Today is Epiphany Sunday, the first Sunday of the New Year. Today is the day that we generally reserve to talk about the manifestation of God's saving intervention in history and how that is seen in the actions of the Magi or wisemen. This morning we are going to spend our time together looking at how those actions not only express the hope, peace, joy, and love we were preparing ourselves for during Advent, but how those ideals can live on all year long.
A World of ICE
Yesterday my family and I had the opportunity to go to Orlando and tour the ICE Exhibit at the Gaylord Palms Hotel. This is an exhibit that is made totally of ice and takes 38 Japanese Artisans to create and a 9 degree environment to maintain. They had clear ice, colored ice, huge sculptures, small sculptures, they even had an ice slide at the end. I was in awe at how festive this place was. Christmas was around every corner and to cap this entire exhibit off was a life size, full nativity that had a recorded narrator tell the story of Christ's birth. There were even spotlights that would turn on and off to put emphasis on certain characters. I was incredibly moved and inspired by this thing.
This time of year we do a real good job of remembering the Christ child. Everywhere I drove this month I saw numerous signs paying homage to remember that the Christ child is the true focus of this holiday. I saw all sorts of car magnets that said the familiar “Keep Christ in Christmas” or “Jesus is the reason for the season”. I even saw several signs that said “Merry Christmas” with the letters that spell Christ in all caps within the word Christmas. We do a marvelous job at remembering and speaking about Christ at Christmas or CHRISTmas time. But what about the rest of the year? I bet when I drive around in the next few weeks everyone of those signs will be gone and there will be nothing about remembering Christ in their place. The signs will vanish, the car magnets will be removed, and Christ will be packed away like so many holiday decorations.
But why? Why has this become our modis operandi, our standard operating procedure? Why does our emphasis and public support of Christ lessen outside of Christmas? Why do we let those ideals of hope, peace, joy, and love disappear from the public eye after New Year's?
Where Do We Go Now?
Understanding this penchant of ours I began looking at our story of the Magi or Three Wisemen and there were a couple of traits of theirs that really stood out to me. Traits that will really help us to keep the hope of Christmas alive all year long.
As our lesson opens the Magi are in Jerusalem and asking about the birthplace of Christ. They explain they saw a star in the east and have been following it so they could find this new king and worship him. King Herod hears about this, his paranoia kicks in, and he summons the Magi. He pumps them for everything they knew under the guise that he wants to worship this new king as well. But we all know that Herod is really afraid that this new king will grow up and try and overthrow him. There is no intent to worship Christ, just destroy him.
The Magi leave and continue their search and eventually find Christ, with his mother, and feeling overjoyed they present Him with gifts, bow down, and worship Him. Once the Magi complete what they set out to do, and after begin warned in a dream to not report what they have discovered back to Herod, they go home another route.
These men can teach us a lot. One of the roles of these Magi was to study the heavens looking for signs of God. And one night they found one. The sign was a star so bright that they had no doubt about its purpose. But what is important is not what they found but their reaction to it. They dropped everything and followed it. They did not study it. They did not ask questions. They did not undertake a mountain of preparations. They dropped what they were doing and followed it. Have you ever found yourself moved by the Spirit, encouraged to take a leap of faith, and for whatever reason found a way out of it? Sat on the feeling long enough and it subsided? It is easy to do, life will make it easy to do, fear will make it easy to do. This year I encourage to break that trend. Pray for courage, ask for the opportunity. And when it happens drop everything and go. Maybe it is a missionary trip overseas. Maybe it is helping with a local charity. Maybe it is writing letters to people at nursing homes who have no family. When given the opportunity to follow God this year, do your best to drop everything and go!
The next thing we can learn from these Magi is that there is a place at the manger for you and for me. In this point in time Gentiles were not highly regarded. This region was for Jews and essentially run by the Jews. In fact these Magi were the first to refer to the Christ child as King of Jews. But these Magi were not Jews. They were Gentiles and they came anyway. They knew that this King was not going to be just for one group of people, but for all people; Jews and Gentiles and rich and poor. There was no longer going to be just one group of God's chosen people. We all have access to God through Jesus Christ. The Magi showed us this by dropping everything, following the star, and coming to worship the Christ child.
The Magi have a prominent place in our Nativity scene. But they are more than just astronomers, more than just kings, more than just glorified delivery boys. They teach us that the hope of Christmas can live on.
As we were leaving this exhibit I caught a short glimpse of a video about how this whole creation gets setup and taken down. And the final scene was an enormous, bare, empty, dark room. Now that Christmas is over and the decorations are packed away, are we allow ourselves to become an enormous, bare, empty dark room, or will we make certain that the hope of Christ is alive within us ALL year long. Love those you meet, always speak kindly to everyone you encounter, and work to keep your soul and your life alive with hope that was born in the Christ child.