Well, I'm so sad to say that next Sunday, when you come to church, all of these beautiful Christmas decorations are going to be gone. Our beautiful manger is going to be put away again for another year. Because this week, you see, is the last week of Christmas. Friday is the 12th and final day of Christmas. Now I know some people think that the 12 days of Christmas that we sing about are the 12 days prior to Christmas. But they're actually the 12 days from Christmas to epiphany, which is this Friday, January 6. And on the Epiphany, we celebrate the Magi, or the three wise men
We put our focus on them following that star of wonder and being guided by it to the location of the Christ. Now, you may remember that two years ago, during this time, during the winter solstice, there was another incredible thing that happened in the sky. Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, aligned to form what many were calling the Christmas star, something that hadn't appeared since the Middle Ages.
So maybe the Magi experienced something similar to that on the very first epiphany. Now the word epiphany comes from a Greek word which means “to reveal.” When we have the epiphanies in our lives, I'm sure all of you have had them. Those are the moments where God, the divine, is revealing itself to us in new and powerful ways. Now, as we heard, in our words of integration and guidance this morning from our friend, Reverend Kay Glennon, the story of the Magi really should be read more like a parable, rather than a historical incident.
It's a highly symbolic story. It's not really about the Magi and the baby Jesus. It's really about us discovering the location of the Christ. The story of the epiphany is our story. It's the story of our spiritual journey.
Now, this story of the Magi is only told to us in this one paragraph that I just read for you from Matthew's gospel. That's it. They appear nowhere else in Scripture. So we don't really know a lot about who they were. But as the writer of Matthew's Gospel says, they were wise men from the East. The writer doesn’t say they were kings. And it never says there were three of them. So I'm not really sure where we got that idea that they were three kings.
I think it's probably in that Christmas carol that we sing, “We Three Kings.” But that's nowhere to be found in the Gospels. The writer of Matthew's gospel tells us they were wise men, which means they were people who possess the wisdom.
Now I've told you before, wisdom and knowledge are two different things. There are people who possess knowledge, which means they know a lot of stuff.
People who possess wisdom, though, have a deeper knowing, an inner knowing, an intimate knowing. That's who the Magi were. The word magi comes from the same word as our word magic.
The mystics, the Magi were magicians if you will, but not the way we understand magicians today. Because most magicians today are trying to fool us with trickery and with sleight-of-hand, but really the word magic has its roots in the word mystic. That's really who the Magi were. They were mystics, and mystics aren't trying to fool us. Mystics are trying to reveal to us truth, the truth of our being.
So the Magi were truth tellers. They were able to read the stars. Maybe they were shamans or clairvoyants. But they were people who have great vision and great inner knowing.
And the thing that I love best about the story is that they're from the east. That means they came from different countries, they spoke different languages, they practice different religions. And yet God chose them to discover the location of the light.
What that means to me is that the light of the Christ didn't just come for Christians. The light has come for all people. And what the epiphany is about, it's not about the birth of the Christ light in a baby 2,000 years ago, it's about the birth of the light within you, recognizing that light. And if you allow yourself to follow that light, and allow it to guide you, you too, will learn the location of the Christ.
Again, as we sang in that beautiful poem from Howard Thurman, if you follow and know, you'll learn the mystery of what you are meant to do, and be.
When we keep our eyes focused on the light, when we allow that power and presence of the cosmos to guide us, our intuition, we will be transformed and healed.
And that is what those gifts that the Magi brought symbolize, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Now I've shared with you before about alchemy, alchemists take base metals, and through the power of fire, they turn them into precious metals like gold. Then there's frankincense. Frankincense is an incense that our eastern brothers and sisters use in their spiritual practice. The purpose of incense is to expand, awaken your senses to the spiritual realm. And then there's myrrh, a tree resin that is made into a balm that's used for healing. Those three gifts symbolizes that when we follow the light, we will experience transformation, illumination, and healing.
Again, it's not about the baby, it's about you. It's about putting your focus on the light that Jesus said is within you, and allowing that light to shine for all the world to see.
Now there's one person in the story I haven't spoken about yet. And that's King Herod. King Herod symbolizes the ego. King Herod was a man of great wealth, who liked to brag about his wealth, and he liked to build big palaces with his name on it. Herod symbolizes our ego. When we put our focus on the ego, we are pulled away from our light.
The Herods of the world want to extinguish the light, because the light is a threat to their power. And the same is true for us with our ego. Our ego doesn't want us to discover the light that is within us. Because if we discover that light and allow that to guide us, rather than our ego, then the ego doesn't have a purpose anymore.
Notice what happens. The Magi, when they discover the Christ light, don't return to Herod. It says they went back by another road. My friends, when you discover the light of the Christ within you, you won't return to Herod, you will follow another way, another road, the way of the Lord.
And so as we finish up this time of Christmas, let us put our focus on the Christ light. And in this new year let us intentionally allow ourselves to be guided by it. And let us, the people of Douglas UCC, keep our eyes open pay attention for all of the many epiphanies great and small that God has in store for us in 2023
Happy New Year.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
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.
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