Pr. Lyndon Sayers – Lutheran Church of the Cross
It is fortuitous that Epiphany of Our Lord falls on a Sunday today. It is almost as if we have followed a star to Lutheran Church of the Cross.
Some saw the Magi as interlopers. They were foreigners, oddball astrologers, who had no business following a star to Bethlehem. Some thought they were simply in the right place at the right time (ref. Kathleen Lewis, Dear Working Preacher). Often they are romanticized as part of Nativity scenes.
And yet there is something prophetic about their appearance. Not because of who they are, but because of who has called them. God has called them to witness to a new revelation, the incarnation of the Lord as a form of protest to worldly authority, particularly tyrants like Herod.
Following the star that leads to Jesus changes us, leading us not only somewhere new, but becoming someone new. Our encounter with the gospel reveals new truths to us because Jesus is in our midst. In this sense Epiphany of Our Lord is an opportunity for prophetic imagination, as God challenges us to dream new dreams.
The calling of the Magi is one shared by all baptized Christians. In our different ways we hear and respond to that calling. Through our gifts and charisms, God is pointing to the wonder and joy of Jesus’ presence in our lives and world.
Let us take some time to explore these issues by further highlighting two themes in our gospel reading. The first theme is one of radical change: after encountering Jesus the Magi cannot return by the same road. The second theme is how this encounter with Jesus is a divine calling, awakening prophetic imagination.
Theme 1: Meeting Jesus, you can never return by same road
Let us begin with the first theme, how the Magi are forever changed by their encounter with Jesus and cannot return by the same road (ref. Pr. Michael Poellet, King of Glory Lutheran Church, Saskatoon). We are told in the reading that the Magi are warned in a dream, presumably from God, to bypass Herod and return home by another road. The Magi know that Herod has ill intentions for Jesus. He cannot stomach the idea of a rival king and is afraid. Like all tyrannical leaders he is insecure, he doubts his own grasp of power, and so he over-compensates with the threat of force.
Consider the Slaughter of Holy Innocents, a form of genocide in which Herod has all male infants in and around Bethlehem killed in hopes of eliminating Jesus as a rival king. But the Magi refuse to obey Herod’s command. From a faith perspective, the person of Jesus changes the Magi forever.
The incarnation of God interrupts the journey of the Magi. They cannot help but return by another road. They are no longer the same people they were before this divine encounter.
Think about your own baptismal story, whether you were baptized as an infant or older, and where it has led you today. Think about where it has led us all to be gathered together in this congregation. In some sense God has led us all by a star to this crossroads at Church of the Cross. How is the Spirit calling us to work together as the body of Christ in this place? It will take time to discern what that looks like. It is an exciting calling we are sharing together.
I think people in Victoria will also be excited to join this shared calling. They just don’t know it yet. How could they? Just as the Magi did not know what they were in for until they encountered Jesus, so too none of us knows until it happens. We will be there as fellow interpreters, affirming that this is indeed a divine encounter.
At the same time we respect those who follow another faith tradition or who choose no faith tradition. Faithful evangelism doesn’t mean our way or the highway, just as Jesus uses love, not force, to share his gospel. As a Christian church we haven’t always had the best track record in rooting our evangelism in love. And we repent of our collective sins of violence and coercion as a church, especially in regards to First Nations people and the colonial project in which the church both actively and passively participated.
I think about our prayers for peace in northwestern B.C. thinking about people on the traditional Wet’suwet’en Nation territory, where the threat of clashes with law enforcement has increased.
I know some of you are working on building bridges with members of the First Nations community and I look forward to learning more about that. This too is holy work. Building a bridge is another way in which we do not return the same way home. The Spirit forges a new path through us, rooted in love and peace.
Theme 2: Magi’s Prophetic Imagination
Let us turn now to our second theme, that the Magi’s encounter with Jesus opens them to a prophetic imagination. The gospel story challenges us to look beyond the Magi following the star as a mere chance encounter. The hand of God is present in their journey. They are following a divine calling. And in following this calling they foster a prophetic imagination, which disrupts the status quo. After all they are engaging in civil disobedience, actively disobeying the decree of a political leader, who determines the rule of law even if it bends to his own whims, who has the threat of violence at his disposal, and still they disobey him. This requires immeasurable courage from the Magi, another divine gift.
Their encounter with Jesus has revealed to the Magi that who they are, their fundamental identity, is not determined by national identity, class, or other markers imposed them. But instead their identity and the power of their calling is rooted in being children of God.
We don’t know a lot about the Magi. Some might accuse them of syncretism, mixing faith traditions, and yet God chose them as among the first people to experience the wonder of the incarnation. This is a humbling fact that often the revelation of the gospel in revealed to those we might think are less worthy.
In our own time I think about groups of people who the church has at times deemed less worthy. I think about members of the LGBT2S+ community, people of colour, especially First Nations people, women, people with disabilities, children, and more. Who are the Magi in our midst who we might dismiss or overlook?
There are themes in our gospel reading that resonate with the current US context, thinking about the plight of migrants at the Southern border and beyond. However, I think our calling includes taking a hard look at how we are being challenged to be better in our own context here in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and the Canadian church. I don’t come with ready-made ideas or solutions. Instead this a collective project that requires care and discipline. It is a faithful calling I look forward to sharing together with you.
I think we are at a crossroads as a wider church both witnessing to Jesus’ love for all people and exploring ways of being church that live more fully into God’s coming kingdom. While there has been much wringing of hands concerning the steep decline in attendance in churches generally, we can also choose to see this as an exciting opportunity. I believe we are up to the task of embracing the prophetic imagination of the Magi.
What are ways in which the Spirit is challenging us to imagine new ways of being church? I think people are hungry and curious to experience the love and liberation that Jesus promises. Some people just don’t know it yet. And there is nothing stopping people from following a star to Lutheran Church of the Cross. Because Jesus is already here. The love of God is already present in and among us. We have already encountered God’s wonder and love. And God has exciting things in store for us as a congregation.
Wrapping up…for the coming week I invite you to think about our two themes and where you find yourself in the Epiphany story.
In what ways has your following a star and encountering Jesus led you to return by another road?
In what ways is our encounter with Jesus awakening a prophetic imagination in us and our church?
Let us go forward as modern day Magi to whom is revealed that Jesus is with us, inviting us to live into his promise of love for each one of us. Amen.