Stacks Image 5401
Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2:1-12

January 3, 2016

Year C

It is Epiphany Sunday and we carry in our heads images of stars, wise men, kings and gifts – these are images that are familiar to us, and when we hear the story read from Matthew, it is with a level of comfort that we hear it – however, there are questions we can ask: Why the magi?

Magi is translated into English as “wise men,” and we can assume there were three only because they brought three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Nowhere does it say there were three of them. Sometimes they are called astrologer’s; how did these magi, these wise men, these astrologers get into the story?

My translation uses “magi”: Where did the word magi come from?

Magi comes from the word magic - hence magicians, but they were not magicians in the modern sense of the word. Rather, the word refers to a kind of spiritual figure: magi had wisdom by being in touch with another reality. Their wisdom was a “secret wisdom,” a kind not known by ordinary people. That is why Herod called them when he wanted information about the night sky and in this story, he wants to know about the star that leads to Bethlehem.

No doubt some were astrologers in the sense that they paid attention to “signs in the heavens,” but to think of magi as primarily astrologers is misleading. Rather, magi were people with a more earthly wisdom. They were also known as Pagans.

I suspect there were many reasons to insert the magi/wise men into the Christian birth story. These magi are placed here in the lectionary on Epiphany Sunday. So, let’s pull together the magi and the epiphany.

We can assume that they are meant to have an element of surprise. Epiphany moments are those moments when we say aha, I see, I get it. It is that moment, when we understand something in a new light. Good literature always has an epiphany moment when the reader says, “ aha”.

In the story I read from Matthew, there is a baby - a half naked infant born to illiterate no account parents. Then in the door of the barn saunters the well educated foreigners.

These men, the magi, come offering gifts to a baby who will eventually attempt to change the fabric of the entire society within which the magi are very comfortable and have power.

There, kneeling in a barn these rich foreign wise men represent the world. They represent us and as they offered their gifts to Mary and to the babe, they had a sense of great joy. It was the Epiphany moment – a moment when they recognised the players in the story. It is then they would have to think about who they were in the scheme of things, because the experience changed them.

Since that day, over 2000 years ago, we too, are changed.

The story changes us, or at least it might change us. The season of Epiphany is a short interlude in the church year. Only six weeks this year. I believe it is one of the most creative and insightful church seasons, because it offers us an opportunity to consider again, what the birth story means for our lives. We do this in different ways, such as: journaling, writing, or reading poetry, reading a novel, or reflecting.

We come and worship the new- born child. Many people come only once a year and that is on Christmas Eve night.

Most of you were present for Advent and for Christmas Eve, and now we arrive at Epiphany.

This birthing is important in a spiritual sense.

Since the birth we have done our best to dress up that child, we have put a superhuman cloak around his neck, we have put a crown on his head, then for the most part, we keep him shut up in the church where he can’t cause trouble. We are happy enough to have him here and there in the church. He is visible for a few weeks and then what? He goes back down to the basement until next year? The birth is over, our birthing is over?

Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan in their book, “The First Christmas,” say this is an important story, and suggests we view it as parable, and that we need to place it first of all in its first century context and then ask what it means for us now.

We can still ask, is Jesus' way in the world a light gleaming – showing us the way, and do the Herod's of the world still seek to extinguish the goodness that surrounds us in our world? Do the magi, the ones with spiritual gifts, the ones with wisdom, the ones connected to the earth - the ones who gaze up at the moon and the stars, are they still here?

I would like to think we still have the magi with us – and as I said earlier, they are us – the wise ones bringing gifts – that would have been our role in the story. I hope it still is – with the spirituality, wisdom, earth connections and star gazing to go along with it.

Let's pretend that we are the magi, or you can think you really are one. That would be good too. If we are the magi would that make us an Epiphany people, willing to welcome birth again and again? The magi were willing to risk their lives by making the journey to see the baby and bring gifts. They continued to defy Herod by coming and then they took a different way home.

As magi what will you do this year? It's a bit like making a New Year resolution, which I make none. Well close to none.

Perhaps I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but it might be a time to reflect on what has changed me. It could be a time to think about what has made a difference in my life. Of course I am always reminded of Haida Gwaii and indeed it did change my life and my thinking. But this morning, I want to share a different story with you. This story takes place fifteen years ago and it is about my brother. My brother’s name is Marvin and I have permission to tell his story.

Fifteen years ago Marvin married a young woman, Mary Ann, in Davo City, Philippines. In time they had a baby boy and they named him Marvic. Shortly after Marvic was born, Marvin, his Dad decided to journey from Canada to Davo City to visit.

His good friend Russ came over one afternoon and he said to Marvin, “I have bought a wagon for Marvic and I need you to take it with you, and give it to Marvic. The wagon is made of wood with high sides and it is painted red. It comes apart and you will be able to easily put it back together. ”

Marvin said, “No, I am not taking a wagon to the Philippines. Take it back to the store and get something smaller, like maybe a Massy Ferguson tractor. Besides, I will have to pay extra to take a box with a wagon in it. It’s oversize.”

Russ said, “I will pay the extra cost.” And so Russ won the argument, and Marvin took the wagon.

He got to the Philippines, and they opened the wagon and put it together and Marvic’s mother said, “It makes a perfect bed for Marvic.” And so Marvic used the wagon for a bed and so did his brother, born a year later and then his cousin used it and then another more distant relative. Now they don’t know where it is, but they rest assured someone, somewhere is using it for a baby’s bed.

There were a few ahha moments for me in Russ and Marvin’s story, it is a birth story, the birth of a babe, the birth of a stronger friendship between two men and the birth of abundance at an unexpected moment when the wagon became a crib. I came to understand more fully that people can be happy when I didn’t fully understand how that would happen.

I hope the star is visible for us as we follow it to our next birth and the next and I hope we feel our earthly wisdom seeping into our bones and giving us everything we need.

Let us keep that baby, born on Christmas, in our hearts, so that the light will shine for us and guide us to where we need to be. Let us be brave and courageous in what we do. Today we go out as the magi bearing gifts and insights to the world.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood