Sermon text: Matthew 2: 1-12
The other night, as I was driving home down Cresson Mountain on Route 22, far across the valley I couldn’t help but see the Natal Star on Chimney Rocks, shining down on our fair town. That star has been a fixture on our horizon for as long as I can remember. It is a bright beacon of hope and joy, and on Christmas Eve it was fitting to sing Silent Night outside under its glow. For unto us a child is born. A son is given. Let us, like the Magi, find the Christ child and bring our gifts.
But then, in a cruel twist of irony, as I looked up into the night on Thursday, on the festival day of Epiphany that commemorates the adoration of the Magi, the star was gone. It was turned off for the season and the snowy January night felt just a bit gloomier.
It’s difficult to fathom that when we celebrated Epiphany two years ago, in January of 2020, that we began our Joyous Generosity Campaign. That weekend the church entrusted you with over $30,000. Each family was given money to fund ministry to make the light of Christ shine brighter in our community. You were recommissioned to make Jesus Christ known to each other and all the world, and you did it. You supported neighbors and charities. You fed and clothed. You worked with time honored organizations and you invented new ideas. You proclaimed Jesus Christ in deed and word. It was one of my proudest moments as a pastor, to see you so empowered to be God’s light in the world.
How on earth has it been two years since that happy weekend? How much more have we aged through worry and fear and confusion and sighs too deep for words? Two years ago I felt joy and pride in my church like I never had before, and now I feel disappointment and frustration, both your feelings, and my own.
There’s no one to blame for these feelings except a virus that has lingered longer than any of us imagined two years ago. It has forced us to live differently than we would choose. It has intruded into most every aspect of reality: work, school, shopping, socializing—and the church is no exception. We chafe at worshipping from home or not singing in worship. We chafe at the request to wear masks or that our neighbors in the pew fail to wear them. We lament that we must still follow Covid related regulations to keep each other safe. We lament that guidance from Atlanta or Harrisburg or Washington changes at dizzying speeds. We lament that the familiar components have changed—these are very real losses, and we all grieve them differently.
Our contrasting understandings of the value of Covid related measures distract us from our mission and divides us, sometimes bitterly. The Body of Christ is wounded. The Zion family is wounded. You are wounded. I am wounded. We all are wounded. And in our woundedness we must still come to terms with the people we have loved and lost to this virus.
A year ago we might have joked that we would not bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus, but hand sanitizer, masks, and toilet paper. This year we do not bear gifts at all, only anger, weariness, and vexation. Those are not befitting for a king…but Jesus will take them anyway, and he will transform them into something lifegiving.
You see, we never stop being the Magi. We are always following the star to see Christ. We always embark on a journey for the divine. We always carry gifts to pay him homage. Sometimes we are proud of the gifts we bring, and other times we are ashamed and embarrassed. And yet, the star beckons us to seek the lord.
Even though tradition tells us there are only three Magi—Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar—in reality we don’t know how many people made the holy pilgrimage. Were there three, or fifteen, or fifty, or more people in that caravan? We do not know. But there is something to be said about the fact that the Magi made this journey together.
I cannot imagine that celestial navigation is an easy task to accomplish without getting lost. Getting a group of people to journey well together in our modern era is not an easy task in the best of times, even with a GPS, rest stops, automobiles, and the availability of fast food. Imagine the difficulties the Magi would have had, traveling by camel, following a star, and moving through the massive and harsh expanses of desert to seek Jesus.
The magi make the journey, and they do so together, not separately. From the very beginning of Covid we have known the same truth. Our mission in Christ is not as individuals but as a whole. We are better together than we are apart. And so, as we continue this journey we step on together. When we are weary we cope by caring for each other, by helping each other, by being mindful of our neighbors. We share Christ with each other.
We also share Christ will all the world, that that mission has not changed. The methods by which we accomplish this may have altered, but our goal remains the same. We exist to share with the world.
We are the same gifted Body of Christ that we were two years ago. At Zion we have an immense treasure of talents and skills stowed safely for this journey. Let’s not forget to use them.
Let us also remember our destination. We exist as church to pay homage. We exist as church to give God glory. We exist as church to be Christ to our neighbors, to be filled with grace and mercy and forgiveness. Our mission has not changed.
Together, let us journey on, forward. Together, let us bear gifts worthy of a king. Together, let us follow the yonder star, and reflect the very light we follow. And may we honor each other just as much as we honor Christ. AMEN