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Epiphany Sunday Sermon
Matthew 2: 1-12
January
5, 2020

 

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Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Last Sunday was a time to be with family as we gathered with Lucy’s parents, siblings, nieces and nephews at her youngest sister’s house in the Cincinnati area. There was good food, laughter, the kids playing outside in unseasonably warm weather, gifts exchanged, and football watched … although, that didn’t quite turn out as most of us wished it would have.

Sunday morning featured a trip to St. John the Baptist Catholic church just up the street for worship. I was pleasantly surprised as some members of the family who don’t usually go to church during these family gatherings went … maybe it was the post that my mother-in-law shared on Facebook the day after Christmas that said, “If you’re not sure what to do for your momma, just sit next to her in church on Sunday morning.” Not such a subtle hint!!

The thing about being in a Roman Catholic church on December 29 is that you hear a lot about The Holy Family, for that is what that date commemorates. Mary, Joseph and Jesus are sometimes referred to as The Holy Family, and when I think of them I picture that carving that I brought back from my first trip to the Holy Land in the late 80s. Obviously Jesus is older in that work of art than he is when the magi come to pay him homage in our reading from Matthew 2, but we have so few passages of Jesus as a child that it is easy to fast forward to the passage where The Holy Family travels to Jerusalem for the Passover when Jesus is 12 years old, and somehow he gets left behind and lost for three days. You may remember that they find him in the Temple, doing what the Son of God would naturally be doing – teaching the so-called, “Religious experts” about the scriptures. Indeed, even this carving makes it look like Jesus is pointing to a scroll with one hand and to himself with the other as if to say, “You see this – that is talking about me!” Last week as the priest talked about the Holy Family, he based his message upon the question, “What made them Holy?” I would like to share my two responses to that question with you.
First of all, this was the Holy Family because it contained the Son of God! Yes, Jesus was born of this virgin named Mary, fully adopted and raised by Joseph, and as much a son to them as our son is to us. In Matthew’s Gospel it is Joseph and the Magi who are always seeing visions or signs about who Jesus is … although we assume Mary had some sort of holy encounters as well that Matthew chose not to focus on. But Joseph and the Magi treated this tiny child as a true gift from God, the Son of God, and the one to save the world. The Magi not only fall upon their knees to worship this child when they find him, but they depart in another direction so that Herod will not know where the child is. And Joseph will not only take Mary as his own and Jesus as his son, but will make a long journey to Egypt in order that Jesus’ life would not be in danger when Herod went off the deep end and started killing all of the boys two years and younger.

Jesus’ presence in this family was first and foremost what made it holy, and these important people in Matthew’s story recognize this and treat him as such. But I think there is another equally important reason that they are a Holy Family. It is not because they were perfect – heck, who could be called perfect who doesn’t make absolutely sure that their 12 year-old child is with them when they leave a large city like Jerusalem after a crowded religious holiday to go home! I wonder what that conversation was like when they discovered he wasn’t with them three days into that journey – I thought you had him? No, you were supposed to be watching him. I can picture Mary being like Kevin’s mom in the movie “Home Alone” as she sits on the airplane bound for France, eyes wide as saucers, calling out, “Kevin!!” as she realizes what they’ve done. It’s a feeling of failure as a parent, and for Mary and Joseph it must have been even worse since God had entrusted the savior of the world into their care and it seems like they may have let Yahweh down as well!

Holy does not mean perfect, though. The term Holy refers to something or someone who has been set apart for something special. So even with stories of leaving him behind in Jerusalem, and his mother tried to tell him what to do at the wedding at Cana, and all of the misunderstandings about his messiahship, we can still refer to this as the Holy Family. They were set apart for something special – to grow in love toward each other and their community as Jesus grew into the one who would love perfectly, even to giving his life on a cross for all of us.

These are the reasons that we can rightly call this rag-tag common threesome trusting visions of angels while kings and magi struggle for power and meaning around them “Holy” – because they have with them the very Son of God, and because they have been called and set apart for a special life of sharing God’s love with their world.

As this Christmas season comes to an end – technically tomorrow on Epiphany Day – and as we still prayerfully consider what the year 2020 will bring us, I hope we do so with the full faith that just like Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we are a Holy Family here at Clinton Heights – and that each of us in our own families are Holy as well no matter if we are a family of one or of a dozen or more. We have the promised savior, present with us to bless, guide, forgive and strengthen no matter what we may face this coming year. And we have been set apart to strive to love as Jesus loved, knowing that we won’t always perfectly do that, but that we are to follow where the voice of God leads us anyway and seek to worship the Christ in our midst in everything that we do.

At the end of our service we will have an act of holiness, of setting people apart for something special when we install the church council for 2020. I encourage you to keep these people in your prayers as we continue to build upon the good things that the previous councils have done in leading the ministries of this congregation. And pray for each of the ministries – whether they focus on worship and music, fellowship, education or serving in Jesus’ love. And know that I pray for you, each one of you in this Holy Family of God. May we discover together the presence of this child, Jesus, among us and worship him with the reverence of the magi, and may we always seek to be Holy in sharing Jesus’ love with each other and our community. Amen.