By Rev. Joan Kessler
Reading: Matthew 12:1-12
I love the words found in this piece of music, "May It Be"… it is what the season Epiphany means to me at this moment in time. Those of you who are Lord of the Rings fans may know this song already, as it was the closing piece for the Friendship of the Ring installation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy. It sings of the human experience of travel and movement in a very haunting and compelling kind of way… of going off in a direction where you may not be certain of what awaits you. Yet, you trust the way and there is a promise within you now…. so humbling and yet so beautiful.
I did some traveling of my own recently and I flew to Edmonton to spend Christmas with my daughters. It was my first time flying since the arrival of COVID some two years ago. It quickly became apparent to me that this means of travel has undergone considerable adjustments and refits to make it a safe experience for passengers. But I must admit, it was a bit of an anxious time. Flights were being canceled and the assumption that my flight would leave when it was scheduled was something I could no longer take for granted. Airline and airport security staff were out sick and you cannot do what you do not have means to do… so patience is indeed a virtue as you wait. I just felt like a stranger in the strange land of the airport. But then I reflected that It’s much like the changes we experienced post 9/11 and all the safety and security enhancements that had to be made… we adjusted… things didn’t return to the way they used to be… and I suspect COVID safety protocols will not be removed once an end to the pandemic is declared. But we are created to adapt and to change. May It Be.
I’ve heard from many of you that Christmas was quiet. It may have seen you returning to the ways you used to celebrate with family and friends but it was likely more subdued and in smaller groups than Christmases of the past. I wonder if COVID has us reimagining our expectations around the holidays. I wonder if we take a change-of-plans a bit more in-stride over the past few weeks? I have certainly felt this in the ease with which we have moved back to online Zoom services. We know how to do this… it really is rather remarkable when one considers. Could this be a benefit of the pandemic, that we have become more flexible and can change course? Future planning still feels very far away but we can continue to dream for our community of faith and head out on the road together, moving towards our goals that will one day be more fully realized… an inclusive and welcoming place that shares the teachings of Jesus. May It Be.
Today we hear the old story of the magi bringing their gifts to the infant Jesus. These were foreigners who came from afar, with a different culture and knowledge and worldviews. They calculated and they planned; they knew their astronomy and astrology. And something compelled them to set out on a most perilous journey by night, following a star they believed revealed something special, something the world had never known before. Upon their arrival, the magi asked for the one who would be King of the Jews… a question that brought a lifetime of trouble to Jesus and his movement… a question of his identity that put the powers that be on edge, and made them fearful of losing their power. This dynamic put into motion events that eventually cost Jesus his life.
These wise men were not Jewish but rather Zoroastrian, an Iranian religion, and one of the world’s oldest practices of faith. We could say their visit to the home of Jesus and his family was the first inter-faith, ecumenical gathering! This baby was for the whole world. But their encounter with Herod over the location of the infant Jesus left them concerned and perplexed for they had reason to believe that Jesus’ life may be in danger. They kept the news of his whereabouts to themselves. While we are not told explicitly, we get the sense that the magi didn’t get the outcome they had expected and yet it was still an epiphany. They saw, they left their gifts, they returned home a different way.
The light that shines in the darkness… it really isn’t new to us. We, too, undertake our journeys where we maybe don’t know the destination or how to get there and maybe even less of a clue as how to return home, to the way things used to be. When we travel the roads of life with a warm and generous heart, we may experience the unexpected but still have moments of epiphany, of wonder and awe and holy mystery. What are the things you have done this past year that speak this experience of epiphany…where have you found moments of personal and spiritual growth? I think we celebrate Epiphany every Sunday that we begin with God Moments. As people of the Way, as followers of Jesus’ example, we are continually heading out on a path that is new, maybe uncertain, perhaps full of reschedules and cancellations and yet, doing things in a new and engaging way.
The season of Epiphany we commence today will invite us to see Jesus in ways that we maybe haven’t noticed before. We read of a story that is, in my humblest of opinions, always reading us. The history may be ancient yet we gather as community Sunday by Sunday to come and see the star and the revelation, the light of the Christ child, innocent, vulnerable, as one who is called to serve and be the Messiah of his people… to liberate them from the unjust powers and authorities that oppressed them. Justice, kindness, compassion, mercy…. these are the qualities of living a life of journey… where we walk in darkness not blinded to what is going on, but by a bright and guiding presence.
As we take down our trees, put our decorations of the season into storage, and head out the door into this new year, may you rediscover the blessing, the presence of Spirit and accompaniment. As Tolkien so poignantly said, all who wander are not lost. What adventures, what epiphanies of things we had never considered before, await us on the journey?
By way of blessing, I leave you with the words of our song:
May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you.
Believe and you will find your way.
A promise lives within you now.
May it be… Amen.