A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public virtual worship of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, North Yarmouth, Maine on January 10, 2021. The primary text was Matthew 2: 1-12 – Epiphany Sunday.
This scripture in Matthew is the only account we have of this momentous event. It is not included in Luke where we hear of the shepherds learning of Jesus’ birth. The Gospel of Matthew was written for a Jewish audience so this story tells those listening that indeed this Messiah was born in Bethlehem as the scriptures foretold which served to answer the ‘but Jesus is from Nazareth so he can’t be the Christ ‘argument put forth by many learned Jewish scholars of the day. The other notable thing that this account does is to inform the Jews, God’s chosen people, that God was revealed to even foreigners without the benefit of the revelation of the Torah which was only read by Jews. So the Messiah came for all people.
We call this revealing of the Christ, of God made flesh, the Epiphany. And indeed the origin of the word epiphany comes from the Christian celebration of the magi coming from the east and seeing the manifestation of Christ in the form of a baby for the first time and it was especially notable as God was revealed to Gentiles or people who were not Jewish. Over the centuries, the definition of the word has evolved to include the appearance of any divine being or just a sudden realization of the meaning of something which perhaps had eluded you until that moment.
The beginning of our story set in the courts of King Herod also serves to provide a time of the birth of Christ. So we now know where, in Bethlehem, and when, in the days of King Herod – this was the time that the Christ, in the form of Baby Jesus, appeared to humankind. Following a star, magi came from the east to worship this newborn King of the Jews. It was revealed to them by a bright star that they would find him in a small village far from their homeland. This was a divine revelation given to foreigners. These magi or astrologers were so affected by this revelation or epiphany that they followed a star and then knelt down and worshipped a mere child. They have travelled far and it undoubtedly has been an arduous, long, journey and now they have finally arrived. Coming from a presumed life of comfort and wealth, they do not question the humble surroundings of this ‘child who has been born king of the Jews’ with a teenage mother and a carpenter for a father. God has revealed to them the Christ – this is undoubtedly the most momentous day of their lives – they made it – their journey is over – they have found the Christ!
Then after they have worshipped this Christ Child, we have another appearance from God’s messengers. The Magi are warned in a dream by an angel to avoid King Herod for he is plotting to kill Jesus. Likewise, Joseph too has an angelic message in a dream that he must take his new family and flee to Egypt in order to keep them safe.
2020 was a year to remember – some of it challenging, for some heartbreaking, for others a constant struggle, some were isolated and suffered because of it, for many in our nation and our world the virus changed lives forever and we mourn the loss of too many who have died. For others it was challenging but not too bad. We embraced new ways of being the church in a pandemicaly socially distanced world – we connected with old friends and made new connections who became new friends. We learned lots of new technology and have grown really tired of zoom meetings. We have learned how to have more outdoor gatherings to keep us as safe as possible. We want it to be done but it’s not over yet for the vaccines will take a while to make it out to everyone. We will need to continue to draw on all the patience and compassion and empathy – gifts among many others – that God graces us with every day.
2020 was also a year of unrest from many who felt that people of color have been systematically oppressed for generations and that racism still runs rampant in our land. People have many different opinions on this. There are probably many different opinions among all of us worshipping together this day. Since our November national election there has been more unrest as many have spread allegations of voter fraud and election corruption.
On Wednesday this week, the day we celebrate Epiphany, there were thousands of people gathered in Washington to demonstrate against the outcome of this election as Congress was voting to certify the election results for the peaceful transition of power coming on Jan 20th. In shock and horror, we watched as these demonstrators overtook the US Capitol building where Congress was meeting to fulfill their constitutional duty. This was a day of terror in our nation’s capital. Many say this was a culmination of months of deliberate disinformation inciting radical extremists to violence. Watching in dismay and disbelief, it felt like Sep 11 2001 except this time it was domestic terrorists attacking us. As I thought about this, I struggled with what to say – it would have been easier to just ignore it and give the sermon I had planned. We are a divided country but part of what has forged a wonderful place to live is our wide variety of thought and opinions and our ability to hear others and debate in a civil manner.
As Christians, what are we expected to do, what is God calling us to do? I know we are both conservative and liberal, democratic, republican and independent in our political opinions. It is right and good that we have different opinions. We are called to treat one another with civility and respect. We are called to listen to each other’s opinions, to discuss our differences with compassion, mercy and the love of Christ in our hearts and to live together in peace. Above all, we are called as followers of Jesus, to live our lives as Jesus taught, to put Christ and his teachings foremost in our daily lives. We are Christians – that is for us our priority rather than any political ideology we may have. Jesus and his teachings must inform each and every aspect of our lives. We must go forth from here seeking to heal our communities and our nation.
We must speak the truth in love – on every level this appears to have been a fair and just election – we must say that out loud whether or not we liked the outcome. We must listen to others with respect and we must speak up for those who cannot do so themselves. We must protect the vulnerable and hold those inciting violence and acting in violence accountable for their actions. It may not be easy. No more of the ‘don’t talk religion or politics’ attitude – we can and we must speak honestly, openly, with respect for each other’s thoughts no matter how far from our own they might be. In doing these things we help bring the healing of Jesus the Christ to our world.
Jesus was born into a world of political unrest, violence, foreign influence, rich vs poor, prejudice – you name it. Jesus can totally relate to what we are going through – he totally understands but he still taught us a way of life that is so different from the norm – the way of love. We are the hands and heart and voice of Jesus in this world – it is an amazing honor and a sacred calling. This is our highest calling. Amen.