homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
The Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2016
No doubt some of you were at church on the fourth Sunday of Advent. That’s the day the children contributed the Advent pageant to our liturgy. Of course, we didn’t call it a Christmas pageant because it wasn’t yet Christmas. But we covered all the relevant subject matter. We even introduced the Magi using Godly Play language: “They are always late, it seems. Every year they are late. They don’t usually arrive until January 6th, but we remember them anyway, because, like us, they are on the way to Bethlehem.”
During that pageant, we also introduced the Wild Star—the star that these astrologers from the east couldn’t find on any of their charts—the star that went wherever it wanted to go. And Katy, age 5, dressed as a star, came tearing joyfully down the center aisle and headed for the side aisle. The Magi saw the star and set out to follow it, to see what message it wanted to reveal to them. But our particular Magi had a slow time spurring their camel to action, so they were late. By the time they got to the side aisle to follow the Wild Star, the Wild Star had torn up the center aisle again … and it was now behind them! You could see the looks on their faces as they scanned this gigantic room for the star and eventually had to turn all the way around to find her: “Wait, what?”
There’s something wonderfully appropriate about that. We try to follow the Wild Star, and next thing you know, it’s following us. Have you ever set out to seek God, only to find that God was actually pursuing you—to use a different metaphor, the hound of heaven hot on your heels? Christy and I have a plaque in our house that reads: “Love—a fierce, fiery love—the love by which God pursues us.” That fiery star is after us.
A friend of C. S. Lewis once found himself, to his own great shock, becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. Lewis remarked, “The Holy Spirit is after you. I doubt you’ll get away!”
God calls us to join in that loving pursuit, later or sooner. It’s never too late to begin the journey, actually. So in that spirit, here we are at January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. Christmas has just now ended. The season of Epiphany, which begins with the arrival of the Magi, is all about the revealing of Christ to the world.
We could talk about all the little tidbits I love to point out about the Magi: that they are not called kings in the Bible, but that this idea comes to us through today’s reading from Isaiah and today’s psalm … that there aren’t necessarily only three of them, but that we assume three because of the three gifts … that they appear only in Matthew’s gospel, while the shepherds appear only in Luke’s gospel … that because of this, they don’t come to a stable, but to a house where Mary and Joseph seem to have been living for some time.
Those are all interesting things to think about. But I think the most important thing is that Jesus is born like any other baby. Like any other Jewish boy at the time, he is circumcised at eight days old, dedicated to God at forty days old. His parents bring him to the temple at the age of twelve years, and he ditches them like any self-focused middle schooler might, so excited to learn about God that he forgets about the needs of his parents. Jesus is just like us.
At the same time, there’s something different about this boy. These few stories are all we have of his childhood, and then the revealing picks up again when Jesus is a mature adult coming to John for baptism. We will celebrate that feast this coming Sunday. Jesus is baptized like anyone else might be, but a voice from heaven announces him to be God’s son. Jesus is just like us, except that he’s completely different.
Throughout the next five weeks, we will continue to explore the paradox of the one who is completely human and completely divine. It’s the most shocking claim we make as Christians. How could an ordinary person perform such miracles of healing … such signs of wonder … such bold, loving actions in violation of social norms, conventional wisdom, and any sense of propriety? Where did his graced words of comfort and challenge come from? They couldn’t have come from an ordinary man. Here, indeed, was a man who should be worshiped as God! Wait, what?
The scandal of Jesus, the man-who-is-also-God, is the theme of the season of Epiphany. This is the man who said, “Let your light shine,” all the while letting his own light shone brightly. At our baptism, we receive our light, and then it is time to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. It is our job to seek out God’s plans and then show up and be a part of them. That doesn’t mean giving God one hour a week, but our entire lives. We are to become increasingly aware of God’s loving presence. We are to be ever more conscious of God’s demands on our time and energy, because God wants our every moment and our every effort. And this is important, too: this doesn’t mean burning ourselves out, but converting the very nature of the things we are doing already! God blesses our good works, and God redeems our failures. God gives us each other: our families, our friends, our colleagues, and strangers—all of our interactions with people are to be baptized by God’s call to us.
I hope that you can stay for dinner tonight, and then stay the evening. Come learn about Journey, our name for the catechumenal process, that ancient series of rites that leads to baptism for those who are not yet baptized, and to reaffirmation of our baptismal vows for everyone else. Join a group of people who are chasing after God by exploring the ways he was revealed to us in Jesus. But once you join that "Jesus Movement," don’t be surprised to turn around and find that God is chasing after you! Amen.