New Year’s Sermon Series Begins

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Date: January 3, 2016

Title: “Aha! What an Epiphany!”

Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

            Today we celebrate as “Epiphany Sunday” in the life of the church. “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word, “epiphaneia”, which means “a manifestation” or “striking appearance”. It is the sudden realization, understanding or comprehension of the larger essence or meaning of something. “Aha!” you say, “I’ve had an epiphany!” And we understand you’ve found the last piece of the puzzle, that you now see the whole picture.

            We’ve all had those “Aha!” moments when new information or a new experience, something which may have seemed insignificant, comes together and illuminates something deeper and more foundational. You know the feeling when you finally “get it”, when you feel like a luminous light has been cast upon the deepest dark as mystery becomes startlingly clear.   Maybe it is a math problem that you were struggling with when all of a sudden understanding dawns and you get it. Maybe you figured out a way to apologize and redeem a relationship you thought was lost. Maybe you worked out a new route to a favorite vacation or found a way to take the time off that you really need. Whatever your particular “Aha!” moment is, you know what epiphany feels like.

So here we are on this Sunday when we remember the striking appearance of God-with-us, the manifestation of God in Jesus. Following the Magi, following a star, this is an “Aha!” moment for us all.

Listen now to Sherry Edwards, as she sings for us…

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are!”

I have to tell you – that just might be my favorite Epiphany song of all time! Now I know the Disney folks were not thinking of Epiphany, or even of Jesus, when they penned these lines for the movie “Pinnochio”. But still, they managed to come up with a pretty insightful Epiphany refrain.

When you wish upon a star – or follow a star – or even notice a star in your vicinity – it doesn’t matter who you are. God’s big story of life with us and of life within us is not dependent upon our worth or our worthiness. The revealing of God’s presence with us – Epiphany – does not require us to be a part of the “in crowd” socially, religiously, politically, ethnically, or even nationally. The whole point of Matthew’s story of the Magi is to show us that God’s love cannot be confined or limited to any particular group of people. It is important for us to remember that the Magi were foreigners. They were pagans, outsiders, and strangers. And yet, God’s intention of wholeness, God’s gift of abundance life revealed in Jesus Christ, is given to all of us – even to them.

No matter who you are, no matter what you have to offer, no matter what gifts you think to bring along, God’s gift of self-revelation and fulfillment is available to you this day. Again, listen to Sherry as she sings…

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.

            Anything your heart desires will come to you.

            If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme,

            When you wish upon a star as dreamers do.

             The “Aha! Epiphany” moments in our experience of God do not depend upon our personal qualifications (it makes no difference who you are), but they may require a certain degree of intention on our part. In order for God’s striking appearance to be noticed, in order for God to become fully manifest in our midst, we have to be willing to put our hearts into our dreams of wholeness and peace. We have to bring our whole hearts to our dreams of justice and righteousness, our dreams of joy and liberation and grace for all the world.

Walter Brueggeman reminds us:

On Epiphany, we are still the people walking.

            We are still people walking in the dark, and the darkness looms large around us, beset as we are by fear, anxiety, brutality, violence, loss – and a dozen alienations that we cannot manage. We are still people walking in the dark. But we also are – we also could be – people of God’s Light.

            We could be people of Light – people who make a real difference to the world, and even to ourselves, in 2016. God is longing to be revealed in our lives, God is longing for us to become people of Light in this day.

So much of our theology, and so much of our God-talk lifts up God’s power to transform us. But I wonder – is transformation really what we want? When we pray to be made “new”, is that really what we are after? Or do we simply hope for something more along the lines of “a little bit improved”, a slightly optimal version of who we are right now?

God is longing to make us part of something far beyond any of our shallow attempts to remake ourselves in this new year. All the New Years’ Resolutions in the world cannot come close to God’s hopes and dreams for us in 2016. Where will you put your heart this year? Will you quit smoking on the strength of your New Year’s Resolution this time around? Will you put your heart into getting up off the couch and train for that half marathon because of your resolution this year? Will you finally earn that degree, or quit that dead-end job, will you sell your house or reconcile with that estranged one thanks to your resolution this year?

These are all good and high hopes and they are all courageous acts. But none of them is an end in itself. Each of them is instead a step toward a new beginning. They are steps toward becoming people of Light who see God’s light illuminating each other and even our own selves. People of Light…Aha! What an Epiphany that would be! Brueggeman goes on:

So we pray for the light of your glorious presence, God,

            As we wait for your appearing;

            We pray for the light of your wondrous grace

            As we exhaust our coping capacity;

            We pray for your gift of newness that will override our weariness.

            We pray that we may see and know and hear and trust in your good rule,

            And that we may have the energy, courage, and freedom to enact

            Your rule through the demands of this day…

            Because when you wish upon a star, when you put your heart into your dreams, you will begin to look up, and get up, and live as people of Light. Aha! What an Epiphany that will be! Thanks be to God. Amen.

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