A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on the Feast of the Epiphany 2008.
“Is that it?” Christmas morning is not complete at our house until one of the kids looks around at the wrapping paper strewn all over the floor and asks, “Is that it?” And, yes, that is it. Well, at least until we go over to Grandma’s for lunch and discover that Santa accidently dropped a few gifts off at the wrong house. Only then is it really ‘it.” Then the kids tune me out as I explain for the umpteenth time that Christmas is about more than the presents. Or as the Grinch puts it, “Maybe, Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” And they know this, in theory. At least until the last gift has been torn open.
Everyone likes to get presents. I’m sure Mary and Joseph were delighted when the three kings showed up with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Although, let’s face it, these aren’t the best baby gifts. Gold’s a choking hazard, a flaming pot of incense is sure to cause third degree burns, and no one really knows what myrrh is. A Diaper Genie would have been so much more practical.
Of course these were symbolic gifts. Gold was a gift fit for a king. The Magi recognized Christ as king and this gift acknowledges his royal birth. Frankincense was burned in religious services as a symbol of prayer. The Psalmist wrote, “Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” And so Christ’s priestly realm is acknowledged. And then there’s myrrh. Myrrh was an aromatic embalming oil which foreshadows Christ’s death and points to his role as savior of the world. So in these gifts we see Christ as king, priest, and savior.
But as with Christmas morning, it’s not about the gifts. As we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany this morning, it’s about the star. To follow the proverbial star in our lives is to follow Jesus. Following the star is what gives meaning to our lives. Otherwise we spend our days on this earth searching and wandering aimlessly. We flit from one thing to the next without purpose or direction. Until suddenly we’re either engaged in a massive midlife crisis or we come to the end of our lives wondering if there’s been a point.
The good news is that there’s always time to follow the star. It’s easy enough to spot. It’s the only one you can see by looking inward instead of upward. It’s the star that resides within. The three kings followed it by looking into their hearts first and then gazing into the sky to follow it.
This morning we’re baptizing a couple of babies. Tyler Mook and Charlotte Anderson will be welcomed as the newest members of the Christian faith. And through baptism we will set them on the path towards that star. In a few moments as we all renew our own baptismal covenants we will reorient ourselves in the direction of the star. But we can’t always follow this star in isolation. It takes a community of faith to keep us focused on the star that leads to the risen Christ. Which is why baptism takes place in the context of the larger community of faith. The Christian life is best approached “with God’s help” and with the encouragement of our fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith. And it is to this faith that Tyler and Charlotte are called by Jesus through all of us.
After the baptism I will give each child a candle with the words, “Receive the light of Christ.” Now you could argue that a lit candle is about as good a baby gift as frankincense. Okay, I’ll probably give the candle to the godparents rather than to Tyler and Charlotte. And the tradition is that the candle is relit each year on the anniversary of the child’s baptism as a reminder of the promises made on their behalf. But it’s also a reminder to keep following that star.
Because that’s what this day is really all about. The miracle of the Epiphany is the universality of the star. The three kings were not Jews expectantly waiting for the messiah. They were gentiles, which made them outsiders. They were star gazers, early astronomers perhaps. The word “magi” is a Latin version of the Greek magoi, referring to a sect of eastern holy men. It’s where we get the word “magic.” And so these kings, or wise men, knew little if anything of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet they had access to the salvation freely offered to all people. That’s the thing about a star. It can’t be hidden; there are no “private” stars – a star is visible to everyone. Hence the word “epiphany” – which we define as a sudden perception of meaning. The Magi had an epiphany when they followed the star and met the Christ-child.
I’m not sure if Mary and Joseph immediately recognized the significance of the gold, frankincense, myrrh after they tore off the wrapping paper or if they just stared at each other wondering why the kings didn’t simply give them a gift card to Baby Gap. But whatever their reaction, it was never really about the gifts. It was about the star that brought the Magi to the stable. And the ensuing knowledge of salvation that the light of the world had been born in Bethlehem. May we all continue, with God’s help, to follow the star that leads us to the risen Lord.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2008