The Feast of The Epiphany

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Matthew 2:1-12

Today, we celebrate the Epiphany. And we do that with a grand procession and a remembrance of the coming of the Wise men from the East to celebrate the birth of Christ—the recognition of Christ’s kingship in and for the whole world. But this morning’s gospel is sort of “Chapter 2” of the Christmas story. On Christmas Eve, we heard Chapter 1 of the Christmas story from Luke, because Luke tells it so well and, as earthy as it is, Luke’s Christmas story is also warm and fuzzy and smells as much of baby powder as it does barn manure. It’s the story we want to hear on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But this week, we get Chapter 2 from Matthew and the drama of evil King Herod and his plot to kill Jesus, the predicted Messiah, and his supposed rival, in order to retain his Judean crown—his power and prestige.

We don’t get this troubling story from Luke or from the other two gospelers. Only Matthew tells the story of Joseph being warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt and to remain there until Herod had died. Only Matthew tells the frightening, “un-Christmas-like” story of the slaughtering of the innocents—the two-years and younger Hebrew infants in and around Bethlehem —in an attempt to be sure the elusive “Christ child” was eliminated as a contender to the throne.

George took you through that story last week, along with its horror and Herod’s ultimate failure to extinguish the light of Christ through this most despicable act of terror.

It is not a story that sends us to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Or even the thought of angels singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. . . Peace on earth.”

To the contrary, it’s a story that conjures up nightmares—a troubling story, filled with tragedy and injustice, and questions about the power of evil in the world.

Nevertheless, it is a part of the story of Christmas. It tells us that, even in Christ’s birth, there is conflict –in society and in the soul, in minds and in motives, in thoughts and in fears, among wise men and kings and mothers and fathers, shepherds and angels and innkeepers … and holy innocents –and you and me. People are conflicted and perplexed by this thing that has taken place, and they struggle over where their loyalties lie and what is most important.

Many years later, Jesus would remind people that he is a point of controversy among brothers and sisters, parents and children, neighbors and friends. “I have not come to bring peace,” he would say, sadly, “but a sword.”

Some would choose the world’s way: kings, riches, self-reliance, self-indulgence, secular loyalty. Others will choose the Lord: the way of sacrifice for another; service, generosity, worship of the one whose peace is no peace, yet it is the incredible peace of God. The peace that passes understanding.

On this second Sunday of Christmas, where do you stand in terms of choosing a way? A God? Will it be the one who gave himself for us and taught us to give ourselves away? Or will it be the way of the world, where self comes first? The way that says keep all you can, save yourself and your own? Seek power, riches, comfort, security in things. Which way, which God will you choose? It is conflicting and it is perplexing.

But only because we mistake the world as the ultimate ruler for our lives—the measuring stick for success, for happiness and for worth.

But, it isn’t. In fact, the only way that leads to life: true life, true happiness and true worth is in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the kingdom of God.

There are all kinds of things in the world that call us to choose another way. There are all kinds of temptations and clear rationale and reasons that tell us this is the better path—to wealth, to security, to prestige, to contentment and happiness, to worth.

But if those things—any of those things—lead us away from following Christ as our king and putting God above all things, then it is the wrong path and one that ultimately moves us further and further away from God, and the light, and the road we should be on, and the relationship we should have, and could have, with God and neighbor, and away from the true life God wants for us and with us.

It is the Christmas season. It is, indeed, a season of joy and peace, but only if we claim that joy and peace in claiming and following the way of Christ. Which is The way of sacrifice; the way of love; the way that leads to eternal life.

The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet let us pray for but one thing:
The marvelous peace of God.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

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