Monday, February 23, 2015

Feast not Facts

Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

Feast not facts

Some of us are old enough to remember watching the original,
or young enough to have seen the re-runs,
of the television program DRAGNET.

Remember Sargent Joe Friday?
One of favorite lines was, “Just the facts, m’am.”
Just the facts.

Sargent Friday would have a struggle finding the facts
when it comes to the Feast of Epiphany.

Because you see so many of the “facts” about Epiphany—
well, they’re not really “facts” at all.

For example,
We sing the hymn (which I love!)
“We three kings.”

There is not one word in the gospel
that says these men are kings.
The only king mentioned is Herod.
Perhaps when you heard Matthew’s gospel,
you were thinking,
Hmmm…it must be in one of the other gospels
where we are told these men are kings.

The story of the magi, the wise men,
is found in only one gospel—Matthew.

And yes, it only says they are wise men—
it never says kings.
Our tradition has made them kings—
probably because of the extravagant gifts they bring—
gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And where are the camels?
We hear of camels in Isaiah, yes.
In most of our crèche scenes,
the wise men are always traveling with their camels.
Sorry. Not factual.
Not one word in Matthew’s gospel
about a camel—not even a donkey in this story.
The magi could have been walking.
We don’t have any facts about how they traveled.

Tradition-- but not scripture—
also gives us the names of these kings—
(some stories tell us he was King of Arabia)
(he was the elderly one with the grey hair—
King of Persia)
And finally Caspar
(though sometimes you see his name written
as Gaspar or even Jasper)—
he was the young one, King of India.

Of course these names are not in the Bible.
But they have become part of the story.

And then there is that number: three.
Scripture never tells us there are three of them.
They are simply referred to as “wise men from the East.”

Orthodox tradition says there were 12 of them.
Some stories say there were 40 or 50 of them.

Our western tradition says three—
probably because there are three gifts
and we assume
they would each want to have their own gift.
After all, who wants to show up to see the Messiah
and have to say,
“Well, Melchior and I went in together
on your present!"
And about that baby.
Nope. Not a baby.
A “child” says scripture and that would be more accurate
Because let’s face it—if the wise men were walking,
by the time they arrived,
Jesus was probably starting to walk as well.
Not a baby in a manger
but a toddler
by the time they arrive.

But you see,
It is not about facts.
The truth is we don’t know the facts.
The truth is that we sometimes read scripture
and fill in the missing parts to fill in the story.
But that’s okay.
Because things don’t have to be factual
to be deeply true.

Epiphany is about shining the light
on something that is far bigger
than any collection of facts.

Epiphany comes from a Greek word which means
“manifestation” or “showing forth.”
Epiphany is the light bulb that goes off
over the cartoon character’s head.
Epiphany is the church season filled with AHA! moments.

The big AHA! of this church season is that
God has come into the world as a human being.
Divinity has morphed with humanity.

The AHA! of Epiphany is that anyone—absolutely anyone—
who wants to seek God
is welcome on the journey.

The wise men were from the East—they weren’t part of the inner circle—
they were the ultimate outsiders.
Gentiles—maybe even pagans.
Yet here they are in the  gospel,
in Jesus’ story,
in our story.
All are welcome.

Epiphany reminds us that God does not hide from us.
God does not play favorites.
God is with us.
with all of us.
God wants to be found.

The psychologist Carl Jung, had these words
carved over the front door of his home in Zurich:
“Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”

Later he had those same words
carved on his tombstone.

Bidden or unbidden,
God is present.
God is manifest.
God is revealed.
Even when we may not see it.

Epiphany reminds us that God appears
in even the most mundane moments,
to even the most ordinary people.

We do not have to be a king
or ride a camel
or have a name like Balthazar
or have gold to offer.

We are simply invited to come, to seek, to journey.
We are called to pay attention,
to take notice.

Epiphany is the season when all the lights are turned on:
All the better to see you with, God.

God has jumped into the world as a baby—
not as a king,
not as a person of wealth or prestige—
but as a helpless, poopy little baby.

God jumps in as a baby at Christmas
and when Epiphany arrives,
when those magi (and we)
show up,
God shouts, with great joy, “Come in! Oh, do come in!
The door is open. Wide open.”

Epiphany is when we realize
that the door is always open,
the table always has room for one more,
and we are all invited to the party.
We are all invited to the feast.

This is indeed the FEAST of the Epiphany!

No comments: