New Beginnings

Matthew 2:1-12 — After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

  1. Prayer: —- open us up to the dawning of the light of Jesus — Cause us to see and experience the light of Christ as we remember that today is Epiphany Sunday — the awareness of who Jesus is. Amen
  2. Many people complain about how dark it is this time of the year. But imagine living in the little town of Barrow, Alaska. It’s located on the farthest northern tip of the state of Alaska, above the Arctic Circle. If you think it’s dark in Maryland this time of the year, you haven’t seen anything. In Barrow Alaska, the sun sets in the afternoon on November 18, and it doesn’t rise again until January 24. 65 days of darkness. 65 days when the sun doesn’t shine. Up there, the earth is tilted in such a way that the sun never shows itself for over two months out of the year. But when the sun does rise for a moment on January 24, the whole town comes out to celebrate, because finally, there is light again. Cross references:
  1. Isaiah 60:1 : Isa 52:2
  2. Isaiah 60:1 : S Ps 36:9; S 118:27; S Isa 9:2; Jn 8:12; Eph 5:14
  3. Isaiah 60:1 : S Ex 16:7; S Isa 4:5; Rev 21:11
  4. Isaiah 60:2 : S 1Sa 2:9; S Ps 82:5; S 107:14; S Isa 8:20
  5. Isaiah 60:2 : Jer 13:16; Col 1:13
  6. Isaiah 60:3 : S Isa 44:5; S 45:14; Mt 2:1-11; Rev 21:24
  7. Isaiah 60:3 : S Isa 9:2; 42:6
  8. Isaiah 60:3 : S Isa 49:23
  9. Isaiah 60:4 : S Isa 11:12
  10. Isaiah 60:4 : S Isa 2:3; Jer 30:10
  11. Isaiah 60:4 : S Isa 43:6
  12. Isaiah 60:4 : Isa 49:20-22
  13. Isaiah 60:5 : S Ex 34:29
  14. Isaiah 60:5 : Isa 35:2; 65:13; 66:14; Zec 10:7
  15. Isaiah 60:5 : S Dt 33:19; S Jdg 3:15; Rev 21:26
  16. Isaiah 60:6 : S Jdg 6:5
  17. Isaiah 60:6 : S Ge 25:2
  18. Isaiah 60:6 : Ge 25:4
  19. Isaiah 60:6 : S Ge 10:7, 28
  20. Isaiah 60:6 : Isa 43:23; Jer 6:20; Mt 2:11
  21. Isaiah 60:6 : S 1Ki 5:7; S Isa 42:10
  23. Today is the last day of the Christmas season. In the Christian church year, the celebration of the birth of Christ goes on for two Sundays after Christmas. Tuesday is the official beginning of the Epiphany season of the church year.
  24. What does the word “epiphany” mean? An “epiphany” is when something reveals itself or shows itself.
    1. For example, in Barrow, Alaska, after 65 days of darkness, the sun finally reveals its glory for everyone to see. That’s an epiphany.
    1. In the church year, the Epiphany season is when The Son of God reveals his glory for everyone to see.
  25. As I plan for worship for 2019, my purpose is very straight forward: I will be looking for the Epiphany in the Scripture readings, the hymns, the message – everything that you see and hear and sing and pray in our worship service will serve one purpose, and that is this – to reveal to you, to show you, the glory of our Savior Jesus Christ.
  26. Let’s set the theme of today’s message by looking backwards into one of the Old Testament prophecies’ concerning the coming of the Messiah — Isaiah 60:1-6 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  
  27. Here is the background to this morning’s Scripture: It is around 500 BC — the Jews are in captivity in Babylon and Jerusalem has been the destroyed and the Temple of David has been totally burned. All of the religious objects and sacred writings have either been destroyed or seized as war booty.  The Jews are yearning to return to the holy city —- and Isaiah is prophesizing that the return is near.
  28. In this passage from Isaiah 60 — Isaiah is writing that there is a new hope coming to the Jews who have been in captivity in Babylon for a very long time —- that hope is coming – that the darkness of the night of captivity is about to end – all because of their faith in God — For the Jews in captivity, God is beginning to show the light in Jerusalem. – Light is coming – just like to Barrow Alaska – but a different light.
  29. Furthermore –Isaiah says that —- as the nation’s begin to see the light in Jerusalem, they will be impressed with the powerful God that is causing the light and they will send gifts of gold and frankincense — and the gifts will arrive by camel and ship — the light of God is shining brightly in Jerusalem.
  30. From a historical view — it turns out that the Persian King – Cyrus did return the plundered items – gold and frankincense back to Jerusalem by camel and ship!
  31. Now – let’s go deeper and look at this morning’s Scripture and how this applies to Epiphany.
  32. Fast forward to about a year or so after the birth of Jesus — As in today’s Gospel of Matthew — the wise men are coming – following the start toward Bethlehem — the light is bright.
  33. Today is Epiphany Sunday   —- the capstone of the 12 nights of Christmas – the apex — we are now into the season of Epiphany – just nine weeks this year in 2019, before we begin Lent
  34. Epiphany is the time when the church recognizes that the world sees Jesus as the Son of God – as the light that is coming to all nations — that the hope of the promises of the prophets is manifested in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
  35. Epiphany means – “to make known” – or to realize – to show – to be aware. — that Jesus is who he says he is – the Son of God – God’s gift to humanity.
  36. Many people call Epiphany the “Gentile Christmas,” because one of the main themes of the Epiphany season is that Christ is a light, not just for a select group of people like the Jews, but for all people, all over the world. Epiphany is when anyone living in the darkness of sin, can come and see the glory of God, as God reveals it through the person of Jesus Christ.
  37. Just as the sun rises on every nation, on every kind of people, no matter who you are or what your background is, just as the sun, every morning, rises on you, so it is with Christ. His grace, his forgiveness, his salvation, rises and shines on the Jews in Bethlehem, but also on the wise men from the east. His grace and forgiveness rise and shines on every person on this earth.
  38. No matter who you are, you too, can go from darkness to light
  39. The sign on Mt. Zion UMC in Finksburg – says “darkness is being replaced by the light of the world. Jesus!
  40. Our tradition tells us that the Magi (Wise Men) came from the pagan East — modern day Iran or Ethiopia or Somalia — to pay homage to the infant Jesus —-
  41. When we carefully read the text in Matthew – we find that the Magi worship Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is this awareness that Jesus is the Son of God — or the manifestation of God — that Epiphany is all about.
  42. According to Martin Luther —-Gold and Frankincense from the words of the Prophet Isaiah – gold signifies the faith the Magi had in Jesus as the Kingthe frankincense — is the gift for priests (it is a sweet perfume incense) and myrrh is the embalming substance that would be used in the death of Jesus —– to show that Jesus would die for them and for us. 
  43. Scripture tells us that there were three gifts — and tradition tells us that there were three wise men — and that is what we usually see in nativity scenes.
  44. Tell the Grandparent story. —- 3 year olds from the Nursery School ——- Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus – shepherds – because they had sheep with them and – the three wise men – they were grandparents because they brought gifts with them.
  45. Our understanding of the Scriptures of Isaiah and Matthew – tell us that the Magi came – as the gentiles to follow Christ. The light had arrived, and they had come following the star. As we think back – the idea of traveling over vast distances – in the desert – following the vision of a dead prophet about light from a star. It would take quite a while to finally get up the courage to follow your heartfelt convictions that you had to make the trip to see the King of Kings for yourself.
  46. SLOW
  47. Let us think for a moment — how long does it take us to understand something — or to understand a new idea? For many of is it takes a long time. We have to be exposed to the idea many times before it begins to sink in and we accept it.
  48. I wonder if we would recognize Jesus as the wise men have. Do we recognize the glory of God in Jesus — or do we need to have it repeated many times over. – Often we will say — well I guess it is right —- then maybe after some wrestling with the thought we may begin to accept the idea that the babe’s birth that we remember last week really is significant — and then finally we may come to the conviction – that yes — Jesus is Lord.
  49. Have you ever had that conviction —- that Jesus is your Savior and Lord? Out of this conviction flows a life changing experience. This dawning of a new light of revelation that Jesus is Lord comes from the movement of the Holy Spirit in mysterious ways.
  50. Most of us have been slow when it comes to the joy of a life lived for the glory of God. We may say that we have received the gift of Jesus – but really have not acted upon it.
  51. So many times, we get trapped in the institution of the church and think that by being on committees or working in the social hall or even coming to worship that we are doing what Jesus wants us to do. It is vitally important to be on committees or to work in the social hall or coming to worship – but the most important aspect of serving Christ is doing it with a passion. We get trapped into the mundane without looking for the passion.
  52. Epiphany is about passionate awareness that the light of the day – that the light in our life – that the light calling us – is Jesus – our Savior and Lord.
  53. A church that has passion for Jesus is a church where “
    1. Discouraged folks cheer up,
    1. dishonest folks fess up,
    1. sour folks sweeten up,
    1. closed folk, open up,
    1. gossipers shut up,
    1. conflicted folks make up,
    1. sleeping folks wake up,
    1. lukewarm folk, fire up,
    1. dry bones shake up,
    1. and pew potatoes stand up!
    1. But most of all, Christ the Savior of the entire world is lifted up.”
  54. We need a spark to ignite our passion tell the short story about the chainsaw— to follow the light
  55. We are going to have communion – the great thanksgiving – come forward seeking to have the Spirit unleash the spark in you – so that you, too, will be able to say – Aha – the Son of God!
  56. Please close your eyes and ponder this the following in a quiet reflection:
  57. Divine God, like the Magi of long ago, we come in search of the Christ Child.  We recognize a hunger within, a yearning for intimacy with you. 
    1. You have blessed us by drawing near in Jesus, becoming one with us.  We continue to be astounded at the depths of your love and your deep desire to be in relationship with us. 
  58. On this new day, in this new year, we enlarge our hearts, that the presence of Christ might grow within us. 
    1. Decrease our selfishness and self-centeredness and increase the love and kindness of Christ. 
    1. We enter into this new year aware of tension around our country.  Help us to grow in our understanding of one another, of different cultures and different faith communities. 
    1. Lead us to discover common ground which can unite us in striving for the welfare of all your people and your creation. 
    1. Turn the hearts of those bent on evil, destruction, and violence. 
    1. Help us cherish the precious gift of every human life and treat one another with respect and dignity. 
    1. We lift to you those who are precious to us, seeking your healing power in their lives.  Send your peace upon all who grieve.
    1.  Weave your guidance in the life of one who feels lost.  Shine your hope upon one overcome with despair. 
    1. Journey with us through the valleys and into the ravines of life, for we ache for your presence with us always. 
    1. God of New Beginnings empower us to seize the opportunities of this new year to deepen our faith and to express our covenant as disciples of Jesus Christ.  In his name we pray.  Amen.
  59. Thanks be to God!