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Sermons

Epiphany is Lighting Our Way

December 30, 2007

Bible Reading

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. He called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, and asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written, 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"

Herod called the wise men secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go, make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of frankincense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another way.

(Matthew 2:1-12)

Sermon

The great story of the Wise Men traveling far and long to find and visit the newborn King of Israel is a perfect way for us as Christians to put a "capper" on the Christmas season and begin Epiphany season--the season of light. In fact, the Magi's great trek and its spiritual meaning gives us an outstanding foundation for entering a new year together. I say this because in one fell swoop, those wonderful Gentiles helped God to reveal who he was, and also to reveal what we need to do to turn the tide on the selfish, evil, and falsified ways of thinking that created the major problems of humanity in the first place.

Let's face it, friends: those Magi seriously got it right! And now we can thank God that his providence drew them across vast deserts on camels. Their wondrous journey can now replay in our minds, reminding us of the core principles and direction for a wonderful life in Christ.

They were masters of the beautifully ancient wisdom called correspondence, so they knew that a bright star in the sky would herald the coming of the great King. For light is a living symbol of spiritual truth, and they believed that God sends deeply important messages through the symbolic treasures we find in nature. Our theology informs us that they were also serious students of an Ancient Word of God that existed before the time of Abraham. This was an oral tradition, one that Moses learned as well, which foretold the coming of the Messiah King. This is how those ancient Magi, who were not familiar with the written Word of the Lord possessed by Israel, knew how to find the baby Jesus lying secretly in a stable in Bethlehem. Those travelers studied the heavens and waited for God to send forth a special sign. And when that sign appeared, off they went!

The purity and goodness of their faith and how they lived it out will stand for all time. They were truly wise men because they knew deeply that God is all-important, that the Lord is the one source of all love and wisdom, and that therefore every effort is worthwhile to personally search for the Lord as the light who lightens our way. And they saw that God had given them everything of himself through the love that was entering the world in Jesus Christ. So they followed suit and gave their very best back to God, shown in those special gifts they presented to him.

The Magi remind us of the core divine truth given to humanity since our presence here on earth began--the same truth given in the Ten Commandments and then echoed down through every prophet in Israel: that God is real, and God the Lord is the source of all love, goodness, and truth, and every bit of knowledge, and intends that we live good and upright lives--the kind of living that allows the Lord to flow through us beautifully and innocently.

The Magi were not concerned with outer appearances. They did not care how long it would take them to finally see and behold the newborn babe bringing divine love and light here for all to witness and worship. What they cared about was coming personally into God's presence, and feeling the sweetness and goodness of their Savior. They cared about worshipping the one who was to be the Shepherd of Judea, of Israel, of the entire human race. They understood that finding God in Christ, Immanuel, was vital for their own salvation, and in so doing they have lighted the way for all others after them to do the same.

Somehow, those wise men avoided the terrible evils that had brought humanity down out of its original angelic place, that stole our simple, sweet, innocent, and loving way of existence before recorded history began. I think we all know something of those evils, symbolized vividly by the person of King Herod:

  • A belief that my thoughts and knowledge come from myself, and not God.
  • A belief that I can do whatever I want to, and it doesn't matter whether my actions and choice reflect God's purity or not.
  • A belief that what belongs to others is okay for me to take just because I want it or need it.

In short, ancient humanity lost sight of the core meaning and vital importance of God, and that we are here to serve the Lord and his qualities of goodness, which brings spiritual life instead of spiritual death. Those great Magi understood that God was coming fully in Divine-Humanity into our dark and broken world, and that it is paramount that we each personally choose to crown Christ as King of our spiritual and natural levels of life. In so doing, we then proclaim that every core quality of goodness manifested in Jesus--love, righteousness, humility, thankfulness, mercy, strength, faith, and forgiveness, and that all the truth associated with such goodness--must be the center of our love and concern.

This, you see, is what Jesus Christ is! He is love itself, and this makes him wondrously worthy of our worship. He is truth and light! And it is only by being intimately and wonderfully conjoined with the Lord that we are saved. It is only in this way that we live in God's saving grace and in the light flowing from his holy Word, which then inspires all of our thoughts and affections and ways of treating our fellow human beings.

These wise men remind us that nothing is more important than seeking God in our lives, and that sometimes the highest effort will be needed to find Jesus Christ in a personal, saving way. As we read in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." The wise men remind us that we will forever need God in our lives; for having the Lord in us and ourselves in the Lord is the only way to find true, eternal happiness.

The many inherited evil inclinations and ways of twisting God's divine truth, which get passed down from our human ancestry, work hard to convince us that true happiness lies in the delights we find through our five physical senses, as well as in the power and riches that exist in the material world. But those wise men from the orient were not rich from their natural wealth; they were extremely rich because of the spiritual wisdom they had embraced. Our next twelve months of life and beyond, and the degree of happiness we find, rests most of all on how centrally the Lord lives within our thoughts and concerns.

But we need to be aware of how challenging this seemingly simple goal in life really is. The entire Bible story symbolizes the spiritual situation going on within each one of us. It is common for us humans to find ourselves in a situation similar to what Israel was in during Christ's Advent into our world. Our natural human heredity often passionately enjoys having another kind of king on the throne of our minds. Instead of allowing the Lord to be king of our thoughts and aspirations, it can feel ever so good to have a symbolic "King Herod" selfishly--and with some serious paranoia--occupying the throne of leadership in our minds.

In fact, the passion with which our natural mind wants to hang onto the throne of leadership in our minds is revealed by how King Herod plotted to destroy every newborn male child in and around Bethlehem from the age of two on down. Again, we find tremendous symbolism that helps bring light upon our own spiritual journeys. Infant and toddler boys symbolize young truth growing and maturing within us. This could be some form of truth found in the Lord's Word, or some form of personal, intimate truth about us and how God wants us to grow right now. The historical King Herod, who furiously ordered the death of all those little boys, represents the passionate attempt by the human mind to kill off any vital new understanding about God, others, or ourselves.

The Magi once again revealed their mastery of the science of spiritual correspondence (the principle that everything on earth represents some higher spiritual quality or perception) by what they gave to the Lord when they came to worship him. They gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were the highest quality substances they could give, and they correspond to each of the three major forms of goodness that we may offer to the Lord in response to all that he gives us. They are: the highest (or celestial) goodness, which is love for the Lord; spiritual goodness, which is a love for having faith in him; and natural goodness, which is living a good life for Christ and giving to others in many different ways. The Magi realized that God gave us the finest Christmas gift of all: himself, wrapped in the most external form God could come in: a finite person.

Giving. It's one of the most fundamental things the Lord loves to do. Isn't it tremendous how every day of our existence the Lord loves to give from himself! Think about that. Every moment of our life we are being given to in hundreds of ways. The Lord gives us our life; he gives us a beautiful planet to live on; he gives us warm sunlight to brighten and feed our world; he gives us a thirst for living and adventure! Yes, my friends, we are blessed with a God who loves to give.

A number of people back then, after Christ was born in that stable, came to worship him due to the wonderful divine light that poured into and through the little baby that Mary delivered on that night so long ago. Can you imagine what the light felt like that shone into and around the baby Jesus, and drew the Magi to him? It's an amazing thing to encounter God's light, which shines from his great goodness, his purity, and his peace. It affects a person through and through, and can often make us just speechless . . . it feels so deeply, deeply good!

Epiphany does indeed light our way into a spiritually good way of living in the new year and in the years beyond. The Magi summarize the best pathway toward heaven. The wonderful examples given us by the story of the Magi remind us of some things that promise true happiness and peace. One is a commitment to searching for the Lord Jesus wherever the divine truth (symbolized by the great star) reveals him--even when that search bumps us up against dangerously destructive tendencies within us that love to destroy new truth. Another is an ability to give back on three different levels: in our love and devotion to the Lord, in our love for understanding our neighbor, and in an outward life according to the principles of goodness and decency brought to our understanding in the pages of God's Holy Word.

The Magi were seekers and they were givers. They made time in their lives for simply worshipping their Lord. May this season of expanding light be one of hope and illumination for you as you grow toward mature heavenly character. May we all rely upon the great example shown us by these blessed wise men of old, who followed the star that led them to Bethlehem. Amen.

Rev. Kit Billings