We celebrated New Year’s Eve last week. Does anyone have a New Year’s resolution?
We are all familiar with the usual ones: eat better, get control of our finances, spend more quality time with people we love …
I always have one resolution. It’s a wish, really. A prayer. I hope to be a better disciple. To live more fully into a Christ-like person.
Please don’t roll your eyes and think I am sanctimonious.
“Of course the pastor says she wants to be more God-like. Why can’t she just want to lose weight like everybody else?”
Well, I would like to exercise more regularly. Actually, I would like exercise to happen to me so I don’t have to actually be there.
But I really do want to be a good disciple, an effective pastor, and a purer conduit for the Holy Spirit.
I bring this up because today we are observing the feast of the Epiphany.
In colloquial terms, “epiphany” means a revelation or a sudden, life-changing realization. Epiphanies often happen in a dramatic way. An “a-ha” moment, like Newton figuring out gravity or Martin Luther realizing that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
In liturgical terms, Epiphany, with a capital “E,” is the story of the Magi finding the Christ child – the first Gentiles’ “a-ha” moment when they realize that God has come among us. As a baby.
It’s probably one of the more familiar stories in the Bible, although it appears only in Matthew. Some magi have followed a star in the East to King Herod in Jerusalem. They ask him directions to the other king, the King of the Jews. Herod is frightened to imagine that there is a king out there who is so compelling that foreigners are driven to seek him out. He asks the Magi to tell him where to find this other king so he, too, can pay homage. The Magi find Jesus and worship him. They offer him very strange gifts for a baby. Then they are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and so they don’t.
It’s so familiar, it’s easy not to think about it very deeply. It’s easy to boil it down to “We Three Kings” and designing on magi outfits for Christmas pageants.
But when I really consider today’s scripture, I realize am not one of the magi.
I am in league with Herod.
I am the white daughter of two white, married, middle class parents. I have two advanced degrees, I’ve been married to the same man for 25 years and we own our own home.
OK, we own almost 1/3 of our own home. But we have a secure place to live.
We have health insurance and private transportation and I am confident that my child will always have enough to eat. I part of Jerusalem’s elite.
When magi come asking me about the King of the Jews, I am frightened. I mean, in general I think God is a good idea, but what does the Prince of Peace mean for my health insurance? What do I have to lose for people in need gain?
I don’t want to be in league with Herod. But what else can I do?
Enter the magi. One biblical scholar says the magi are perfect models for discipleship.
First of all, they had been studying with anticipation and expectation. They knew the prophecy of a King, and believed it could come true in their lifetime.
Second, they didn’t just study. They observed the world around them. They looked out the window for signs. When they saw the star, they recognized what it could be.
Third, they sought confirmation. They thought they knew what the star meant, but they went to check it out in person.
Fourth, they were willing to ask for directions along the way. Herod wasn’t a great choice, but that’s another matter.
Fifth, when they confirmed that the sign had led them to the King, they worshiped him with everything. First, they offered their whole beings in homage. Then they offered the gifts they had brought. They didn’t hold anything back, and they didn’t apologize that they didn’t have more to offer.
Finally, they remained humble. After they had found the prophecy fulfilled, they remained open to further revelation and continued to respond to divine inspiration.
And so here is my prayer for 2020:
May we seek Christ with enthusiasm and anticipation. May we ground ourselves in the Word through Bible study, small groups, personal devotions, and worship. May we hunger for Him. May we want to fill ourselves with the wisdom of our foremothers and forefathers in faith so that when Christ arrives, we will recognize him. May we be delighted, but not surprised, when we find him.
May we pay attention to our world. Not just our personal circles, but people we bump into on our commute or in the grocery store. What’s going on in our city, our region, our nation – all of creation. Let us watch for manifestations of God’s promises in scripture so that we don’t miss them. Who knows what signs we have missed already?
May we put our money where our mouths are. May we not be disciples who only sit in pews. Let us put our bodies where our hearts are and confirm the leadings of the Spirit not only through special mission projects, but in how we live our lives every day. Let us trust that, if we fail, more will be revealed. And if we succeed, that we will be equipped as we need, when we need it.
May we be willing to ask directions, to ask for help. That may mean that we make ourselves vulnerable to each other as individuals. Or that as a congregation we seek out collaboration with other congregations – especially those who know terrain that is unfamiliar to us.
May we in all things first surrender ourselves to our Creator and praise our Maker’s wondrous works. Let us always praise God the Father for giving us each other and life’s experiences.
Let us thank God the Son for coming alongside us to show us how to be our best selves. Let us thank him for reassuring us that we are never lost to God, no matter how we mess up.
And let us thank God the Spirit for staying with us. For the spark of life that lets us celebrate joy. For comfort in our suffering. For inspiration that lets us find meaning in it all.
Finally, may we remain humble and wait upon the Lord. Pay attention to our dreams – the dreams we dream at night, daydreams that allow our imaginations to fly free, God sightings. God’s Spirit has poured out on us. We are made to prophesy and see visions. So may we be receptive to the subtle – or not so subtle – nudges of the Spirit that will tell us where God might be leading us. Let us be willing to receive those messages honestly, even when they are scary or difficult.
We no longer see that same star in the East, that sign that pointed the magi toward the Messiah. We have something even better. We have the Messiah. In this post-Christmas season, let us, like the magi, having seen our Savior, turn ourselves outward to live into the Good News.
Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
 William V. Arnold, “Epiphany of the Lord: Matthew 2:1-12: Pastoral Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration Sunday, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: John Knox, 2008), pp. 212-216.