St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Bart Smith
The Epiphany of Christ (January 7, 2018)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
“You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.”
When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.
When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much grieving.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more.
Here we have a stark contrast between rulers and kingdoms.
Herod, an illegitimate monarch, a barely-Jewish puppet of the Romans. Herod, the very powerful one whose true color was fear, shown when he unleashes his fury. Herod, who is revealed to be nothing less than a purveyor of death, darkness, and destruction…
And Jesus, the promised messiah or “Anointed One.” Jesus, who grows up to show us true power, the power of nonviolent love. Jesus, the one who reigns through justice and peace. Jesus, who brings light, life, and healing.
These magi from the east discover all this as events unfold. And when they finally encounter Jesus, they offer their best and their all. But they didn’t stop with worship. They had a choice between obeying Herod or paying attention to what God was whispering in their dreams, their deepest selves. They had a choice to play it safe and easy and cast their lot with a counterfeit of power, or choose to take a risk and double down with real truth and goodness.
As we begin the year 2018, how will we choose between the ways of Herod and the ways of God? How will we seek Jesus, where will we look for him, and how, when we encounter him, will we respond?
As a guide, as our own “star from the east,” if you will, we have the Boston Declaration. This was written last November by 300 of the best and the brightest in theological education and religious leadership in the United States. Hundreds of others have signed it, me included. The Boston Declaration is a succinct, powerful, and biblically and theologically solid document that articulates how the values of our faith ought to shape our lives as dual citizens of God’s realm and this country. Like the star that guided the magi, it can point us to Christ and his call to lives as God’s people in our own time and place. It can help us chart our course this next year, both as a church, in our interpersonal lives, as individuals who participate in the life of the wider society. I commend it to you as a guiding star for this new year. Read it, meditate on it, and listen to it read by the variety of voices we have up here today…