GOSPEL: Matthew 2:1-12
Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
It is not often that the Day of Epiphany falls on a Sunday. Epiphany is a pretty important feast day on the church calendar after all. Yet, it often gets the short end of the stick as we usually only observe it when it lands on a Sunday.
Epiphany tells a story what we usually associate with Christmas proper – the story of the Magi or Wise men coming to visit the Christ child. We really ought to save the part of the Christmas pageant where the children dressed in bath robes and paper crowns give gifts to the baby in the manger for today, rather than for Christmas.
Of course, Epiphany and Christmas are closely related, as the season of Christmas only ended yesterday with 12th night. Yet, Epiphany tells a different part of the story, Epiphany moves us along in a different way than Christmas does. Epiphany is kind of like the sequel to Christmas, the next chapter of the story.
As Matthew tells us the Epiphany story, he begins by locating us in time and place. Wise men or magi arrive in Bethlehem in the time of King Herod. King Herod is mentioned to remind us that this is a time of oppression and suffering for the people of Israel. Bethlehem is also mentioned to remind us of the hometown of another King of Israel, King David. King David and King Herod who could not be more of a contrast. King Herod was a puppet tyrant of Roman occupiers and King David presided over Israel’s glory days.
And in this moment, the Magi, foreign and mysterious kings or seers, arrive at Herod’s doorstep bringing disruption. They are asking for directions to the newly born King of the Jews that they have seen foretold in prophesy… except Herod’s wife did not just give birth to a son. The Magi send Herod’s world is sent into chaos.
Herod responds by conspiring to find this newborn king and get rid of him – by destroying the threat to his power and security. And he tries to use the Magi to do it.
And so not finding the newborn king they were expecting in the royal palace, the Magi continue to follow the star that has led them this far. They are led to a completely unexpected and surprising place, the house of a peasant family in a mill town – to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. There they give gifts suitable for a royal baby and worship this prophesied king. Yet before returning to Herod, they are warned in a dream to chose another path back to their own country.
This Epiphany story is one of movement and disruption. The Christ child born into the world doesn’t just stay at the manger, but instead causes disruption. The powers and principalities of the world are disrupted. Herod’s tyrannical rule over Israel is thrown into chaos… the mysterious Magi themselves are set on a new path after meeting the holy family… and even Mary, Joseph and Jesus themselves will soon be escaping to Egypt, fleeing the soldiers of Herod who are sent to kill all the baby boys of Bethlehem.
This story of Epiphany disruption is one that we know well. As each new church year begins in Advent, the church is aimed at Christmas. Advent and the stories heard throughout that season bring us to Christmas and the manger moment. With the prophets of old, with John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zachariah, with shepherds and angels, with Mary and Joseph, we are gathered up and set down at the manger moment – the moment of God coming into the world.
And oh how nice would it be to just stay in that Christmas bubble. If we could only live in that candle light moment of Christmas Eve, singing the sweet carols of Silent Nights and Mangers.
But that is not where Epiphany leaves us. That is not where this Christ-child born into our world leaves us. Instead we are disrupted. The Christmas bubble is disrupted by a world that doesn’t stop very long for Christmas. Just when we thought we could catch our breath a little longer, school and work begin again, programs and activities resume and responsibilities at home, at work and at church all come crashing back into our laps. The world turns us back to the turmoil and conflict and drama that fills our facebook feeds and the evening news.
And of course here, at Sherwood Park, the bubble of the excitement of calling a new pastor is also disrupted today. Disrupted by the arrival and new beginning of that pastor. There is suddenly someone new in the pulpit and in the office. Everything feels different and changed. And like those Magi who were looking for one thing, for Royal babies in royal palaces, this new ministry between us might be revealed in unexpected places. And like those Magi, the experience of the Christ-child will set us on a new and unexpected path.
But that doesn’t make the disruption easy.
Epiphany, and the new path we are set on, is not easy.
Unlike Christmas, a point in the story where we land, where we arrive and pause for a moment, Epiphany is a hinge, a part of the story that moves us from one place to the next.
Epiphany swings us from the anticipation of Messiah in Advent and the coming of Christ at Christmas, to Jesus’ work and ministry in the world to come. Epiphany sets us along with Jesus on a path towardsLent and Good Friday and the cross… towards crucifixion and death. Towards resurrection and new life.
This is the reality underneath stories of jealous kings and mysterious magi… that God has sent to us the Christ… the Christ who is about the business of changing us and everything, of putting us on new paths that we didn’t expect, but new paths that we will lead us out of sin and suffering and death. New paths that lead to new life.
But still, the new paths of Epiphany bring the powers and principalities into chaos. The soldiers will still be sent for the children of Bethlehem. And we too will resist the Christ’s coming trying to hold onto the things that make us feel comfortable, powerful and secure. The magi still must travel this new road to find what they were looking for and to escape the danger that comes with finding and worshiping the one true God. And finding the things that we are looking for, that we are longing for is not likely to happen. Things going the way we expect is not part of God’s plan for us.
But we know this. As the Church in this time and place, we know that Epiphany disruption is far more our story than the Christmas bubble. We know that the Church that we used to know, the glory days that sit so clearly in our memories and hearts just won’t come back no matter how hard we try to revive them. Instead, Jesus seems to have other plans for us, new paths and new directions that we are not so sure about.
This reality, the reality of what God is doing in the world, the reality of Christ’s coming into creation, incarnate, in flesh is what has been simmering beneath the surface the entire time. From the beginning of Advent, from the beginning of all creation, Christ’s coming into our world has been disrupting us.
The disruption isn’t easy.
But it is what we need.
Because this Messiah, this Christ-child found in Bethlehem at the home of Mary and Jospeh on this Day of Epiphany just after Christmas is the one who comes into our world to save us. To save us from ourselves and to save us from sin and to save us from death.
And the disruption…
The disruption is salvation.
Disruption that we encounter today on Epiphany and every time we gather as the Body of Christ.
Disruption from sin found in the forgiveness that God proclaims here.
Disruption from hopelessness found in God’s word of hope and Good News announced in this place.
Disruption from isolation found in water by which God joins us to the Body of Christ.
Disruption from the hunger that keeps us clinging to the wrong things found in the Bread and Wine, Christ’s Body and Blood that feeds us for new life.
And so on this disruptive 13th day after Christmas, the day of Epiphany that sets us in motion anew, God in Christ reminds us that the disruption, the chaos brought our power and sense of security… that this disruption is God’s new path for us … the new chapter of the story… this is story of God’s work of saving us, disrupting from sin and death…
This is they story of Epiphany, God disrupting us from the bubble of Christmas, in order to move us into New Life in Christ.