Pr. Ben Adams
The Epiphany of Our Lord
January 5, 2019
A Light That Cannot Be Eclipsed
Confession: I am slightly obsessed with a personality type indicator test called the Enneagram. The Enneagram consists of nine interconnected personality types. And according to the Enneagram I am a 9, or what they call the peace-maker.
And maybe this comes from the fact that I am a middle child, or maybe it began because early on I heard the message that I don’t belong, but that is somehow what I internalized. I internalized the belief that my presence is not needed or wanted, so I spend a lot of my energy maintaining the peace between me and the external world, and within myself. I keep the peace with people and in situations that lack peace because I am ultimately afraid of losing people or being separated from them. One of the best ways I have heard a peace-maker described is that we have the tendency to become more of an environment than an individual.
We blend in, not making waves, not letting our voice be heard, not letting our gifts be known. And this all stems from an idea that we don’t belong here in the first place.
Now not everyone in this place is a nine on the Enneagram, but can anyone here tonight resonate with that feeling of not belonging? Can anyone here resonate with the fear of being separated, outcast, called out, or embarrassed for standing out or speaking up or even just showing up?
If you know what it’s like feel like outsider looking in, then today’s Gospel is for you. Today is the celebration of Epiphany which means manifestation, and it’s the day that we recognize the child Jesus who is lauded as a king revealed to all the nations. Because in today’s Gospel the Eastern magi, perhaps Zoroastrian priests, were outsiders to the Jewish faith, they came from faraway places like Persia and Babylon, and they would have been regarded as idolaters yet they recognize the cosmic significance of the birth of Jesus and offer him gifts that are appropriate for royalty.
So we have these Magi who were outsiders in race as Gentiles, they were from outside regions, and their profession as studiers of the stars would have relegated them as idolaters, yet they received an invitation from God and were led to Christ by the light of a star. Our God of grace and radical inclusion didn’t look at these Magi with contempt for all the things that would have made them outsiders, and that’s because the light of God’s star cannot be eclipsed by racial, regional, or religious differences. The good news this day is that no matter how far removed the Magi felt, or no matter how far removed you feel from God’s saving work, God has led us outsiders all here tonight by the light of Christ, and that makes us all walking illustrations of God’s universal grace.
That’s belonging. The outsider Magi belonged, you belong. Where do you feel most like you belong? Is it here at church? Is it at work? Is it out with friends? Is it being surrounded by nature? Is it at home? Is it with your family? Is it with your chosen family?
Think about that feeling of belonging, that sense of belonging is what God has gifted us through Christ. And as Paul says in Ephesians, “Gentiles (that’s us) have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
We are heirs in the family, we are members of the body, and we have a share of the promise in Christ Jesus and that is some good news! No longer outsiders, but fully incorporated with Christ. And nowhere is that more real to us than at the communion table where we are not only fed with the body of Christ but we become the body of Christ as we take our place at the table where we belong.
And it is when we discover where we truly belong that we are transformed and never the same again. The Magi were changed by what they discovered and maybe when the wise men set out they thought they belonged to Herod, or at least belonged with Herod, being sent by him to follow the star that had appeared in the sky, but upon meeting Jesus they understood that they were a part of something different that they belonged to someone different, and they returned home by another road.
My time in seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Hyde Park was my Epiphany. It was a four year Epiphany, a process of learning and unlearning, faith formation and undoing, and ultimately it was a time for me to understand who I am and who I belong to.
It wasn’t my family of origin, it wasn’t my country of origin, it wasn’t my religion of origin, it wasn’t even my race, gender, sexuality, or ability. These are all things that are part of me and my story, things I identify with, but I do not belong to these things. I belong to God, my creator, and we have access to God through Jesus Christ who was made incarnate, born in a lowly manger, and made manifest not to powerful insiders, but to the peasant shepherds and the outsider magi.
When was your Epiphany? What was that time in your life where you showed up, not knowing what you’d encounter and you were met with nothing less than the true presence of Christ and because of that encounter you returned home by a different road, knowing you belonged to something different, knowing that you belonged to someone different?
No matter what you might think is separating you from the love of Christ, whatever you might feel is keeping you on the outside looking in, to you I echo the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
There is no object that can eclipse that light, there is no darkness deep enough to drown that light, for that light will lead us to our true home with Christ. Outsiders to the world we may be, but not with Christ. With Christ we are made a part of his body, heirs within the family of God, and sharers of that promise with the whole world. Amen.