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The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014
By Jenee Woodard
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Epiphany (Year A)
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
In contrast to the lowly and rugged shepherds who are bidden to come to the newborn Christ in Luke's Gospel, Matthew tells the familiar tale of the magi who follow the wandering star. Matthew doesn't tell us exactly what nation they come from or even how many of them there are, but the picture Matthew paints is quite clear that these are some strange people to be walking around Judea.
They are certainly Gentiles, most probably pagan, and quite possibly practitioners of the ancient magical art of astrology. In any event, they aren't in danger of being identified as poster-boys for faith and righteousness in ancient Israel.
And yet ... it is they, not the temple priests and teachers of the law, who know that the Messiah has come. It is they, not King Herod, who want to go and actually pay homage to the newborn Savior.
When the wandering star stands still in the sky, signaling that they are at their destination, they are "overwhelmed with joy," and, when they are brought into the home of the holy family and the Lord Jesus, they fall on their knees.
The Magi may have been seen as a strange lot walking through the ancient Holy Land, but they stand early in the Gospel of Matthew as a testament to the fact that no one is beyond the reach of the Good News. No one is so strange and foreign that he or she can't make a way to Christ, or so blind that he or she cannot be drawn in by his most wondrous light.
And for that, the presence and astounding acts of faithfulness of the magi in the second chapter of Matthew brings me much comfort and relief. For, if they can make it, then so can I.
Teri Peterson http://clevertitlehere.blogspot.com
Each night they looked at the sky, gazing at stars, hoping for a sign. Why would they be looking? Why do any of us look? During these darkest days of the year, light is fleeting. During dark times in our lives, light can be almost painful. Sometimes dark is comfortable because light shows the unknown, something we fear. But then again, on a dark and stormy night or a foggy morning, a light can be a life-saver, hope made visible. And light is always stronger than darkness—no matter how small the light, it can't be made darker just because of surrounding darkness. A dark room doesn't put the candle out—in fact, the darker the room, the brighter the candle appears. The same with stars—the darker it is, the brighter the stars appear.
One night, there was a new light. What makes the wise men wise is that they knew this new light was not the thing they were looking for—it was a map, a guidepost, a beacon. Following the star would guide them to perfect light, and so they went. The candles on the Advent wreath are not the light of the world, they are a symbol of that light. The star the wise men followed was not the light, it was the guide to the light. The true splendor and glory were to be found in a child, a helpless wonder in a crib who was joy and peace and light for all the world.
Couldn't we use a star? Where is our guide to the light? Where is the beacon shining in the night? How will we know our way to the manger when we look for the true light of the world, the deeper meaning of God's words "let there be light"?
I suspect each of us could answer this question differently. Some might say we no longer need a star, now that the revelation of God's light has been given to us. Some might say the symbols of our faith—the cross, the table, the baptismal font—are the sign that points the way. Some might say the story of God's work in the world, of God's interaction with people, the story of Scripture, is the guiding star. And all of those are true and good and right.
And yet I wonder ... if we might be the star? We, the community of God's people, the body of Christ, the gathering of those who have heard the calling. Could we be the star, the candle that gives off even a feeble light, a sign that shows the way? I know the church has often gotten things wrong, done horrible deeds, perpetuated hate and darkness rather than love and light. But I still wonder—are we the beacon that points to the light of the world? And is that where our beacon points? Are we a symbol of hope, a guide to the perfect light? Is it possible that we are the ones we have been waiting and looking for?
Natalie Sims http://lectionarysong.blogspot.com
General Songs for Epiphany beyond "We Three Kings" ...
"Arise Your Light Is Come!" (Ruth Duck)—Good general words of Christ coming to bring justice. I love the idea of mountains bursting in song. A good song for the start of the worship service as it fits many different tunes; I like it sung to ST. THOMAS.
"Every Nation Sees the Glory" (Francis Patrick O'Brien)—Beautiful words and very familiar tune (BEACH SPRING); "... Star sent forth from highest heaven, / dancing light of God's design." Highly recommended! Lyrics, sample sheet music, and nice sound sample (http://www.hymnprint.net/).
"When God Almighty Came to Be One of Us" (Michael Hewlett)—This is a great Christmas and Epiphany song. It's also set to a very easy (and fun!) tune to sing (URQUHART). I especially love verse 3. Lyrics (http://barefootandlaughing.blogspot.com/2005/12/merrychristmas.html).
"Will You Come and See the Light?" (Brian Wren)—Excellent Christmas/Epiphany words to the tune KELVIN-GROVE (The Summons) "Will you hide, or decide to meet the light?"
"From a Distant Home / De Tierra Lejana Venimos" (Traditional Puerto Rican carol, translated by Walter Ehret and George K. Evans)—Simple folk tune and pretty standard words of the gifts that the wise men brought. Would be a good change from "We Three Kings."
"Heavenly Child" (Peter Mayer)—This is a great song from the viewpoint of one of the wise men, particularly for those who have traveled far in their spiritual journey but hold on to the image of the heavenly child. Lyrics and sound sample (http://petermayer.net/music/?id=7).
John Petty http://progressiveinvolvement.com
Matthew introduces us to Herod. Herod became "king of the Jews" in 37 BCE. Thoroughly pro-Roman, Herod couldn't do enough for Caesar Augustus. The "magi" originated in the Persian priestly class. They were sorcerers, fortune-tellers, astrologers. They represent the "wisdom of the east."
The magi tell Herod about the birth of a "king of the Jews"—a title that technically belongs to Herod. (Note that Herod refers to the child as "messiah," not—pointedly—as "king of the Jews.")
The magi have seen his star "at its rising"—en te anatole. In response, Herod is etaraxthe —agitated, troubled, disquieted, filled with inner turmoil—"and all Jerusalem with him."
Jerusalem is a "company town," dominated by the temple bureaucracy and their overseers, the Romans. A "king of the Jews" other than Herod could be upsetting for business. To paraphrase a popular saying, "Better the devil you know than the messiah you don't."
Herod quizzes the magi on the time the star appeared. This establishes a range of age that will set the stage for Herod's slaughter of the innocents, which follows immediately upon this lection. All born within two years of this "exact time" will be killed.
The word for time here is chronon—chronological "business as usual" time, and not kairos, which is God's time. In chronos time—"business as usual" time—extreme brutality and arbitrary violence is the way.
Chronos time is attended by lies. Herod sends the magi to Bethlehem on a covert mission to supply him information about the child. He wants to "worship" him, he says, but, of course, he really wants to eliminate this rival "king of the Jews." Lying and violence go together. They are "business as usual."
The magi seem to go along with this. They "hear" Herod and do what he says. As they go out, however, the star reappears and guides them to the child. Literally, verse 10 reads: "Seeing the star, they rejoiced exceedingly great joy greatly"—four words in Greek, which pile superlative upon superlative. Contrast this with the defensive and fearful reaction of Herod, whose system is wracked by agitation and inner turmoil.
Gifts were always presented to kings. The gifts of the magi include myrrh, a very expensive perfume used by the Romans to mask the smell of burning corpses. Nero had reportedly burned a massive amount at the funeral of his wife Poppaea. What is Matthew saying with this inclusion of myrrh? Is it a signal that Jesus will be done in by the Romans?
The magi receive a dream from God that tells them to avoid Herod, and they go home "by a different way"—di' allys idou. The magi are led and instructed by God onto a new path, not the "business as usual" path of lying and violence, but the different "way"—as Christianity was known in the time of Matthew's writing—of Christ the Lord.
Julia Seymour http://lutheranjulia.blogspot.com
There are names for the wise men. Much ink has been used to talk about the gifts they brought and the significance of those gifts. There are maps of their journey. There has been speculation as to their ethnicity and race. Historical astronomical charts have been consulted, so that we might know the signs they saw and interpreted to know about Jesus' birth.
Whither the writing about Jesus' drawing Gentiles to himself, even from birth? Who will step forward and speak to strangers who are able to (1) discern the birth of a king who will change the world and (2) heed their dreams and the voice of the Spirit? Whence the commentaries and articles on not only the ability of God to use all kinds of people but also the intention of God to do precisely that?
For many years, Epiphany's "Wise men still seek Him" was the response to Christmas's "Jesus is the reason for the season." Yet, bumper-stickering Epiphany cuts short the meaning of this season of light. How can our hearts "be radiant" or "thrill and rejoice" if we are not willing to open to the reality of what God is revealing to us in this time of growth through revelation (see Isaiah 60:5)?
Let the epiphany of this winter be that Jesus came for all people. Let the understanding thaw our frozen lines of categories of election, perfection, and rejection. Let the light that shines in the darkness illumine the barriers that the church has put around the understanding of salvation, so that they might be torn down and abandoned. Let the inspiration of the Spirit reveal the gifts that we can bring to honor the King of all.
In a season of history, we can review what has been written about the wise men. Or we can truly look at their story, at the gift of the simply written word, and realize the gift of faithful action into which God drew them. And we can pray that we might receive the grace to be used in the same way.
Thom Shuman http://lectionaryliturgies.blogspot.com
Call to Worship
We gather wondering, "Where will we find the Bethlehem baby?" We will find him in the laughter of children, in the wisdom of grandparents.
We gather asking, "where will we find the Child of Christmas?" We will find the Child where the needy are blessed, where the oppressed are set free.
We gather wanting to know, "where will we find the Christ who has come for us?" We will find hope where grace overwhelms fear, where love shatters hatred, where joy fills all people.
Prayer of the Day
We have heard
of your grace,
from those set free
who whisper of your joy;
of dawn's fresh start;
from late risers
listening to the stories
of the needy.
We have heard
of your Light,
Bright Star of the morning:
which can illumine
the shadows of our lives;
which can show
the path to God's heart;
which can point the way
to where we become
servants of the gospel.
We have heard
of your promised peace,
which can end war,
as well as heal our hearts;
which can conquer our fears,
and flood us with faith;
which can enter our lives
and overwhelm us with hope.
We have heard of you, God in Community,
Holy in One, and will proclaim your glory to
all, even as we pray, saying, Our Father ...
Call to Reconciliation
Why do we huddle in the shadowed corners of life, rather than running to the Light of life? Why do we love the wrong we do rather than grasping the good news offered to us? As we struggle with such questions, let us speak to God of all we have failed to do, seeking hope and grace as we pray together,
Unison Prayer of Confession
We search for your light, Star Caster, but too often end up settling for the dimness of temptation. Our motives for seeking to find Christ are not always pure, for we expect him to fulfill our desires, rather than your hopes for us. We want the gifts of wealth, health, success, fulfillment, rather than those of servanthood, of compassion, of peace.
Forgive us, Shaper of our lives, that we are so foolish to put our needs ahead of your grace. Help us to be like those wise people of so long ago, who found hope, instead of a destination; who found grace, instead of gratitude; who found salvation, instead of a sign. As we journey with your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, fill us with the light of your joy and love.Silence is kept.
Assurance of Pardon
Up, on your feet! Grace has been poured into our hearts, love has flooded our souls, the light of hope shines in us.
This is the light which has come to all, the light we will carry and give to everyone we meet. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Excerpted from The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014 by Jenee Woodard. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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