Sermon on First Sunday after Epiphany, January 9, 2011, by The Rev. Canon Dr. Patrick P. Augustine, Rector


At Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Matthew 2: 1-12
Last Thursday on January 6 we entered into the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is one of the oldest festivals in the Church and one of the seven principal feast days on the Christian calendar. The story of the epiphany is eloquently sung in this hymn “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Also this story of the epiphany of Christ is beautifully illustrated by T. S. Eliot in “The journey of the Magi,” and in the folk opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, Amahl and the Night Visitors. These three men are seekers and you might have seen bumper stickers, “Wise men/women seek Him.”
The text from the Gospel of Matthew presents a great deal of activity. Journeys are made, meetings are convened, prophetic history is brought into play, emotions range from the worshipful to the fearful. The stage is set for two final actions in the text: the worship of “the child” and the magi’s flight from Herod and harm. At the center of the eye of this storm is the child: the still point around which the entire text’s actions and reactions revolve. The child is the one unmovable, fixed point.[1]
Epiphany is when the identity of this child is made clear; ----- and is made clearer to all those who seek to have a crisp and clear revelation to know God incarnate with a human face in the person of Jesus Christ. The season of Epiphany celebrates the sharing of the gospel with the Gentiles, who are represented by the magi mentioned in the gospel reading for today. By the inclusion of this simple story, Matthew makes the radical point that God intends for Gentiles as well as Jews to receive the immeasurable grace of Jesus Christ. God's Messiah is given for Jew and for Gentile! This point finds elaboration in the Epistle to Ephesians:
“Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and share in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph. 3:6).
The guidance of the star is a sign, a revelation, a guidepost, a tracking device, and a global positioning system (GPS) that brings Magi to divine revelation to see the Messiah the King. The arrival of the non-Jews at Bethlehem turns out to be a part of the divine plan, an accomplishment of the prophecies made long ago. The Magi, as representatives of all non-Jews, belong here in the company of those worshiping the infant Messiah. In a sense they pave the way for the command the risen Christ gives to the Eleven at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: make disciples of all the nations.[1]
The magi in this story represent the human religious quest to know God in a more personal way. We in the 21st century live in a time of great spiritual agitation; our culture is rife with seekers of every sort, who attempt to make their way to the most fulfilling destination as they respond to deep interior longing. Many follow or dabble in a myriad of spiritual approaches, including ancient esoteric traditions like astrology, Deepak Chopra spirituality, Eastern practices and psychic phenomenon.[2] These three men represent the human quest, and their offering of gifts and worship of the child Jesus is their discovery of and answer to the search of human beings for God. This is the epiphany to the magi and to us to make Christ known to the world.
Now as we enter into the epiphany season it is my prayer that we may recommit ourselves to make Christ known by our word and example to the world. These magi went back to their countries as blessings to their nation. We can count the number of ways that we modern day disciples of Christ can be a blessing to our world. Please think for a moment what a difference it would make if we had a sense of mission every day in our ordinary work and involvement in society as an opportunity to “be a blessing.” We may seek the welfare of our society where God has placed us. How about praying for men and women who have never yet even heard the name of Jesus Christ and the good news of what God has done through his cross and resurrection for the salvation of the world.
At the global level we know millions still wait for any portion of the Word of God to exist in their mother tongue. In 1992 four of us started praying in Virginia for these groups of people in the world, and later God led us to form the Anglican Frontier Missions society (AFM). Its purpose is to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the un-reached groups of people in the world. This morning we give thanks to God for the work of the Anglican Frontier Missions. I personally serve on the board of Anglican Frontier Missions. I invite you to pray and support the work of the AFM to fulfill the command of Jesus to make disciples of all nations.
Inviting people to know Christ, in theological language, is called evangelism. I am aware of the reality as an Episcopalian that evangelism does not enjoy good press. Let me give some clarification that evangelism is not sheep stealing and just filling pews; nor is it writing bill boards like, “Jesus is the answer”, to which someone wrote in reply on the walls of a Baptist church, “But what is the question?”
Archbishop William Temple defines evangelism: “To evangelize is so to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church.” In other words evangelism is sharing the good news about Jesus. As forerunners, the magi represented the entire Gentile world. They came to know Jesus face to face, knelt before him and presented their gifts in adoration to worship Christ the savior. The word in Greek is proskyneo to “pay him homage.” Paying homage to Christ gives the story its purpose, its direction, and its culmination. Proskyneo was commonly used to describe the custom of prostrating oneself at the feet of a king. The physical posture dramatically expresses the idea of giving not just gifts, but their entire selves to Christ. Note here that Magi only after this act of worship, only after giving themselves completely to Christ, do they present their material gifts.
May this be our experience of worship like Magi who left with illumined memories of Christ the Child. We too gather here to worship Christ the Lord to present our lives and gifts to “pay him homage.” It is my earnest prayer that we may too leave from this holy place with enflamed hearts and illumined memory that we have seen the face of God in Jesus Christ.
[1] Charles B. Coursar, Beverly R. Gaventa, J. Clinton McCann, James D. Newsome, Texts for Preaching-year C, Westminster John Knox Press, 1994, p.91.
[2] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors. Feasting on the Word, WJK, 2009, p.212.
[1] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors. Feasting and the Word. 2010. Pp.212-217.

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