Thursday, December 29, 2022

We Follow the Star- a homily by Elaine Phaff ARCWP


 We Follow the Star ~ a homily at City Road Methodist Church by Elaine Pfaff

Sunday, January 8th, 2023: Feast of the Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72: 1-2,7-8,10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3A, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

“The longest journey is the journey inward.”  That's a quote by Dag Hammarskjold, who was the Secretary General of the UN in the 1950's.  Today's journey on the Feast of the Epiphany, seems -  at first - to be a journey outward The Magii set out  to look for an Other. They are learned priests expected to be wise counselors.  And yet, they look for an Other.

Though the  story of the  Magii  is one of the best loved features of the Christmas story, the Book of Matthew is the only one of the four Gospels to tell it.  Who are these mysterious and exotic travelers?  And why does Matthew use them to emphasize theological truths we hold to this day?  The Gospel is aimed at a Jewish audience, primarily.  But it was people outside the Community, strangers from lands far away, who were wise enough to seek something more,  Some One  more than themselves. 

We think of these travelers as men, but notice the Gospel doesn't specify their gender. We think of them as three in number, presumably because of the three gifts, though again,  the Gospel doesn't specify their number.  Manuscripts from the Middle Ages feature more than three magii and some Eastern churches today commemorate as many as twelve. 

 They bring gold, symbolizing unshakable wealth that increases in value with time.  Frankincense, a perfume to sweeten the senses and create powerful memory.  And myrrh used in anointing.  We might ask ourselves today:  What is golden to us today?  What do we  really “own”  that is of eternal value?  We might ourselves today:  what is the frankincense that draws us with its irresistible scent?  The perfume that draws us in and upward?   And the myrrh! How have we made use of the myrrh  in our lives, absorbing the oil we receive in body, mind, and spirit to know ourselves as holy.  As human creatures made forever in the image of God?      

Let's think of these three, - called “kings” in a much later tradition – let's think of them as us!  They have a wide assortment of names suggested throughout the centuries: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are those that prevail to this day.  Their origins were first thought to be Persia, India, and Arabia. Later commentators proposed that they represented the three known continents at the time:  Africa, Asia, and Europe.  They are almost always depicted as a multi cultural group.  That can be us too.

They come from the East, following a star that rose above them in the East, then appeared over Jerusalem, then turned south to Bethlehem.  As we join them today, we find ourselves on a route that's a bit like a three-point turn.  Why are they and we so tenacious in following this guiding star?   

And what about the significance of this particular star? In  ancient time, stars were associated with important powerful figures and with the historical founding of Rome. Herod had his star.  Appointed by the Roman Senate, he was obsessively protective of his new found status as king of the Jews.  Imagine his outrage when the Wise Ones asked him for directions to another king!  From the outset of the story, we are confronted with conflict - with two radically different kinds of kingdoms:  One an Empire.  The other -  a kin ~ dom.

Science proves that there was indeed a bright object in the sky at the time of Jesus' birth. Today there are many theories about this star, which must have been so bright in the night sky before modern times when light pollution inhibits our vision.  Even without a telescope, we would be intrigued with this stellar display. Astronomer Michael Molnar points to the facts in his book  The Star of Bethlehem published by Rutgers University (1999).  Various planets did indeed align with the moon and sun around the years of Jesus' birth. We – like our ancestors before us, are intrigued with this star   And we follow it here – in our personal experience - to City Road Methodist Church on January 8, 2023.

 Like the Magii in the story, we bring  homage to the Christ Child.  We open to the loving unitive consciousness before us in Jesus of Nazareth.  And as we do, we are simultaneously opened to ourselves.  We know the journey to be both inward and outward.  For the Epiphany is this:  We too are incarnations of the divine. …  We linger in this shared light and trust its energy to both rest us and move us. Trusting that we are given what we need to co-create a just and merciful world:   

To be loved and to love.  To feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, heal the sick through our presence united in God. 

We follow the star.       



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