Today is the Sunday we celebrate the The Epiphany of the Lord which happens this Wednesday. If you’ve been paying attention to the Lectionary, you know that we began in Advent by following the Gospel of Luke, but today we switch over to Mathew because Mathew is the only one who mentions this part of the story. In order to get the complete nativity scene that we’ve grown accustomed complete with shepherds angels and wisemen, we have to combine Mathew and Luke. Mark has no birth story at all.
The wisemen are also translated “magi,” and also translated “astrologers” depending on the language and translation. It’s a bit of mystery how we got the number three (probably due to the number of gifts) and how we assume that they were Kings, as illustrated in this morning’s opening hymn. “Magi” is derived from “magic” and magic is not viewed favorably in the New Testament. Just for fun, I decided to read Martin Luther’s sermon written in 1522 on the Epiphany (Clearly I need to get out more) But Martin Luther refers to these men as doing the work of the devil most of the time, but this one occasion, in searching for the Christ child they were forgiven their evil ways and redeemed somehow.
Astrology, then as it is today is generally perceived by two camps of people. Those who read the papers horoscopes for entertainment but generally dismiss it as nothing but fun entertainment…and those who study it in great death, incorporating ancient practices, taking into accounts, rising signs, moon sign, 12 houses of signs that influence those signs. I should know, I have good friends who have sent me small books on what’s called my chart. And I’ve enjoyed learning about it. I’ve also enjoyed Tarot cards, also dismissed by Orthodox teachers. I enjoy the I Ching, an ancient Chinese practice of throwing coins. I think interpreting dreams is of great value, and the practice of yoga has become a favorite of mine.
But in all of of my enjoyment of all of these things is one common denominator. That is the search for something outside of myself.
What makes some of us like the magi, seek in hope of finding? Why is it that some of us, find ourselves searching, like astrologers, in darkness for light, while others are content to accept the current state, those who accept perhaps their own state of discontent as part of life, and place it to the side. Those of us who search, follow stars literarily or metaphorically, always looking for new avenues, finding ourselves standing in the self help section of the book store, the how to books, the guide to better this, to happier that, to more confidence, more self realization, heightened consciousness, all promising either overtly or subtly, a happier more fulfilled life.
My assumption is, that if you are here today, or any Sunday, that you are one of those people who have searched, are searching or will search again… I make that assumption, because I wouldn’t know how to preach any other way.
God comes down in the form of a baby who takes on flesh and blood with us. And everyone is invited into the story. That’s the summary of the Christmas eve sermon. And now, roughly two weeks later, we search the heavens and stars as the way that leads us to a baby, this embodiment of God’s life, God’s light and God’s love in flesh and blood. The seekers, those who search, those who ponder and study, are led there. My New Year hope is that you and I begin today, to accept our own search as the magi’s search 2000 years ago, and to place Jesus Christ as the answer to the very thing you have been longing for, the thing you search for. Theoretically we have done this once and for all at Baptism, but as life and time would have it, we find ourselves searching and longing, and are called to follow a star each year, each day, multiple times a day.
I remember driving my children crazy when they were young, and I would enforce a set period of time each day called “quiet time” no tv, no technology, and they would come to me and say I’m bored, and I would reply by saying, “oh good” because I knew that their boredom would lead them to doing something creative. The adult version is not much different, whether we call it boredom, or dissatisfaction, as your pastor, if you came to me and told me you were missing something in your life, discontent, empty in some way, I might say out loud without thinking, “Oh good.” Because I know, in emptiness can begin a beautiful search for more…Like magi who follow a star in darkness…A search, a hungering for Jesus.
We fill up our longing with things that don’t and cannot possibly fulfill us for a lifetime. We fool ourselves into thinking they can. We falsely place as the center of life, give all of our energy and attention to anything other than God because we are culturally accustomed. We fill up our longing, not only with the things we already know as false idols such as money, power, greed, like the bad guy in our story, Herod who manipulates, and feels threatened, and hides his motivation.
But there are other ways that distract us in our search for meaning, for connection, for Jesus… We place the center of lives on exercise, on eating well, on family, on falling in love, working hard, reading, learning, anything that takes us away from placing the grace of God as the center of our lives, will eventually fade away, will eventually fail us. I know that is hard to hear. It’s even harder to experience. But it’s also a wonderful place to begin. It’s where we begin today. Our Epiphany begins in darkness searching, following a light that eventually leads us to our ultimate dependency on God and God alone, through Jesus Christ. The star in scripture, through inaccurate translations is misleading.. We get the false impression that it stays in the sky leading the magi like a aviation system in our car. But the star appears in Bethlehem, which means it had gone missing for some time, on their journey, but they kept searching, in the dark, and light appeared further indicating it was gifted to them. Their journey was guided not by their own doing, but by following even in the dark, God’s doing.
I remember watching the Wizard of Oz, with my kids and their distaste towards Glinda’s admission at the end that Dorothy had always had the power to return home. That her ability had been with her in the shoes she had been gifted, the shoes she never did anything to deserve, the shoes she happened upon. Dorothy had been given everything she needed, to return home.Everything you need in your search has been given to you by God. It’s all right here. And nothing you do, no road, no book, no external thing will awaken you to it, except this; your own awakening, your own epiphanies, as you follow God given stars that fall and rise again, bringing you closer to God and Jesus Christ.
Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest, author and theologian has this to say about our searching …
We do not find our own center; it finds us. Our own mind will not be able to figure it out. .… We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.
We live ourselves into new ways of thinking….Our restless searching, our longing, our long journeys, rest in God. We rest in God. In star light and in darkness, our entire being and life rests in God.
 Inspired by an Augustine quote Confessions