Saturday, January 12, 2008

Epiphany Sermon

Sharing our bread

No one ever went near the house of la vecchia ("the old woman"),
whose name was Befana.
Some thought that she was a witch with mysterious powers.

Her body was twisted,
and she leaned on an old broom in order to move about.
Her hands were withered and crooked
from working the land and tending her few animals.
She had stringy gray hair,
pulled back from her face
and tied with rags,
and her clothes were patched and worn.

The old woman kept to herself.
She busily spent every day keeping the fire going
in her small cottage and sweeping the floor all day long.
Befana lived near Bethlehem.
One cold winter's night
while preparing her supper of beans and bread,
she heard a knock at the door.

Leaning on her broom, she slowly hobbled to the door and called out,
"Who is it?"

A deep soothing voice answered,
"Please, help us, we are lost."
Befana opened the door just a crack,
but the light that shone through nearly blinded her.
Before her towered three kings,
dressed in brilliant colorful cloaks of purple, blue, and green.
Each king wore a crown of gold
and a large jeweled necklace.

Befana kept squinting to see them
because they were so dazzling.

"We have come to worship
at the feet of the Child King, born in Bethlehem,"
said the tallest king.

"We have been following His star as the angel prophesied,
but have lost the way.
Can you tell us where He is?"

Befana was astonished by their words.
"I know of no king born in these parts," she said
and proceeded to shut the door.

"Wait," begged one of the kings,
"come with us and we will find Him together."

Befana shook her head from side to side.
"I cannot go. I have animals to tend, vegetables to water,
and a house to clean.
Besides, what would this king want with an old woman like me?"

The kings said good-bye to the unwilling Befana
and continued on their journey.
The old woman sat down to eat her now-cold beans,
but she was not hungry.
She kept thinking about the strangers
and their invitation.

Something inside her said that she should go.
Without wasting a minute,
Befana picked up her broom,
put a few pieces of bread in a sack,
and set out to find the strangers.

She followed their footsteps and those of their camels
for as long as she could.
But then a great wind came
and blew away all traces of their path.

Befana walked and walked,
and in each town that she came to,
she asked if the three men in brilliant clothes had passed through,
but no one had seen or heard of them.

Discouraged, she lay down near a rock and fell asleep.
The next day, she began her journey again,
never ceasing to ask the same question.
Every time she saw a baby,
she broke off a crust of bread and gave it to the child,
thinking that this baby might be the Child King
who would recognize her.

Italian legends tell us

that to this day, Befana is still wandering

through towns and villages

looking for the Child King.

Every year on the Feast of Epiphany, or Three Kings,

the children of Italy eagerly await the arrival of la vecchia,

who still leaves each child a small gift.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.

The Wise Men have arrived and seen this baby.

The World now knows
this baby has come for everyone—
not just for one religious or ethnic group,
but for the whole world.

Today we bring forward our gifts for the babies in our community.

Like Befana,

we should always be looking for the Christ Child,

sharing our bread, our abundance, or even our scarcity of abundance,

Sharing what little we have

with those who have even less.

Each time we gather as a community for the Holy Eucharist—
Eucharist being a word that means thanksgiving
we each receive a small piece of bread broken from a much large whole.
God gives us that bread
just as God gives us a baby named Jesus,
this Child King the wise men—and Befana-- sought.
The body of Christ,
the bread of heaven.
The body of Christ,
bread for the journey.

Just as we are given bread--
bread that is blessed and broken and given and shared--
we are called to go into the world---
not complaining of all that is lacking in our lives--
but celebrating all that is present
all that is given, all that is abundant and blessed.

I have a gift for each of you today.
It is a piece of chalk.
I know, I know—
you have all been dreaming that someone would give you a piece of chalk!

I give it to you so that you may take it home with you
and mark the entrance to your homes—
on the porch, on the sidewalk, on a wooden post, on the doorframe
the choice is yours.

Mark the entrance to your home with these letters
Those letters represent the first letters of three names—
Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
The names that are traditionally known as the names of the three magi.
Others say C-B-M stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat—
Latin for May Christ bless this dwelling.

It is an ancient Epiphany tradition—more common in other parts of the world
than here in America—
to bless homes and chalk the doors with the blessing.

In front of the letters write 2007.
At the end of the letters write 2008.

2007 is over. Let it go.
Remember it but let it go.

2008 is all that lies ahead of us this year.
Embrace it.
Embrace every minute.
2007 C B M 2008

I give you this chalk as a blessing for your home, your life, your very being.
Mark this day.

Mark this day
as one that is full of the same wonder and joy
the wise men discovered
by following a star.

Mark this day
as one that is calling out to you
just as Befana was called
to go into the world,
and share what has been given to you—
And to never cease believing
that God works miracles,
that the Child King is just around the bend in the road.

Share your bread.
Live in blessing.
Follow the star.
Journey on.

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