Feast of the Epiphany (transferred) January 5, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY (transferred)

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

A star that moves across the sky.

 

Three travelers from afar:

they may be astrologers, magi, kings,

we’re not sure,

but they are exotic-and-important looking . . .

 

We will call them – the wise men.

 

Herod:

paranoid king

of Roman-occupied Judea,

cruel and murderous despot.

 

And an infant:

God incarnate.

 

A stirring drama

of

mystery,

political intrigue,

suspense,

spiritual quest,

and transformation

is unfolding.

 

 

The place: Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

 

The time: Sometime after the birth of Jesus

and before the flight into Egypt.

 

ACT 1

 

The curtain rises on

the streets of Jerusalem.

 

Led by a star,

three mysterious strangers

from faraway lands

appear in Jerusalem

with a retinue of servants

and heavily-laden camels and donkeys.

 

In the star,

they had read the announcement

of a newborn king of the Jews.

 

The star beckoned to them

and they set out . . .

and a long, arduous journey it was.

 

What did they expect to find

at its end?

 

A king’s estate?

And a household

of courtiers and servants

and nursemaids attending a child

clothed in regal raiment?

 

 

They have brought gifts

fit for just such a king,

gold and precious incense

and rare ointments.

 

There is, of course, already a king in Judea,

Herod,

king over the Jews, but not of the Jews,

with his legions of soldiers,

wielding the oppressive power of Rome,

and at present,

in residence in his Jerusalem palace.

 

The wise men

don’t make the diplomatic courtesy call

expected of passing-through dignitaries.

 

Instead, they go about the Jerusalem

streets and shops and cafes

inquiring

as to the whereabouts

of the newborn king.

 

What are they thinking?

 

Do they not realize

that word of a new king

might be troubling

to the present king?

 

(Curtain.)

 

 

 

ACT 2

 

The curtain rises on

Herod’s courtroom.

 

Herod’s spies,

who lurk around

every Jerusalem corner,

quickly inform him

of the strangers and their quest.

 

For all his kingly power,

Herod is a weak man,

afraid for his throne

and his kingdom,

threatened by anything

that might prove a rallying point

for the rebellious people

under his rule.

 

He sends for the strangers.

 

Waiting for them to arrive,

he paces his throne room

devising a plot

against the child.

 

Smiling and obsequious he is

with the strangers,

charming in a cobra-like fashion,

hiding the real reason

for his questions.

 

 

Exactly when did the star appear? he asks.

And where is the child to be found?

Perhaps you will return and tell me?

I myself would like to greet him.

 

Will they fall for it?

 

Note that they

have brought gifts fit for a king

but do not offer them to Herod.

 

They are saving them for another.

 

(Curtain.)

 

 

ACT 3

 

The curtain rises on –

Bethlehem.

 

Led by the star,

the wise men arrive in

the small working-class town

of Bethlehem.

 

What a stir they create

as they navigate its narrow streets,

the plodding of hooves on the hard-packed clay,

the jangle of harnesses and creaking of saddles,

camels and donkeys snorting and braying,

drovers calling out their commands –

 

 

the whole clattering caravan

finally arriving

at a small ordinary house

to find an ordinary-looking child

attended only by his ordinary mother and father.

 

Have they come all this way

for such an ordinary ending?

 

Then, as they consider the child,

as they consider the child,

their eyes are opened

to see a king who is no ordinary king:

 

whose power will be manifest

not in military might

but in vulnerability,

 

whose wealth will lie

not in worldly goods

but in the people

who will love and follow him;

 

whose kingdom will consist

not of physical territory

and oppressed subjects,

but of spiritual territory

and beloved disciples.

 

A king who will not, like Herod,

kill to protect his kingdom,

but who will die

to bring God’s kingdom into being.

 

 

The wise men have come seeking a king

and have encountered the Holy One;

 

they fall to their knees, and worship Him.

 

And the meaning of their gifts is revealed,

gifts fit for the kind of king they have found:

 

gold for royalty,

incense for deity,

and myrrh, embalming ointment,

for one who will die.

 

(Curtain.)

 

 

ACT 4

 

The curtain rises on

a field just outside Bethlehem.

 

The wise men and their caravan

are encamped

behind the little house

where they encountered the Christ.

 

In the early morning,

the three wake suddenly from sleep.

 

Each has had the same disturbing dream,

in which Herod’s true intentions

toward the child

have been revealed.

 

 

How much time do they have

before Herod realizes

they will not return to him

with word of the child’s location?

 

How much time do they have

before Herod’s spies

discover their encampment,

and the house,

and the child?

 

Shaking their servants awake,

they hastily prepare for departure.

 

There is no time for food

for man or beast.

They must be on their way

before the dawn.

 

Shouts of the servants

fill the air

as they pack the travel chests,

strike and fold the tents,

kick groaning, spitting camels

and complaining donkeys to their feet,

load all their baggage,

and in a rising swirl of dust,

set off for their home countries . . .

 

by a different road.

 

 

Their encounter with the child Jesus,

with the Holy,

has changed these wise men

and their perceptions,

given them a deeper wisdom,

a new understanding of the world

and their role in it.

 

They have seen the Herods of the world

for what they are,

and have refused to collaborate with them.

 

Even though they return

to the same lands,

the way they follow is different,

and what they find on their return

will be different,

because they will see it

with different eyes

and experience it

with different hearts.

 

What will they do

because of this transformation?

 

We don’t know,

because Matthew’s script of this drama

has ended.

 

The wise men and all their entourage

dwindle to mere specks

as they travel into the distance

and disappear

into the mists of time.

 

(Curtain.)

ACT 5

 

The curtain rises.

The place: Here.

The time: Epiphany 2020.

The players: Us.

 

The drama of the wise men may have ended,

but the story continues

in all who have since followed the star

to find the child born in Bethlehem.

 

An ordinary infant

wrapped in bands of cloth

lying in a makeshift cradle,

gazing up in newborn wonder

at our faces looking down.

 

Consider that child.

 

Something in those eyes . . .

 

something the wise men saw . . .

 

something there for us, too . . .

 

In the infant Jesus,

“the boundless riches of Christ . . .”

“the mystery hidden for ages

in God who created all things.”

 

 

You cannot look into the eyes

of that Mystery

and return unchanged.

 

Who will we be,

What will we do,

because of this encounter?

 

 

“The Incarnation is the manifestation

of the love of God,

not merely in the person of the Child of Bethlehem,

but in the persons of all whom Christ attaches to himself.

We are each of us incarnations of divine love,

since we are members of Christ.”

 

Words of Richard Meux Benson,

founder of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist,

an Episcopal monastic order.

 

“The Incarnation is the manifestation

of the love of God,

not merely in the person of the Child of Bethlehem,

but in the persons of all whom Christ attaches to himself.

 

“We are each of us incarnations of divine love,

since we are members of Christ.”

Richard Meux Benson, SSJE (1824-1915)

from Brother, Give Us a Word, 12/30/14

 

 

We are members of Christ,

attached to Christ by our baptism,

and in our ordinary flesh

and our ordinary lives,

incarnations of divine love.

 

In us,

something of the mystery hidden for ages,

something of the boundless riches of Christ,

is even now being made manifest.

 

Something of the love,

the mercy,

the justice,

the peace,

of God.

 

And so we bring

our own offerings

to the Child:

 

our very ordinary

bread, and wine, and money

 

and our selves

 

that God may take them,

bless them,

transform them,

use them . . .

 

bread and wine,

to infuse us with the very life of Christ,

 

 

money,

to sustain Christ’s incarnation as Church,

 

ourselves

that we may become

what we receive

 

the life of Christ given for the world.

 

 

When people consider us,

may that be

what they see.

 

 

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