Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Epiphany of our Lord, Year C
January 6, 2019
Lessons: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people celebrate that Jesus is made known to all people. Our job is to be grateful stewards of this amazing good news.
Key Scripture: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1
Funny how something can be right in front of our face, and we still miss it! I wonder if that’s how Herod felt when the wise scholars (aka three wise men or three kings) came a-calling with their astrological calculations and desire to worship this king of the Jews? We sanitize the story in our Christmas pageants and traditions with children in bathrobes and strange headgear and porcelain wise men moving ever closer to the crèche scene, but it’s a fascinating story of insiders and outsiders wrapped in political intrigue and infanticide. Told aright this tale would definitely earn an “R” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.
So just how will we proclaim this gospel message on Sunday? How do we teach about this first of three great manifestations of who Jesus truly is (the other two being his baptism and his first miracle at the wedding in Cana)? Do we recognize Jesus’ presence among us any more readily than did Herod and the religious leaders of his day? Perhaps we today need wise scholars from other traditions to point to Jesus. Is it possible for us to hear words and ideas from other sources and religious traditions that strengthen our own faith and illumine the light of Christ in fresh and vivid ways?
I am reminded of Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Naht Hahn’s writings about Jesus, for example. In his book Living Buddha, Living Christ, he says: “Our faith must be alive. It cannot be just a set of rigid beliefs and notions. Our faith must evolve every day and bring us joy, peace, freedom, and love. Faith implies practice, living our daily life in mindfulness.
“And our actions must be modeled after those of the living Buddha or the living Christ. If we live as they did, we will have deep understanding and pure actions, and we will do our share to help create a more peaceful world for our children and all of the children of God.”
Are we to be threatened by the words of a wise teacher from another tradition, or might those words give us valuable insight into Jesus and how we as his followers can more faithfully follow him and look for him at work in the world?
It is easy for us humans to become so rigidly wrapped up in our own experience of God incarnate that we fail to see the very star in the night sky that would lead us to a deeper and fuller experience of the Christ. We, like Herod or any number of other leaders, are threatened by that which we do not know, understand, or by which we are somehow intimidated or annoyed. We try to contain God in comfortably sized boxes of our own construction, an attempt at control and power that ultimately fails miserably, as did Herod’s horrific attempt to eliminate the infant king and his threat of deposition.
Instead, let us be wise stewards of this marvelous, mysterious, and wholly untamable gift of God among us—Jesus. What gifts to we have to bring to him? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh probably aren’t readily available, but our hearts and lives are perfect offerings. In giving all of ourselves to Jesus, we open ourselves to the boundless and amazing love and grace of God. No longer do we need fear “the other” (be that person an immigrant, a wise teacher from another faith tradition, or our neighbor with whom we disagree politically, or any combination thereof) as a threat to what we perceive we may have. Instead, we see the one star amongst the millions in the far reaches of the night sky, that same sky that the wise scholars from our gospel studied. Yes, we see Jesus, our king, our Lord, our hope and light. Can you see him? Can you see Jesus wherever and whenever you look? Arise, shine; for your light has come!
This year in worship, consider blessing chalk to give to worshipers to take home and bless their houses. Consider wrapping each piece of chalk with a bit of gold ribbon and include an order of blessing with the chalk—place both in a small paper bag or plastic baggy, as chalk can be messy.
Be sure and bless the entrance to your house of worship, too! Here’s a link to a home blessing that you may wish to use or adapt. Here’s a comprehensive description from the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. ELCA Lutherans may wish to consult Sundays and Seasons or this online blog post from ELCA Worship. Finally, here’s a resource from the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona that includes a “Blessing of the Chalk” to take place during the liturgy.
Sometimes a little bit of humor can open the door for deeper discussions. Consider showing this clip from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian as a way to enter a conversation about how the wise scholars searched for and found Jesus. Why would this be important to people from outside the Jewish tradition of Palestine? What might we learn from others outside of our own faith traditions?
This week’s focus verse is Matthew 2:11: On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Summarize the gospel story for the children. Ask them what they notice about this story. Is it the gifts? Is it the distance these wise scholars have traveled? Is it how they do not allow King Herod to trick them into telling him where the infant King is to be found?
Then ask them how it might be that these scholars were able to discern Jesus’ birth from far away. How did they identify just the right star in among the millions in the night sky? How could they know?
Now ask them how we know about Jesus today. What signs tell us about Jesus? Where do we go to look for Jesus? Do we look just in church? Are there signs of Jesus in the world all around us? What are they?
Finally, what gifts do we have to bring to Jesus? Remind them of the Christmas carol/poem by Christina Rossetti “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The final verse reads: “What can I give Him,/Poor as I am?/If I were a shepherd/I would bring a lamb,/If I were a Wise Man/I would do my part,—/Yet what I can I give Him,/Give my heart.”
This is a gift that all of us can give to Jesus. It may seem small, but it is the most important thing, and truly is everything. If we give Jesus our heart, then all the other good gifts we have to give will follow, along with every decision and action and choice.
Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Where have you seen Jesus this week, and what did you do about it? Do you seek Jesus on a regular basis? Do you find him in unexpected places? This week’s gospel reminds us that sometimes the people and places we least expect point us to our Lord. May our faithful stewardship of the gospel keep you always alert and looking for signs of Jesus everywhere you go.
Stewardship at Home
Be sure to take time to bless your home today using some form of the blessing mentioned in this week’s “In Worship” resources. Pay special attention each day as you work, travel, shop, and interact with family, friends, and strangers. Where do you see Jesus manifested before your eyes? What surprises you? Delights you? Unsettles you? Comforts you? One thing is for sure: Jesus is all around us, and very often in unexpected places, among unexpected people, and in unexpected or unusual ways. Be sure to find ways to share your observations and experiences with others in your home circle or faith community.
Photos: Pascal Volk, Sharron Blezard, and Sergei Tereschenko, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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