Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Feast of the Epiphany

Preached by the Rev. John Good at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, January 6, 2010.

Let me begin by wondering why some discerning, non-Jewish sages made a significantly difficult journey to worship a toddler who had been identified by angels, shepherds, and at least two people in the Jerusalem Temple as the promised Jewish Messiah. The hope of a Messiah was peculiar to the Jews. It was not a hope of the Gentiles, which is what the Jews called all the other peoples around them. Why, then, did these gentiles, whom Matthew calls wise, drop everything when a strange star appeared and set out to find this Jewish Savior?

I think the answer is found in the yearning of all people of all cultures to find meaning, identity, and worth in an absurd world. Those longings have never been confined to any one group of people or to any one particular era. It is a universal urge that is manifest in the deep desire of all human beings to attach themselves to something much greater than themselves—a cause, an institution, a nation, or a religious faith that transcends the limits of their personal lives. Those are the kinds of things that give human beings a purpose beyond their own need for self-gratification so that they can know their place in the grand scheme of things, and feel they "amount to something in this world." What made the wise men wise was that they understood the universal need of human beings to answer the ultimate questions about meaning, identity, and worth in this life and consciously pondered the mysteries of the universe to find answers to them. When the Star of Bethlehem signaled another mystery unfolding before them, they followed it hoping to find more answers.

The years have not changed the longings of human beings. We want to know the deeper meanings that lie beneath the surface of this life as much as the wise men of old. We want to know that we amount to something because we have lived for something that transcends our selfish wants and needs—something that serves some eternal purpose. But where is our star? What sign do we have that will lead us to the source of meaning, identity, and worth?

Our star is right here, my friends, in this Cathedral. Here is where God’s salvation of meaning, identity and worth is proclaimed and where his gifts to us are celebrated. Here is where the good news is broadcast that God has entered our life and bought our freedom from slavery to sin with his own blood. Here is where we proclaim and celebrate God’s vindication of a life lived for others, justified by the resurarection of the crucified Jesus. Here is where we come to worship Jesus, as the wise men came to worship him so long ago, in gratitude that God has revealed to us, through the life of this human being, the mystery of love that makes the struggle of life worth the effort.

We who gather week after week in this place have found our star. But for every one of us there are four or five or even a dozen others who do not know that the Church is the wise man’s and the wise woman’s star of today. Remember that not all the gentile sages who saw the star of Jesus recognized it for what it was. So again, in our own day, there are millions upon millions in our own country who do not recognize the Church as the star that can lead all people to the mystery that will satisfy their deepest longings.

Yet those very same millions who do not see the church as a star still yearn for the mystery that gives meaning, identity, and worth to individual human lives. Our star can become their star if our star’s light shines brighter than the tinsel stars of the secular world that compete for followers in our earthly galaxy. If each of us takes it upon ourselves to be a missionary of the Messiah where we live, work, and play, showing our love in concrete ways to everyone we encounter as our Messiah showed his, our star will shine more brightly than the others. People who do not love others, and especially people who do not love themselves, will wonder what we are up to when we love them. They might even ask us why we do that. If they do, we can point to the star that led us to discover meaning, identity, and worth in life, and invite them to come with us to see the Messiah to which our star led us.

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