Sunday, January 06, 2008

Where is the Child that was Born King of the Jews?

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
January 6, 2008 – The Feast of the Epiphany

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

Where is the Child who was born King of the Jews?

Well, they finally made it. These past couple of weeks each time I’ve passed through church in my mind I’ve kind of encouraged the three wise men, “Come on , keep going you’re almost there. Just a little bit farther” And now today we celebrate that they made it. Today we celebrate the arrival of the wise men in Bethlehem. Today we celebrate Epiphany.

The Epiphany story is so beautiful and so powerful. It strikes a chord deep inside of us. We don’t really know anything about these wise men – or kings – or astrologers, or whoever they were. Although the cast is a mystery, it’s a story that strikes something inside of us. Epiphany is a powerful story with two deeply related parts. First, God’s love is manifested in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God says to the whole world – “Here, this is who I am.” “This is how much I love you.” And the second part of Epiphany is the response of the wise men to this manifestation – they give gifts to Jesus.

Epiphany: a powerful story of manifestation and response.

Somehow this story of wise men traveling from who knows where to the backwater town of Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews strikes a chord in many of us.
To this day Cologne Cathedral in Germany contains the shrine of the Three Kings – I had the chance to see it back in the 80s. The shrine is a large golden sarcophagus that supposedly contains the remains of the Magi. Because the Epiphany story is so powerful, it was quite a catch for Cologne to get these relics. Not surprisingly since medieval times the shrine has attracted many pilgrims and people continue to visit it everyday.

Epiphany –a powerful story of manifestation and response. It’s a story in two parts – the manifestation of God’s love in Jesus and the gifts that the wise men give to the Baby Jesus.

I think the power of the story comes from the search for Jesus. The wise men ask when they arrive in Jerusalem, “Where is the child that has been born the king of the Jews?” They are looking for Jesus. Part of the power of the Epiphany story comes from these people taking a chance, following a star, and searching for the king – searching for Jesus.

The truth is, we may be a little envious of the wise men. In some ways they had it easier than we do. Yes, they had to leave their homes. Yes, they had to follow the star. Yes, they had to trust. Yes, they had to outwit Herod. But, at the end of their journey they found the child, the newborn king, they found God’s love. They found Jesus under the star.

There in the manger, God’s love is manifested in Jesus. The wise men can see him, hear him, and present him with their gifts.

We are also on a quest for Jesus. But today Jesus, who is God’s love, is not made manifest in the same way as he was for the wise men. No, we are in the same position as the apostle Thomas. We are challenged to believe without seeing, to believe without hearing, to believe without touching. But, although we are in a very different situation than the wise men, the two parts of the Epiphany story remain the same – the manifestation of God’s love and the call for us to respond to God’s love.

We are on a quest for Jesus. Where is the child who was born the king of the Jews? Where is Jesus? How is God’s love made manifest today, here and now, right here in Madison? How is Jesus made manifest right here at Grace Church? And how can we respond? What gifts can we give to Jesus?

In thinking about where to find Jesus today I was reminded of a famous quote from Teresa of Avila, the 16th Century Spanish mystic. She said, “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

Very beautiful and very true. So maybe our quest is easier than the quest faced by the wise men. We do not have to travel to a distant land to find Christ. We can find Christ inside of us and in the people who are around us. If we pay attention, if we are mindful, we can experience Epiphany every day. If we pay attention, if we are mindful, we will find that God is made manifest in Jesus right here and right now.

So in my quest for Jesus, my quest for God’s love here at Grace Church I did the obvious thing – I opened up the latest edition of The Messenger.

One of the things I still haven’t gotten used to here at Grace is how much is going on week after week. It’s amazing, and sometimes a bit overwhelming to be part of a church that does so much.

As I mindfully flipped through The Messenger, God’s love was made manifest on page after page.

There was the story of Chris Wilde running in the Marine Corps Marathon and raising $3400 to support research to cure Leukemia and Lymphoma. Epiphany.

There was the story of our children making Christmas cards for the residents of Pine Acres and talking about how Jesus didn’t just talk about doing things, he did them. Epiphany.

One of the children told the story of being at the nursing home. He said, “I took my best card, you know the one I had spent all this time making, and there was this guy sitting in the corner, and like no one was looking at him or going to him. So I went over there, and I gave it to him.” Epiphany.

There was the story of Grace parishioners donating gifts so that the Recycling Ministry could make a wonderful Christmas for ten families and ten adults. Epiphany.

And speaking of the Recycling Ministry, on a nearly daily basis Kit and his crew manifest God’s love and in very concrete ways transform people’s lives. Epiphany.

There was the story of the Rite 13 bake sale raising $80 for Heifer International. Along with a generous donation from the Outreach Committee, we were able to make real difference in the lives of people in the developing world. Epiphany.

No, I’m not done - there’s more! There was the story of thirty-four parishioners donating food to the Community Soup Kitchen in Morristown and thirteen parishioners working in the kitchen serving over 200 meals. Epiphany.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. God’s love is made manifest right here at Grace Church. It turns out, if we pay attention, Epiphany happens everyday, right here, right now.

As Christians we are called to manifest God’s love in the world. We are all called as Teresa of Avila put it, to be Christ’s body, to be Christ’s eyes, to be Christ’s feet, to be Christ’s hands.

Which brings us to the second part of Epiphany – our response. We know how the wise men responded – by giving their gifts. So how about us? In that same issue of The Messenger there were lots of upcoming opportunities to manifest Jesus in the world. There are lots of potential Epiphanies.

There is another soup kitchen date in February. Kit is always looking for some help on the truck. In The Messenger I wrote about our new “Driven by Grace” program. What a gift to drive someone to church who couldn’t get here otherwise!

On February 20, St. Vincent’s Church will be hosting the interfaith homeless shelter. What a gift to offer shelter to people who have no place to rest!

On February 3, we’ll be celebrating “Souper Bowl Sunday” with soup pots available for donations after every service. The money raised will go directly to the Community Soup Kitchen in Morristown. What a gift to make a donation that we know directly benefits people in our own community.

If we pay attention, there are so many potential Epiphanies. There are so many ways for God’s love to be made manifest, right here and now.

So, on this Epiphany let’s celebrate that the wise men made it. They completed their quest. They encountered God’s love in Jesus. And they responded by giving gifts. If we pay attention we can encounter God’s love here and now. How will we respond?