ may be getting yanked in all kinds of directions. We may find those seeking the truth may not look like us, may not act like us, and may not even come from the same faith traditions as us. People may be coming to seek Christ in the most unconventional of places. But we need not fear these people. They may seem alien to us as I am sure the Magi seemed to Mary and Joseph, but they come seeking the same Christ as we seek. We don’t need to hide away from these people, we need to prepare ourselves for these seekers. The question becomes: When we meet these travelers, how are we going to respond?
The Magi did not find Jesus by going to church and participating in Bible studies. Now, granted, these are the “old faithful” ways that people come to faith, but these are not the only ways. The Magi were looking to the skies and studying their maps. They were using their God-given gifts and talents and stumbled upon this truth they needed to explore! They probably did not think, “Humm, we need to go to Church.” They were probably thinking that there was something more out there and they needed to find it! When we stick to our cherished old ways of presenting God to the world, we may miss those who are staring up at the sky to find Christ. We may miss those who do not follow the rules as we learned them. We may miss the people who would never think of looking inside of a building. And when we miss these people, not only do we miss the opportunity to share Christ’s love with them, but we also miss the truth that God has imparted to them. When we miss the stranger, our life is lacking because of it.
I am sad because it seems that many branches of Christianity are turning away the Magi of today. They respond as King Herod to the message these scientists bring. It is as if anything that may seem to contradict the Bible is tossed aside. If we do not like the message, we get rid of the messengers. But we can see that God is so much bigger than that. God did not run from the message of the Magi, but incorporated their truth into the greater truth that is for us all. We do not need to fear the people looking into the sky but look up with them to see what we have been missing.
It is especially wonderful that we welcome three new people into the family of Christ on this day! These children will see things that we could never even dream of! These children will communicate in ways that are only science fiction right now. A whole world of wonder stands before them. My prayer is that church embraces these new ways of seeing, of doing, of being! That we do not fear the message as Herod feared, but look to these travelers to teach us the things that have been imparted to them. I also pray that we have the courage to share our truths with them; to pass our faith onto them and provide them with a care and guidance. And I finally pray that we have the faith to allow God to work in ways that may make us shudder in fear, but also may make us cry out in praise.
We have been greatly gifted by God. We have our families, our church family, our newest members to our church family, and a community of people seeking truth. We need to remember that God is going to call all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds and that we need not fear this. God can bring all kinds of people together to learn and to find support. And like Mary and Joseph, we can accept and cherish their gifts, or like Herod, we can lash out in fear.