Sermon, Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2023 – “Where should we be looking?”

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Matthew. 

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.

The gospel of the Lord. 

When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem after following the star across untold miles, they had only one question for King Herod. 

“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”

That question struck me as one that we should always be asking.

“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”

“Where is our Lord and Savior in this world?” 

Where should we be looking? 

We don’t want to leave the wise men and their question about where to find Jesus trapped in the Gospel according to Matthew and largely forgotten after the Christmas season.

Because their question, “Where should we be looking?” is the question that informs our own journeys to God. 

The fact that the wise men saw a star that guided them reminds us that when we are on the lookout for Jesus, active and at work in our lives, we will receive signs, maybe not as dramatic as a star, but signs none the less! 

As I mentioned in the sermon on the last Sunday of Advent, these signs may be enigmatic, or the signs may be literal, but God will speak directly to us about where Jesus may be found in our world—and I won’t discount prophets and angels speaking to us, or even stars and other signs from God’s creation lighting the way. 

The places we find Jesus will probably be unexpected.  The wise men went to Herod, because they knew that Jesus was born the king of the Jews.  And yet, Jesus wasn’t in the halls of power, but with his parents in the small town of Bethlehem. 

This location would have been unexpected, except to those who had been watching for signs of the Messiah—the chief priests and scribes knew, for they had studied the prophets. 

What are the unexpected places we can look for Jesus?  (Ask what listeners think) 

I’d say that we can find Jesus wherever there is love.  The wise men found Jesus with his mother, who loved and cared for him.   Wherever people love and care for one another, Jesus is present. 

And when we find ourselves in his presence, we too want to kneel before Jesus in gratitude, and offer all that we have to him, to bring our gifts. 

The greatest gift we can offer is to become the signs of Jesus, present and active here and now, loving and caring for one another. We can bring love and care to those who have no care or love, and who so desperately need God’s visible presence with them. 

But sometimes, when we are suffering or in pain, or full of anxiety,  it’s hard to be a sign of Jesus, or to go looking for Jesus, or to realize that Jesus is already present with us.   

That’s when using our imaginations becomes essential.  In his meditation, Journey to the Heart of God, January 2, 2023, Richard Rohr, a Catholic theologian, says that “Imagination is largely a matter of being able to re-image life in new ways.  It is not to be caught or trapped in old images of hopelessness. When we’re trapped in old images, we keep living out of them, fighting against them, resisting them, and even saying they don’t work. But it seems we are incapable oftentimes of creating or even accepting new images and living out of those new images.”

Hopelessness can keep us from searching, imagining or knowing anything except hopelessness. 

And that’s the beauty of the Epiphany. 

When we are feeling hopeless, we can remember the wise men.   We can call them up in our minds.  We can see them on the horizon, following the star that God has sent, leading them who knows where.  We can imagine ourselves following after them, and we too will eventually find the beloved community where Jesus waits. 

For even if at times we must only imagine Jesus, because we are in pain or suffering, and he’s nowhere to be found,  in the imagining that we are with him, we can find hope and even joy and the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that keeps our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord—Jesus, who is alive, and sustaining and true, the one who loves us beyond even our greatest imagining.    

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