Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, September 24, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

Matthew 2:1-12

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations….

 
Of course today we celebrate New Years’ Day; a day of new beginnings.

It’s a day that a lot of us are beginning New Year resolutions. And of course there are all kinds of New Year resolutions:

For example,

     Financially ---to spend less than $3,825 at Dunkin Donuts this year.

      Of course that can also tie into the many New Year Weight management resolutions such as a resolution to stop buttering your donuts.

      Or how about a resolution to build up your biceps by increasing reps of Ding Dong curls to 3 sets of 15,-----------others may go in the other direction and decide to gain enuf weight so I can get on the biggest loser show.

     Then there are those Technological New year resolutions----like checking your e-mail more than once per year, or changing your password from the word password,

     I like this one----watch less TV…in standard definition

      Some people are looking to be more environmentally conscious with their New Year’s resolutions. They’ve decided to conserve their use of water by taking fewer baths and showers by using more deodorant.

      Then there are the General New Year Resolution goals such as wear something other than sweat pants to the grocery store, Also stop calling pajama pants sweat pants.

      Read those books I bought 5 years ago on "how to improve my memory" because you keep forgetting to read them.

      Enjoy the sweeter side of life –by eating birthday cake even when it’s not somebody’s birthday.

We have all kinds of New Year resolutions---but what about those spiritual ones?

      How many of you have the word epiphany in your new year’s resolutions?  You know today is not only New Year’s Day it’s also the day we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.

Of course epiphany is kind of a strange word---it’s not one we use too much in our language each day.

So what does epiphany mean?

Well when you capitalize the “E”, Epiphany means the day that we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to all the people of the world.  In our scripture, the Magi represent the Gentiles; all non-Jewish people who are invited to receive the gift of the new covenant for all the people of the world.

Now when we put a lower case “e” on the word epiphany, the meaning of the word refers to a sudden spiritual awareness or insight. It’s about being awakened and in tune with the spiritual world using all of your senses.  And that’s exactly what we see in the story of the Magi. The Magi show us a spiritual awareness, a perspective; a way of life that is in tune with more than just what you can see or touch.  And that’s at the foundation and core to what being a Christian is all about. The story of Christ’s coming into the world is not only a historical account, it is a spiritual journey.

And I think that it’s this spiritual aspect that can often get lost in the Christian’s life and as a result it has a negative effect on the witness of Christianity to others.

The devil went for a walk with a friend, They saw a man ahead of them stoop down and pick up something from the ground.

"What did that man find?" asked the friend. 

"A piece of Truth" , said the devil. 

"Doesn't that disturb you?" asked the friend. 

"No," said the devil, "He’ll just make a belief out of it, and create another new religion."

True Christianity is not some religion of rules and doctrines, Christianity is about the way of epiphany- a way of spiritual awareness. It’s about being on a journey.  And that’s what we see in this account of the Magi. In this story we see how their spiritual awareness is lived out.

First we see it in the way they were prepared before the star ever appeared. ----They knew their history; they knew their own sacred texts and prophecies that a king had been born.  Before they had even seen the star they knew about this coming king.  Clearly, they also were aware of their own contemporary world; they had their eyes looking around, in tune for what was happening in the world. They knew the time was full for the coming of this king.

So with this awareness already in place, when the star appeared it was another affirmation of what was going on.

The star didn’t have to be some supernova explosion, it could have been just an ordinary star.  But because of their knowledge of history and their attentiveness to the world, they had an openness to see this star as a sign.  From there, the next step was to take a leap of faith, to take the journey. Sure they had some knowledge but it still required them to go without having it all figured out.

Next we see they were willing to ask for directions even if they were wrong directions. They were still seeking----(some point that these couldn’t have been men!!)

Next we see that even after finding Jesus they were still attentive, open to receive direction from a dream of warning.

Finally we see that they leave going a different way---They are transformed and changed….

All of this points to what Christianity is grounded in-------it’s an active spiritual journey of being open to receive new epiphanies all the time.

So how does all this speak to us????

Well today we’re being asked whether our spiritual lives are open to receive epiphanies. 

Are we living out our faith journey as the wise magi?

For example, first of all, when we look at how they were prepared and in tune to step out in faith when God called are we open to do the same thing?

You see the Christian journey is not a stagnant, unaware life.  As Christians we are always in tune, examining our own life and the events that are going on in it. 

We examine closing doors and opening doors. We listen and open our eyes to events and what people may say to us.

We look for signs; a tapping on the shoulder. And then we make a decision to step out in faith as we sense that God is calling us to step out.

It may be a decision to a career change.

Perhaps you’re thinking about beginning a ministry, a small group or to volunteer for something. It could be a decision about trying something new.

It could be a sensing to move………..  (Closing doors, opening doors, conversations, a Dream, affirmations….).

All of these work together as we’re listening and prepared to step out in faith as God calls.

So ask yourself today am I prepared and in tune with what God is calling me to do? Am I seeking his will and am I ready to step out in faith?

Now another way we are open to receive epiphanies is when we are able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

As we read in the scripture today, we see that the magi saw a star in the sky. It doesn’t say it was an explosion of large star that lit up the sky….it’s just a star.

But they did see something special in it.  I like the words of our earlier hymn today of the 3 Kings.  John Hopkins wrote in the refrain, “Star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright”.

The Magi had eyes to see this star in a way that led them to follow it.

They were contemplative people.  Contemplative people are able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary because their minds aren’t distracted by other things.  Perhaps that’s why the religious experts in Jerusalem didn’t get it.  I mean they pointed the wise men to Bethlehem and were done from there. They answered Herod’s question and disappeared.  We’re not sure why----perhaps it’s because they were busy living in the busy happening place of Jerusalem. 

Maybe they wanted to get back to their blackberries or their iPads or their 24/7 stream of information and technology?

Maybe they were too busy trying to be people of honor and getting ahead that they couldn’t see the star:

A group of tourists were sitting in a bus that was passing through gorgeously beautiful country; lakes and mountains and green fields and rivers.  But instead of seeing the extraordinary beauty al around them, the shades of the bus were pulled down. They had no idea what was beyond the windows of the bus.  Instead all the time of their journey, they were squabbling over who will have the seat of honor in the bus, who will be applauded, who will be well considered. And so they remained that way till the journey's end. 

Perhaps that’s why these religious experts couldn’t see.

But if they had been contemplatives like the magi they would have seen the specialness of this star.

Just as contemplatives see the beauty of a sunset or simple moments like laughter with family or friends or listening to someone in need.

People who are open to epiphanies, can see wonder in the simple and mundane because that’s where God speaks to us.

So ask yourself today, Am I so distracted and busy in the world that I’m not open to see the extraordinary in the ordinary?

Am I so busy trying to get people’s approval and be patted on the back that I put that ahead of hearing God’s call?

Finally the last way we live out our faith open to epiphanies is when we’re attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit to transform us.

Bishop Bruce Blake gave an illustration once that compared coming to church as either going in a cave or going in a tunnel.  He said many people come to church seeing it as a cave. You come into the church in one place and leave out the same way.  But he said when we see church as a tunnel we come in one way and we go out a different way. We follow the shining light of Christ and are changed from how we went in.

That’s what being open to epiphanies is all about---it’s about being on a journey where we’re open to being transformed all the time.

And that’s what this faith is all about:

A dialogue between a recent convert and an unbelieving friend:

"So you have been converted to Christ?"
"Yes."
"Then you must know a great deal about him. Tell me: What country was he born in?"
"I don't know."
"What was his age when he died?"
"I don't know."
"How many sermons did he preach?"
"I don't know."

"You certainly know very little for a man who claims to be converted to Christ!"
"You are right. I am ashamed at how little I know about him. But this much I do know: Three years ago I was a drunkard. I was in debt. My family was falling to pieces.  My wife and children would dread my return home each evening. But now I have given up drink; we are out of debt; ours is now a happy home.  All this Christ has done for me. This much I know of him!"…………………………

Our scripture says that when the magi left Bethlehem they left in a different way. They left changed forever more.  And while they would experience difficulty they were on a journey where they would be open to be transformed for the rest of their lives.

That’s what this faith is all about. So often we get caught up in doctrines and dogma when the real message is transformation. That’s the greatest epiphany of all that we can experience.

So ask yourself today---Am I continually being transformed? Am I being changed more and more into the likeness of the baby in the manger?

This journey is an enchanted journey, alive and full of adventure. God wants us to be open to the epiphany of transformation because he wants us to experience the richness and fullness of what this faith is all about……………………………………….

In closing this morning, on this New Year Epiphany Sunday, you and I are being called to a journey of epiphanies.

We’re being called to be open ourselves up to hear God call us to step out in faith, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and to be open to a life of continuous transformation.  It’s not something we can force ourselves to do. Instead it calls us to surrender our lives.

The magi surrendered their lives to respond the star that God placed in the sky. They surrendered their need to have all the answers to step out in faith.  And when they arrived at the manger, they surrendered their precious gifts and received the greatest gift one could ever receive.

Today let us add one more new years resolution to our list. Let us add our desire to receive an abundance of epiphanies. Open your eyes that you might truly see and walk in faith as you follow his epiphany light.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen