I'm sad to say it, but next Sunday when we come to church, these beautiful Christmas decorations are going to be gone. And this beautiful nativity set is going to be put away until next year, because this week is the final week of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends this Thursday, January 6, the 12th and final day of Christmas. And it's the day that we celebrate what's known as the Feast of the Three Kings or the Feast of the Epiphany. Now the word epiphany comes from a Greek word, and it means “to reveal.” It's when God the Divine reveals itself to us in new and powerful ways.
I am sure that most people in this room – most of you who are watching, have had epiphanies in your life, be they great or small moments when you felt the presence and power of God right within you and with you in very strong and real ways.
We heard in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning from our friend, Reverend Kay Glennon, who describes the story of that first epiphany, as a parable as a story, and she says that it is a highly symbolic one. That means that it really isn't about the Magi. And it isn't even really about the baby Jesus. The story of the epiphany is really about us.
The epiphany is our story. It's a reminder for us, especially as we begin a new year, to keep our focus on the light, and to allow ourselves to be guided by that light, just as the Magi were. Now, the story of the Epiphany, the story of the Magi is only told to us in Matthew's Gospel. All we know about the Magi is just that one paragraph that I read for you this morning. So we don't really know a lot about who the Magi were.
But notice that the writer of Matthew's Gospel described them as wise men from the East. He never said that there were three of them, there could have been more. And he never said that they were kings.
I think it's that Christmas carol that we sing, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” kind of popularized that idea, but it's nowhere to be found in the Bible. What the writer of Matthew's gospel tells us is that they were wise men, which means that they possessed wisdom. And I've told you before, wisdom is very different from knowledge. Yes, there are a lot of smart people who know a lot of facts, that's knowledge. But the Magi possessed wisdom. And wisdom is a very deep inner knowing, a very deep intuition is what they possessed. And they were Magi. It's where we get our word magic, from that same root word. The Magi were magicians, but not magicians the way we understand magicians today. Because magicians today are trying to fool us. They're trying to fool us with sleight of hand and with illusion.
But the actual root of that word magical, if you go back, it was more in line with “mystical.” Magical meant mystical. The Magi were mystics, they weren't trying to fool us with illusion. They were trying to reveal the truth of our being to us. They were truth-tellers. They were seers. Maybe they were clairvoyants, or shamans, or astronomers. They could see into the stars, see into the spiritual realm.
And one of my favorite things about the Magi is that they were from “the east,” which means they were from the eastern spiritual traditions. They were foreigners. They looked different from Jesus. I remember when I was a kid, I would love putting out the nativity set and putting out the Magi because they looked so different from everyone else in the scene. There was something mystical about them. They spoke a different language. They practiced different traditions.
And what's so amazing to me about that is that it shows us that the light of the world came for all people. Not just for Christians, for all people. The greatest epiphany that we can have is the discovery of that light with us and within us, when you discover that the light of the world is within you, just as Jesus said it was. And when you begin to see that same light in every single person, that's the greatest epiphany that you can have. Once more and more of us begin to discover that light within ourselves and within one another, we will heal the world. We will begin to transform.
And that is why the Magi brought those three gifts, because that's what they represent: transformation and healing, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
So if you were with us last Sunday, I was talking about alchemy, and I was talking about how alchemists take base metals, and through the power of fire, they transform them into very precious metals like gold. So the Magi bring gold, a precious metal that symbolizes transformation. Then they bring frankincense. Frankincense is an incense. It's an incense that our eastern brothers and sisters use in their meditation and prayer practice. And what it does is it opens up their senses to the spiritual realm, representing intuition. And the third gift is myrrh. Myrrh comes from nature, it's a tree resin that is made into a balm for healing. So those gifts represent transformation into intuition and healing.
And again, when we put our focus on the light, and allow ourselves to be guided by the light, the power and presence of God, we will experience transformation and healing in our lives.
Now there's one person from the story that I haven't talked about yet. And that's King Herod. King Herod was someone who was all about power and wealth. He wanted control. He was so fearful of the light, because that threatens his power and control. Herod represents our ego. It's the part of ourselves that is threatened by the light. Notice, the Magi, once they discover the Christ light, they don't go back to Herod. It says that they took another road home. That's why the front cover of your bulletin today from the UCC, says “Another road,” because my friends, when we stop listening to the commands and the voice of our ego, the worldly self, the self that wants to control things,and we begin to listen more fully to the voice of the Spirit, and let that guide us, we're following another road. We're not following the way of the world. We're following the way of the Lord, the way of the Christ.
So my friends on this Epiphany Sunday, let us not just remember and celebrate the Magi. Let us recommit ourselves to being the Magi, to becoming the Magi, to be people whose focus is on the light. And people who allow ourselves to be guided by that light, so that we can heal and transform not just ourselves, but the world. And may we, during this Epiphany Sunday, keep watch for all of the epiphanies, be they great or small that God has in store for us in 2022. Remembering what Scripture says that God's plans for us are not plans of harm, but plans of fullness, to give us a future and a hope. Happy New Year and …
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Rev. Kaye Glennon
The story of the magi is greatly symbolic. From ancient times, the star has symbolized the presence of God as well as illumination and guidance. The magi were more than just astrologers; they were thought to have a special, mystical connection with God and to have “secret wisdom” not known to ordinary people. Plus the magi came from the east, so we know they were not Jews or Romans. They were Gentiles. Herod attempts to extinguish the light that threatens his “kingliness,” but he is thwarted by the wise magi who refuse to comply with his request to report the location of the child born “King of the Jews.” Put all of that together and we see that Matthew is making a spiritual and political statement and seeking to shift the dominant worldview. Jesus (not the Emperor) was the light coming into a world ruled by darkness and violence. He heralded the true kingdom of God (not Rome), one which brought peace to all people through justice, not victory. And Jesus came for all people, not just the Jews, for even wise magi from other nations recognized his light, and stand in solidarity with Jesus against the powers of darkness. This is the “truth” embedded deeply within the parable of the magi. And it still has power for us today. The light of Jesus still shines in the darkness, but there are Herods out there who would do anything to extinguish it to maintain their power and control. The question for us is: who are we in this parable? Are we the magi, illumined by the light, and refusing to aid in its suppression? Or are we like Herod, fearful of change, defensive of our status and power? Are we supporters of those who rule with intimidation, fear and violence, or supporters of those who rule with compassion, love and justice? The choice is ours.
What did you think?