Monday, January 2, 2012

Sermon for the Epiphany Sunday

Sermon for the Epiphany Sunday, Transferred: January 2, 2012
By the Rev. Kate Ekrem

Now that all the parties are over, the traveling is done, the gifts are open, the wrapping paper is cleaned up, we can spend a moment, some of our first moments in this new year, considering what Christmas is really all about. It’s no secret that I sometimes get frustrated with the sentimentality of this season, although at the same time it’s fun to indulge in, too. But I think part of my frustration is that when we get sucked into the sentimentality of thinking of this as the most holy, special magical time of the year, we forget to ask, why? 

Well, there is a reason, and a good one. It’s a holy and magical time of year because it’s the time when we remember that God became one of us. When God, who, for centuries and millennia of human thought was up there, out of reach, maybe not really interested in creatures on the face of the earth, showed for once and for all that God was and is passionately, devotedly, interested in the ins and outs of our daily lives, so much so that God became a human being – and not by just, say automatically making himself king of everything, which he could have done, but by being born as a very ordinary baby to a very normal family. God wants us to know him. That’s the mystery of Christmas.
God wants to be in relationship with us in a way that only by being one of us can God really be. It’s sort of a hokey example, especially when applied to God, but it’s sort of like being a foreign exchange student. You can never get to know another culture or country well unless you go and live there, right? Unless you eat the food and talk the language, and experience what the schools or public transportation or health care system are like. Then you know the people, then you understand them. In a way, that’s sort of what Jesus did with us. To really know us, and to let us know him, too.
That’s why the magi, who we celebrate today, are such an important part of this story. All along the Christmas story has shown us that it’s not about who we think it should be about. It’s not about King Herod, not about the religious or political leaders. The angels appear to homeless shepherds in the hinterlands to announce this birth. Mary and Joseph are ordinary folks, and the animals are the first one to witness the birth.  But just when the poor and ordinary may be thinking this story is only about them, the magi show up.  To let people know it’s not about just one group or even one religion or one nation either.  God is for everyone. God wants to be with all people. And maybe, perhaps, God wants all people to be for each other.  
This is especially interesting because of Matthew’s gospel, which is the only one that includes this story about the magi, was written to a Jewish community.  Matthew is specifically saying to his community it’s not just about you.  And this was shocking news.  Matthew’s community might have been justified in thinking it was all about them.  After all the Bible said and still says they are God’s chosen people. But the magi show that they are to be the means by which God’s love is shown to other nations, to the whole world.  And as one commentator has said the magi were only the tip of a very big iceberg.  It wasn’t just about nationality but about race, gender, class, and everything else that separates people from one another.  What happened in that stable was intended to catch like fire and illuminate the whole world.   
So what are we to do with this?  How do we let the mystery of Christmas continue on into our lives, our world, or even just the rest of this new year? I wonder about that foreign exchange student idea. I wonder if one way to bring the piece of god, the light of God that is in you, to meet the light of God that is in someone else, is to try a foreign exchange student experiment in your own life, even if just an imaginary one. Imagine life from someone else’s perspective – maybe someone you feel you just don’t understand, like people who vote for the other political party. Or imagine what the life or perspective of your boss or your secretary or your child’s teacher or go and visit Bristol Lodge soup kitchen or our food pantry and talk to the clients about their lives, or think about doing a real foreign exchange and going to El Hogar this year. And in doing that, let’s especially remember that this person also shines with the light of God, this person also is someone Jesus  especially came into the world to get to know, this person also is part of the mystery of Christmas, this person may actually be a magi, a wise person from a different culture, place and time who has much to teach us about God and about ourselves.
The Epiphany season is about light. Being agents and vessels of God’s light and sharing that light with the world. The people of Israel were asked by Isaiah to be carriers of God’s light and love and purpose to all the nations. We who know the mystery of Christmas are likewise called to share the light. I think we do that whenever we let someone know of God’s love and presence with us, that God came into the world to be with us out of love for us. I think we also do that when we live out the truth of God that God is equally for all the people of the world, and  God’s light shines out of the church most clearly of all when we don’t let differences be divisions, when we see clearly that in all our diversity and individuality, we are part of one whole, one light. 

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