Sermon January 4: Manifestation

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Faith United Methodist Church

January 4, 2015

Epiphany Sunday

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12, Isaiah 60:1-6

Prayer of Illumination:

When terror strikes and fear overtakes, when life makes no sense,

when even Christmas gifts lose their shine,

draw us back to the manger,

that place where we fear not and simply behold.

There let us know peace – there let us know you. Amen.

Sermon:  Manifestation

Last spring my mother mailed me a book she had written. She worked on it for several months without letting me know, so it was quite a surprise. She told me it was coming, but wouldn’t tell me what it was about. She is a good writer ~ and has had a couple things published ~ so it wasn’t implausible. When it arrived I tore open the package to find that it was a book ~ about me!   Over the course of about a hundred pages she shared her memories of me as a baby, during my growing-up years, and even as an adult. A book written just for me. She also recorded some family history and stories about my grandparents and great-grandparents. It was a wonderful surprise and, in many ways, the most precious gift I ever received.

Much of the book was about times and events that I can recall. It was interesting for me to read about my first boyfriend, the day I got my driver’s license, my first job ~ all from my mother’s perspective.   But the most interesting stories to read were the ones about when I was a baby ~ my first words, my first steps, little songs I sang, games we played ~ those times I can’t remember, that only my mother can recall.

The baby Jesus ~ human baby that he was ~ would not remember the night he was born in a stable, the visit from the shepherds, or the singing of the heavenly host. The Scripture tells us that Mary pondered it all in her heart, never to forget it. I’m sure she later told her son all about the miraculous circumstances of his birth, how she and Joseph made the dangerous journey to Bethlehem where the only available accommodations were in a cowshed.

By the time the Magi (or Wise Men or Kings) arrived on the scene Joseph had moved Mary and Jesus out of the shed and into a house. I imagine he did carpentry in the local village to support his small family. Some speculate that Jesus was as much as two-years-old when the Magi finally arrived, their trip from the East taking a very long time. Jesus was likely toddling around, playing with toys, getting into mischief, throwing tantrums and keeping his mother busy, as any two-year-old would do.

It’s possible that the visit from the Magi stuck in young Jesus’ memory, particularly because it was so out of the ordinary for day-to-day life in Bethlehem. It wasn’t every day that astrologers from the East showed up on the doorstep with presents for the young peasant-king saying they had followed a star. Perhaps later Jesus would recall the strange humped animals they had with them. Maybe one of the kings lifted the giggling toddler-king up on a camel’s back for a ride.

We don’t know if Jesus remembered, but surely Mary did. What mother wouldn’t remember a visit from strangers bearing gifts for her child? It had been some time since that star-lit night in the stable. It had been longer still since the angel Gabriel visited her to tell her she would bear God’s own son. I imagine that she settled into a domestic routine, as most mothers do. The washing. The feeding. The diaper changing. Perhaps she began to wonder if it all had been a dream. She might’ve even begun to question, Am I really raising the son of God?

And then the unexpected foreign visitors arrived with strange gifts for her child, reminding her and everyone else who this little boy really was and what this little boy was destined to be. As the Scripture tells us, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Years later maybe Mary shared the story with Jesus, taking out the gifts and letting him touch them. This is what the wise men from the East gave you. Perhaps it was one of those stories that got told over and over so many times that it may as well have been a memory. The star. The caravan of travellers. The unusual gifts.

Epiphany is the season we celebrate the recognition that the prophecy of a Messiah had come true. God sent Jesus into the world whether anyone recognized him or not. Yet this Sunday we celebrate that someone did recognize ~ several some-ones, in fact. They weren’t from Jesus country or tribe. They weren’t even from his religious or cultural tradition. But these Magi ~ wise men ~ astrologers ~ Kings from the East sought out and found the king of the Jews so they could worship him. Hundreds of years before the prophet Isaiah foretold, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn…bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”

A manifestation is an indication of the existence, reality, or presence of something. It is one of the forms in which someone or something ~ such as a person, divine being or idea ~ is revealed. As Christmas we believe that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. As Jesus’ followers we, too, can be a manifestation of God in the world. The Magi were sincere and persistent in their search for the source of the bright star they followed. It wasn’t a short journey but one that may have taken as long as two years. And even so, they didn’t seek to honor themselves. They didn’t pat themselves on the back for their sticktoitivnes. Instead they gladly humbled themselves kneeling before a peasant woman and her child ~ giving her (and us) a wonderful story to tell for generations to come.

As the preacher Thomas long put it, “…the world is full of ‘stars in the East’ – events in nature, personal experiences and history that point to the mystery of God.” Are you open to the mystery? Are you willing to humble yourselves at the feet of the child and give the treasures of your heart? This is the season we celebrate the recognition that the prophecy of a Messiah has come true. Do you recognize Mary’s son as God’s own son sent into the world? Are you willing to follow the star wherever it may lead? Let us pray:

Epiphanies, the making manifest, the showing forth,

the coming together of end and beginning – thanks be to you, O God,

for all that you do for us and to us.

Be with us in this season and let us comprehend the birth of your Son.

Let us change our lives because of it – and grow in us now. Amen.