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1/7/24 Sermon

View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQcK0o8imjg.



Matthew 2:1-12 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star in the east and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him, and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet:


‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you shall come a ruler    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”


Then Herod secretly called for the magi and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out, and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


Blessing of the Magi


There is no reversing

this road.

The path that bore you here

goes in one direction only,

every step drawing you

down a way

by which you will not

return.

You thought arrival

was everything,

that your entire journey

ended with kneeling

in the place

you had spent all

to find.

When you laid down

your gift,

release came with such ease,

your treasure tumbling

from your hands

in awe and

benediction.

Now the knowledge

of your leaving

comes like a stone laid

over your heart,

the familiar path closed

and not even the solace

of a star

to guide your way.


You will set out in fear.

You will set out in dream.

But you will set out

by that other road

that lies in shadow

and in dark.

We cannot show you

the route that will

take you home;

that way is yours

and will be found

in the walking.

But we tell you,

you will wonder

at how the light you thought

you had left behind

goes with you,

spilling from

your empty hands,

shimmering beneath

your homeward feet,

illuminating the road

with every step

you take.

—Jan Richardson


This morning we are celebrating Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.


This sermon is inspired by Andrew Nagy-Benson, co-author with Andi Lloyd of  the UCC church in Castine, of “Letters from the Ecotone.” When I was at The BTS Center Convocation last Fall, I attended their small group discussion about their book. We focused particularly about where we find hope, and this was one piece of the conversation that has stayed with me. 


Andrew suggested six things we can learn from the Magi:


Look up

Leave home

Ask questions

Kneel down

Give what you can

Go home differently


We are aware of the historical narrative of our scriptures – how it went for those seekers 2,000 years ago. They looked up and became aware of a rogue star and had the courage to leave the safety of their own homes and to follow that star through unknown regions where they were at times unwelcome foreigners, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? They persevered, and when the star led them to the Holy Family, they knelt down, realizing that  they brought gifts meant for another sort of king, but still, offered what they had with reverence and joy. Trusting the divine voice that came to them in a dream, they went home by another way, further risking their lives by going against the directive of King Herod. 


How might it be for us?


Do we remember to Look up? Do we appreciate the night sky? Where might the stars lead us if we took the time to ponder them? Where are our gifts and talents needed right now? Are we willing to Leave home and do the work for which the world is crying out? How far are we willing to go? Leaving home could be metaphorical – expanding our circle of family and friends to include those we do not yet know, perhaps from other religions or cultures, living in our midst or living in their homelands. Or leaving home could be literal, traveling to do mission work in the wake of natural disasters or as a result of governmental oppressions, here in the United States or abroad, in places that we otherwise only see or read about.


I know this travel and this work is beyond the physical capacities of many here. That is why I started with the metaphorical and will end with the invitation for those who are able to finance the work that needs to be done. Which brings us to Ask questions. Who needs help, what kind of help, where? No matter our age, our mobility, our finances, we can and must stay informed. Stay compassionate, stay curious, remain compelled to help end suffering.

This next suggestion often gets forgotten or ignored, but take care of yourself first. It is a new year and a great time to recommit to old practices or to create new ones. What are you doing for your own physical, mental, and spiritual health each day? Think about it. Set some goals.

Try to set one daily or weekly goal for each of the three: physical health, mental health, spiritual health. These could include Kneel down, literally or metaphorically improving your physical health, your mental health, and your spiritual health. Exercise your body and your mind as you are able. Metaphorically kneel down and humble yourself by learning about the lives and needs of others. Spiritually humble yourself, kneel down by acknowledging how tiny we are in relation to the Universe in which we live. 


Rather than feel like we cannot make a difference in the grand scheme of things, let us help one another to realize that together we can do great things. Give what you can, when you can, as often as you can. Give your time, your energy, your skills, your encouragement.

Together we will make the world a better place. 


Go home differently than the way you arrived. Continue to risk new adventures, welcome new challenges, be bold and brave. Remember that you are not expected to go through this life alone. The Magi traveled together pooling their wisdom and resources. They trusted the Universe to guide them toward good and away from evil. Our bulletin artist this morning, Lauren Wright Pittman reminds us to revel in the wonder and the joy of the journey. As we embark on this new year’s journey around the sun may we hold these inspirations from the Magi in our hearts and minds, allowing them to influence our day to day interactions. May our interplay with the natural world, the earth and sky and waters, be respectful and life affirming.

May our relationship with the supernatural world, where God dwells in the Universe awaiting and welcoming our overtures, be mysterious and loving and rich. May our relationship with our human siblings be kind and generous, mirroring the love which is all around us every moment of every day. 

Amen

Rev. TJ Mack – January 7, 2024



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