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Epiphany of Change - Sermon for Epiphany 2013

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Sermon for Epiphany / 01/06/2013

Audio of Sermon is available here 

Sermon text: Matthew 2:1-12

Happy Epiphany!

ccl-epiphany 2013.jpg

While kids are already back in school, while people have returned from Christmas vacation, while the after-Christmas sales have been going on for many days now, here in the church, we have only just last night left Christmas season and entered into the new season of Epiphany.

And yet, how is it that Epiphany begins? With our celebration of the the great revelation that teaks place when wise men, Magi, gentiles, really; arrive from the east to bow down in the house of where the newly born messiah is living.

The magi in our passage, the wise men from either Babylonia, Persia, maybe even India have divined that something great is going to be happening. These men aren't Hebrews, they don't even possess characteristics marking good Hebrew practice. The very word magi comes from the same root as magic. they see signs in the sky, in the stars, and the alignment of the planet. They practice divination, they read dreams. And yet, the God of Israel is leading these outsiders to find the one who will free the world from sin and bondage. They have faith and find their way, with highly valued gifts.

King Herod, on the other hand, is frightened, or more precisely, troubled as the original Greek may also be translated. It is understandable. The prophets speak of a king to rule the nations coming out of Bethlehem. He's got a good thing going, he's comfortable, the Romans like him. Even though he's little more than a puppet, he has some degree of power in the land and wants for nothing. It's clearly understandable why he'd be concerned over the threat of some king to take everything away from him..

But what of Jerusalem. The gospel reads, "When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all of Jerusalem with him."

What is it exactly that troubles Jerusalem? This is, after all, the one come to rescue them from the oppression of their overlords; the one of whom the prophets had foretold for many years. But rather than being in awe, or in eager anticipation, hopeful or ready, Jerusalem, as a whole, is troubled.

It's a way of life that's going to be changing. Jerusalem has been in a period of relative peace with itself. They get along with their Roman overlords, it has over thirty years time since there was any particular violence against the people of Judea, and the Jews are allowed to worship in peace and be Jewish. Revelation means that they have to change the way they're doing things. And the people of Jerusalem fear change. They fear what it has in store for them.

They have been hurt so many times before and what they're living in at the moment is a period of relative stability. It doesn't matter to them that they are still in bondage to others, at the moment, things are moving right along and they don't want to agitate the waters. Don't rock the boat.

News of a Messiah is the last thing they want to hear about, because it means that their lives will never be the same. The thing they don't want to hear is that their lives already are not the same and will be changing again. And yet, we know today, that no matter what the people of Jerusalem want, their lives would be changing. This was the revelation! God has brought Christ into the world and there is nothing they can do to keep from changing! The choice they had would be either to fight the news, to try to turn back the tide like Herod would do as he soon does after this, or they could go along with it, accept the news with grace and celebration like the Magi do, following the light to the new revelation of Christ and bowing down before the child, with gifts and overwhelming joy.

Where do we find ourselves at these moments in time? Can anyone identify themselves in those places where you aren't quite happy with things the way they're going, but you can live with them, because you are just afraid of having the rug pulled out from under you. You don't know what is coming around the corner, and things are better off the way they are right now. And isn't it entirely possible to fear God coming into our lives and messing everything up?

I tell you, my brothers and sisters, I felt deeply a call to the ministry as far back as when I was in confirmation. I could visualize myself up here in front of you, doing what I'm doing right now. But I took charge of my life and went a different route. Even at the age of 41, when I started coming back to the church and realized that I had a specific call, I was comfortable in a job that I didn't want to give up, because I had full insurance coverage and good benefits. But it was a job that I was feeling increasingly miserable at. And giving up all that to enter a life of study to become a minister of word and sacrament just seemed like too much. But my life changed anyway. I was let go. And the star was still shining in front of me, and whether or not I thought I was ready, I was given an opportunity to stop running and do what he'd plan on my doing to do for a long time coming. And it's been quite a journey, let me tell you.

And as I follow along what my fellow seminarians are doing, and keep tabs on pastors in the ELCA and outside, and read articles like the one in this week's Lutheran magazine about the declining church; more and more of us are realizing that, in this new, post-Christian world, what it will take to continue to share the gospel is a new way of looking at what evangelism means. And yet many congregations are afraid to take those chances, many Christians look at numbers and statistics and see this as a revelation that the church is dying. So many of us are afraid of opening ourselves to new ways of doing things.

I've heard it said for years that Lutherans are averse to change.

Not what happens between the greeting and the sending here on Sunday morning! Sure making changes in liturgy can be a battle sometimes in some congregations, but what happens with the spreading of the Gospel is not just about what takes place during worship. We don't stop being Christians when we leave the parish hall after Worship.

And I don't even think it's the case that Lutherans are necessarily averse to change, because I have seen Lutherans do things in new and different ways and be attractive to diverse groups of people.

The fact that we are living in a post-Christian society shouldn't frighten us like Herod! It should bring us unbridled joy, like the the wise men! There are more people who don't believe than ever before. More people who classify themselves as non-religious or atheist or agnostic or "spiritual but not religious". We the disciples of the risen savior are now given an opportunity to share this gospel of love with people who have never understood it or think it's about something other than what it is.

Yes, it's a frightening prospect, because we don't know intellectually that our seed planting will yield results. Yes, we may fear that we will lose resources, time, and money. But whether or not we take the time to make the changes in our lives, the world is changing. Christ is on earth. With all that uncertainty, the light is there, shining above us and impelling us to move forward and make the effort.

The good news, my brothers and sisters is that the Savior has come to earth and is coming to us, to be with us and among us and make us disciples of his word and free us with his grace.

We have been given this wonderful gift of the new king of kings. Our wondrous Lord, Jesus Christ is in our midst. We no longer need to be afraid. 

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on January 6, 2013 7:00 PM.

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Unexpected Places - Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 2013 is the next entry in this blog.

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