The Epiphany of our Lord: January 6, 2005.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
One of the challenges for effective worship is to identify and emphasize a single theme for each service and season. For this transition season I have proposed that we give attention to the ways that the lessons raise up the theme of God singing to the universe, the universe learning that song and singing back to God. As in any time of transition, the faithful experience both fear and joy. The fear at this Epiphany might be grounded in the challenge of the psalmist. As has been shown in the services since Christmas, the psalm continues to be a powerful expression of the characteristic of the song that God sings to the universe.
It is a frightening idea as Psalm 72 encourages the faithful to seek within themselves the characteristics that are attributed to God. The faithful leader asks for God's gifts of righteousness and justice. Both of these gifts should be applied to the universe as God uses them, to support, assist, and defend the poor and weak. The psalmist and the faithful sing to God prayerful verses filled with hope and anticipation. Only God, who creates and sustains the universe with justice, strength, and compassionate love, can supply the gifts necessary for the work of God to be carried forward. Singing to God shows that the believer is beginning to understand the content of God's song.
The fear of the responsibility of being God's servant is tempered, not conquered, by the joy of Isaiah. "Do not fear! Arise! Shine! The light of God has come into the universe!" When the faithful hesitate to answer God's call to serve, the prophet knows that they live in darkness. The darkness of fear covers the earth and all its inhabitants. This darkness saps the power from creativity, the energy from justice, the compassion from love. "Arise! Shine! The light has come!" The prophet assures the faint of heart, the fearful, and the oppressed that many peoples will join them in the light of God.
As we move through the time of transition, Ephesians reminds us that God's incarnation was not solely for the benefit of humanity. God's song was first sung before the creation. Then through the Word God's song sang all the universe into existence. Paul demonstrates for all who encounter him that this song, the Word, has transformed his life and is working to transform the cosmos.
Ephesians emphasizes that this new song is a renewal, a reuniting of the entire universe. The creative power of heaven and earth are brought together in the song that God sings. The Incarnate Word reconciles all things through the Christ. Recognizing the universal nature of Christ's reconciling power gives the preacher a new way to approach the story of Matthew 2:1-12.
The story of the visitation of the magi is very familiar to even the occasional worshiper. We could retell the story and focus on the gifts of the magi, the anger and treachery of Herod, or the power of the prophesies. But the passage can offer much more to us than a tired rehashing of "We Three Kings of Orient Are." This season of transition challenges us to find more in the story than tired platitudes. As we read behind the concrete details of the story, there is a wonderful example of the transformation of humanity and the cosmos at the birth of the holy child.
The familiar interpretations of the passage highlight the two powerful symbols set before the reader. These symbols are the star of the infant and the visiting magi. The preacher can use these symbols to give content to the place of transition. How can the star and the magi help the faithful to learn the song that God is singing to the cosmos?
The star rises in the night sky leading heavenly host, simple shepherds, and knowledgeable scientists to find the child who will redeem the universe. The star dominates the night sky, dimming the influence of all other lights. Neither modern nor ancient scientists, however, can rationally explain this star. These are powerful images that fill the imagination with God's song singing through the universe, transforming even the stars in the night sky.
The magi balance the equation of the entire cosmos singing praise to God's Word Incarnate. As the stars and heavens learn the song of praise and worship, so do the inhabitants of the earth. These scholars symbolize the group with the greatest reasons to be skeptical. In their own country they were respected and revered as religious leaders. They, like Herod, stood to lose a lot of power and influence if there were a divine newcomer. Rather than giving in to fear, these representatives of the human part of God's creation seek the unknown, search out the possibility, desire to learn God's song that the heavens sing.
Each semester as I introduce the topics for Religion 121, "Bible, Community and Culture: Science and the Search for Truth," I ask the same question: Can a person believe in God and be a scientist? This question is the reason that these first-year students have enrolled in this section of Religion 121. As one student responded, "I hope so, because I think I believe in God and I want to be a biologist. But the two don't fit together very well."
The Epiphany story, when rescued from banal sappiness, offers insight into God's plan for the learned, the scientific, the questioning. The eager minds of these visitors are challenged by the universe's response to God's activity. The studious practices of these scientists is rewarded by God's revelation of power in the humble birth of the child. These visitors learned the song of God. They came to Bethlehem practicing the song. Their studies revealed lyrics that spoke of the restoration of balance in the universe and repairing the harmony between humanity and nature. The symbols of the Epiphany story, a star and traveling scholars, offer us the answer to a modern question. God desires people of intelligence, people of creativity, and people of compassion to sing the song of the Christ. ES
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2004|
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