Epiphany—Pay Attention!

More than 2,000 years ago, a surprising and intriguing new star appeared in our galaxy. Hardly anyone noticed, but some did. This coming Thursday, January 6, 2022, is the Feast of the Epiphany. That which had been hidden is now revealed. The “Aha!” moment. Epiphany. Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’”

Magi. Magicians. Zoroastrians. Astrologers. These were the ones who came from the east in search of the newborn King of the Jews. A familiar, yet odd, story in the sense that the Christ gets the attention of non-Jews from foreign lands because of signs in the stars. Really? Zodiac Jesus?

I must admit that I always cringe a bit when someone offers up a trite theological nugget like, “Well, religious differences don’t really matter. We’re all just on different roads that lead to the same place.” I often want to reply sarcastically, “Is that so? Then why don’t you just hop on any random road after church and see if you wind up at home?” But then I realize that these Magi don’t understand or care much about insider things like the covenant with Abraham, Torah, Exodus, circumcision, the Davidic dynasty, the prophets, deliverance from exile, and the hope for Messiah that comprise Judaism, yet they still come to worship Jesus, the “King of the Jews.” They’re clearly outsiders. Or they had been.

What they do understand is that creation itself—the heavens—has been transformed and that whoever’s birth would call forth the star of Bethlehem’s sign must be worthy of long journeys, expensive gifts, and awe that issues forth in worship. And then God speaks to these wise ones in a dream. A different road, indeed, led them to the Christ and to the God whom that Christ most fully reveals! The lines of insider vs. outsider are forever blurred, if not completely erased! For some. Others, like Herod, will go to any length to kill even a baby who might eventually upset the status quo and threaten his hold on power.

You might (or might not) know that Bishop Eaton’s and the ELCA’s “Future Directions” reorganization is heavily focused on reaching new people. A least a million in the next few years. They may or may not show up in our buildings and for our programs, but we’re reaching out to them, and while we treasure all age groups and demographics as image-of-God and redeemed-in-Christ precious children, we are unashamedly focusing on outreach to younger people and to ethnic-specific groups whom this church (ELCA and predecessor bodies) has miserably failed to reach. We are committed to not becoming Herod-like preservers of institution and status quo at all costs, but seekers, followers, of Jesus.

Our purpose, our calling, as church is to make Christ known and then, with the Spirit’s help, to make disciples who worship, learn, pray, care, give, and serve. We’ve been tiptoeing as Church, looking over our shoulders, worrying about our self-preservation, who’s in and who’s out, long enough. It’s time to learn again to be bold, to expand the circle, to resolve to be vessels of Christ, the light of the world, as our primary purpose rather than being entirely consumed by polarized insider debates.

That’s really what the Epiphany is all about. Had there been any question before, this God of the Jews is now revealed beyond any doubt to all people. Celestial bodies shine and point to Jesus who, though clearly a Jew, brings hope and salvation to all people. Even me, in my theological snobbery. Even you. Not only earth, but galaxies shine, dance, and point the way, if we, with the Magi, but pay attention!

Walking with you,

The Rev. Timothy M. Smith, NC Synod Bishop

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