Being Part of Something Big – January 10, 2021
Isaiah 60:1-3, Matthew 2:1-2
January 10, 2021
Today we celebrate Epiphany – the visit of the Maji – the “Wise Men” of the Christmas story. And we call them “Wise” because they were “seers.” They studied the stars, and they believed what happened in the heavens affected life on earth. They were seen as wise by their people, who looked to them as guides for their lives.
That was their religion. It was very likely the religion of Zoroastrianism. (If you remember that one from your High School history class!) It’s been said that our modern-day interest in Astrology was derived from theirs. And it’s also said that our modern version is only a pale comparison to how complex and important theirs was to them. These people lived their lives by what they saw in the heavens. And to have the knowledge of the stars was to have great influence over people. So, these “Wise Men” were very influential, and very wealthy!
Well, in this story, they saw something! They knew something was going to happen – something big! And they wanted to be part of it. So, they loaded up their caravan, and headed west! Whatever it was, they “saw it in the stars.” We have an expression like that. When something is meant to happen, when it’s destined to happen, we say that it’s “in the stars!”
We got a little hint of their world just before Christmas this year, when we talked about the conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn. Some were calling that the “Christmas star.” And that may not have been that far from the truth. The Christmas star – the star these men saw – was something in the heavens that caused them to go and seek a newborn “King of the Jews.” Some scholars believe they may have seen a conjunction of two objects in the sky, one that represented Israel, and one that represented royalty.
Something like that seems likely to me. Because these men didn’t just see an object. Whatever they saw had specific meaning to them. It told them that a king would be born in Israel. And it was seen in a certain part of the sky, at a certain time. Remember, Herod wanted to know what time the star appeared.
That may have been a big part of this. Because, as you know, the objects in the night sky move from east to west, just like our sun. And the planets all move along the same path that our sun moves on. It’s a line in the sky called the “ecliptic.” That’s the plane all the planets rotate on, like a big disk. You may have seen models of the Solar System before. And when observed from the Earth, that line arcs across the sky and ends in the west. So, if these wise men were in the East, they would have seen this conjunction – if that’s what it was – if planets were involved, and they would have seen it move and set in the west.
Whatever it was, they knew that something big was happening! And they thought it was so big, they wanted to be part of it. And I think that’s the same with us. We are part of this big event that these men came seeking to be part of two thousand years ago. I think it’s amazing, to be part of something that big. And with us it means something not just spiritual, but also something historical! This “thing” happened! That’s Epiphany!
All of that quickly became very ironic to me as I was thinking about Epiphany this week. Because Epiphany is one of those religious “celebrations” that does not fall on a Sunday – like Christmas! Epiphany actually takes place on a specific date. And that date is always January 6th. (Just think “12 Drummers drumming!”) And on January 6th this year, we witnessed some other historic events. And they were some very sad events. We watched the siege of the US capitol building.
I have to take a moment to talk about that today. Because, as I watched it all unfold, I remember thinking, “Did we ever think we would live to see the day when something like this would happen?” And I’m still thinking that! Maybe you are, too.
As I thought about that, it also occurred to me, that, in my lifetime, I’ve lived to see other historic events, I’ve lived to see twice, what only ever happened once before in our history, the impeachment of a president. I’ve also lived to see the only time a president ever resigned from office – and a vice president! I’ve seen a president occupy the oval office who was not elected by the people! And if I think way back in my lifetime, I remember that I lived to see one of the most devastating presidential assassinations in our history. And now this…
I am so sad for my country this week. “We’re all in this together.” That’s what we’ve been saying that about Covid. But we’re not. We are bitterly divided. And we have got to figure out a way to lessen the divisions between us, to somehow get behind our leaders, and to be united as a country.
We have got to end the ongoing practice of starting the next presidential campaign on inauguration day. That’s what’s been happening for years! As soon as a president is sworn in, or even before, the “other party” is already figuring ways of discrediting him, of criticizing him, and excoriating him, maybe even getting rid of him, so they can regain the power. (And they both do it!)
We have got to change all that! And the pessimist part of me says, I doubt that can happen. We are too deeply entrenched in our divisions, and we have lost the ability to show any kind of respect for those with whom we disagree. As a nation, we’ve bought into the idea of kill or be killed. No compromise!
We need to learn better as a nation. And the reason I say any of that this morning, is that I have to say – at the top of my lungs – that we in the Church should know how to do that the best of all!
Because we are part of something big! Something that caused these men from a different country, a different culture, and a different religion, to pack up and go seek the Christ child. We are part of that same something that calls us to seek the Christ child, as did those wise men long ago. We are part of something big, and it calls us to follow the one they found, the one who broke down barriers, who loved unconditionally, and who did so because he knew that’s what would make the best life for the people he so loved! For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son! He loved the world that much! And he still does! Now it’s our job to love the world!
Eternal God, help us as a nation to learn your ways. Help us to look to Jesus as our true example, of how to love each other. Help us to seek your light, so that your light might shine through us to the rest of the world. Help us to be the humble, loving, compassionate, joyous people that Jesus was, when he came to live among us. For we earnestly pray in his name, Amen.