January 3, 2021

Series: January 2021

Category: Test Category, Epiphany Sunday

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Tags: epiphany, god's gift, to be accountable

Today's Scripture

Matthew 2:1-12

1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6   ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

Today's Sermon


          I had a religion and philosophy professor in college who once talked about the cool kid in his elementary school, and he had this kinds of strange walk or strut he did.  Everyone imitated the walk without much thought about what it was that drew them to him.  The strut was incidental, but it was treated as essential.

          Attraction does strange things.  Today’s readings draw out a number of possibilities when something or someone is attractive.  In the Isaiah reading, Jerusalem is prophesied as a beacon of light for all the nations.  Others will be drawn to it by the brightness of its dawn (Is. 60:1-4).  Not only will others be drawn, but the exiled ones from this holy land will be able to return home, and with them they will bring gold and frankincense. 

          Those two gifts should sound familiar and they remind us of the three brought to the Christ child by the magi.  The magi come to pay homage, to behold the light, the one touched by God, and perhaps to capture a bit of it to take back from whence they came.  And yet, they are not the only one who is drawn to this one.  Herod, king, corrupt king, is drawn to this light as well, but his intentions are clear and dangerous.  He wants to snuff out the light, lest it overshadow his own, extinguish the power before it threatens his own. 

           You see the activity of God attracts all kinds.  It will draw people who want to experience this light and be moved by it, who want to join in the movement.  Some of those will imitate the right things and some will imitate all the accidentals.  Some may miss the point altogether.  spoke the other day of those who like to parade their faith in the public sphere, but yet never seem to begin their sentences with “Jesus said,” or “Jesus taught,” pointing out their faith has become utterly disconnected from its true source. 

          Some, like Herod, will want to snuff out the light because it threatens their own shine.  They will do whatever it takes to stay in control including manipulating others beneath them.  What’s magical about the magi story is they are of power and yet they show up with the intentions of honoring the power and light of this Christ child.  Their intentions are pure.  Their information is good, having come from the heavens themselves.  Aren’t we glad they showed up and rescued him from the powers of Herod?

            All of this points us to the importance of showing up.  Can you remember a time when someone showed up for you, and how much that meant?  What about when you have shown up for someone else in a way that mattered even beyond ways you expected?  

            This has been a year in which “we” have shown up for all sorts of things.  We can recall demonstrations of Proud Boys or other white supremacists who exercised their rights but in a way that was so wrong.  We can also recount how we showed up in greater numbers following the murder of George Floyd.  Minorities have been showing up on this for generations, but whites showed up with more staying power than in the tragic last few iterations of this same problem.  While there is plenty more work to do it seems as though something shifted.  Maybe you saw that moment in NASCAR of all things, car racing with strongholds in the south where Confederate flags were prominent at events, when black driver Bubba Wallace discovered what looked like a noose in his garage.  The entire field of competitors and crews escorted his car down the lane before a race.  The showed up to say “We’re with you.”    

          Showing up matters, even if it is “merely” symbolic.  When I was in seminary, one of my classmates came out as transgendered and began to come home to who she was.  A bunch of us accompanied her to her presbytery meeting in southern Alabama to face what was at times a hostile crowd.  Jeff Healy often tells the story of the famed Army-Navy football rivalry and how after a tragic death of an Army football player, the Navy coaches showed up, not for their own attention.  I don’t believe they were in uniform.  They were flying under the radar so to speak, wanting only to be seen by their on the field adversary.  They wanted them to see they had shown up for them, and that they knew they were members of a greater team.[1]

            This year, when God-willing things get better, it will be extraordinarily tempting to want to slip back into old patterns, for those who have enough to draw back in, even to become complacent.  While I applaud and recommend self-care and healing after this traumatic time, I also encourage you to be fueled in your recovery to inform yourself about what’s going on in the community and world show up to it in a way that is in keeping with Jesus’ teachings, because if we have learned anything it is that if those of good intentions and information don’t show up, others will.  If we don’t Herod will, and Herod will win.          


[1] https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/navy-coaches-join-entire-army-team-at-funeral-for-player-killed-in-car-accident/

Quotes, Questions & Prompts for Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer

1. What would cause Herod to feel threatened by Jesus?

2. Where is God’s way being thwarted in today’s world?

3. What is important about “showing up” as Christian? Where do we need to be doing that right now?

4. What is the symbolic power of the magi story?

5. What do you make of Isaiah’s prophecy?