Saint James Episcopal Church
203 E. Glendale St.
P.O. Box 1374
Dillon, MT 59725
Feast of the Epiphany
January 5, 2020
THE BLESSINGS OF EPIPHANY
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
WE OPEN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW to hear a quite amazing story following the birth of the Christ Child. For all of Advent and Christmas, Luke has provided the stories of Mary’s pregnancy, the journey to Bethlehem, the arrival of angels and shepherds, and the birth of Jesus in a stable on the outskirts of the little town of Bethlehem.
But now, twelve days later, we hear of the visit of three magi, mysterious soothsayers and seers, the astrophysicists of an earlier age who have studied the stars and found a particular star of great brightness and proximity. They are intrigued by this celestial body, and they consult the ancient books and scrolls to determine its name and path and position in the night sky. But they find nothing. It is as if the bright star has appeared recently and suddenly, and it is moving low and steadily to the West.
The magi spent some days in deep conversation and nights in heavenly observation before they came to the conclusion that the star was an omen, the announcement of the birth of a king. And so they resolved to rise and follow the star, and to bring gifts suitable for the birth of a king.
Though not mentioned by Matthew, tradition gives their names as Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior—perhaps lesser kings of Persia better known as scholars and wise men. They were not young, nor used to travel, and yet they began the journey, “and such a journey: the ways deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter.'
In the diplomatic custom of those days, the magi went directly to Jerusalem and presented themselves to King Herod, inquiring of the new king born in Israel. Herod, angry and frightened, was now worried of revolution and violent overthrow—so he used the wise men to find the Child and “bring him word that he might go and worship him.”
The magi may have been wise, but they were also gullible. They did what Herod said. They followed the star once again. They went to where the Child and his mother Mary were in the stable, and as we know, they knelt and worshipped him and presented him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But “in a dream,” or perhaps in a discussion over strong coffee, they decided to go home by another way.
It’s worth our while to say a few words about the gifts of the magi. The gold is pretty obvious. All kings love gold, the sign and substance of wealth. Frankincense is the symbol of Christ’s priesthood. Incense is used at worship as a way to focus our awareness on the presence of God. And myrrh is an oil used both to alleviate suffering and pain, and to preserve a body in death. So the gifts of the magi—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—were both highly symbolic and immediately significant for the life of the Son of God.
So altogether this is quite an amazing story. It is a most suitable ending to the Incarnation Narrative from Luke and Matthew (which do not appear in Mark or John), and it provides a perfect literary preparation for the appearance of Jesus years later at the River Jordan.
It is also a story of BLESSING, which is most appropriate as we begin our Year of Blessings at Saint James. With Christ, blessings abound. In him there is life and joy and celebration. Through him we come to know ourselves and each other in friendship and in grace. And with him we become one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
These are all BLESSINGS freely offered to us by Jesus Christ. All we must do is accept them with open and loving hearts. AMEN.
THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
January 12, 2020
NEW THINGS I NOW DECLARE
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“NEW THINGS I NOW DECLARE,” cried out the great prophet Isaiah, “before they spring forth.” He was telling us of the greatest miracle the world has ever known, an event that would occur seven centuries later when, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The birth of the world’s Savior, which happened in relative obscurity in the little town of Bethlehem was now made known to thousands of people who had come from Jerusalem and throughout the countryside to be baptized by John for the repentance of their sins. But that was only the beginning of new things that God would bring about for his people, even to this very day.
They found in Jesus of Nazareth a most gifted teacher, but soon they would discover much more about the carpenter’s son. And as we know, there is always more with God than meets the eye.
To their great surprise and joy, Jesus himself was baptized in the River Jordan, just as they had been! We learn from Matthew’s Gospel that John, his cousin, was reluctant to baptize Jesus, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But he honored the request, understanding that the two of them were fulfilling prophecy and “all righteousness.”
You should sense an unfolding process in this story from Matthew. Important things are being made known. The ministry of Jesus is about to begin, and nothing can stop it. God the Father has given his Beloved Son extraordinary power and authority, and the world as they know it will never be the same again.
These ideas of an unfolding process, of declaring new things, of fulfilling prophecy, and of the making of a new covenant are more than simply related concepts. They are the work of God in the world. And they are precisely how his Beloved Son Jesus, his Chosen, performs his Father’s reconciling and healing work.
I want you to remember that we are reading from a part of the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, where are found a collection of “Servant Songs.” These are poems or hymns written about a mysterious servant of God who will come in the distant future. Isaiah cannot know who he is; it is prophecy that he is speaking. But sure enough, seven hundred years later, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth we find the Suffering Servant of God.
The prophecy of Isaiah tells us …
• God has put his spirit on the Servant. He is the one in whom God delights.
• The Servant will faithfully bring forth justice.
• He will not cry or lift up his voice. He is like a bruised reed, a dimly burning wick—but he will not grow faint or be crushed until his work is completed.
Do you not see it? Our Father in heaven has chosen his prophet Isaiah and given him the prophecies of the Suffering Servant. In the fullness of time, his Beloved Son comes to the Water of Life and is baptized—chosen, named, and given power over life and death. The whole world is unfolding. All things are being made new. The Old Covenant is being fulfilled in the New Covenant of reconciliation and peace. The old ways of Judgment and Condemnation are being replaced by the new Life in Christ of Love and Grace.
It is exactly as Isaiah said all those centuries ago, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
And now I am ready to tell you about the choice that God places before us. As we begin our “Year of Blessings,” we should prepare ourselves in heart and mind. We should realize that once again, God seeks to draw us to the love of Christ, that we would be followers of his, people committed to him in word and deed.
I’m going to take you all the way back to the Book of Deuteronomy at the beginning of the Old Testament, to hear the choice that God places before us:
Thus saith the LORD. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Let me say this again clearly: God calls us to choose each day between life and death, between blessing and curse.
And then he says:
Therefore choose life, choose blessing, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” AMEN.