University Congregational Church
Jan. 6, 2019
“Light Bulb Moments”
Remember the commercials from a few years ago about the little gadget you plugged in called “the clapper”? You clapped twice and it turned on whatever you had plugged into it… or turned it off if you clapped again? There was a neat little jingle on the commercial – “clap on… clap off”. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to turn on everything in our house that way? Wouldn’t it be nice to turn on or create the presence of everything in our lives that way? Especially good feelings, events, inspiration, or people? Clap them into existence at just the right moment?
You also know what it means in a cartoon when a light bulb appears above a character’s head. They’ve suddenly had a brilliant idea! An epiphany! A realization of truth! Today we are celebrating Epiphany Day. It is the January 6th – the 13th day after Christmas when the “12 days of Christmas” are over. It is the day in the church calendar when we remember the wise ones who followed the star to the place where Jesus was born. Epiphany is the season of stars and light. Epiphany is, along with Christmas and Easter, one of the three oldest festival days of the Christian Church. In Hispanic and Latin cultures, as well as some places in Europe, Epiphany is known as Three Kings Day. In the Eastern Church, it is known as Theophany. Christians around the world celebrate this day. We will have Kings Cake (also known as Baby Cake) today in Fellowship Hall to celebrate, and someone very lucky will find the baby Jesus in their piece of cake!
2,000 years ago, wise ones from the East traveled following a star on that first Epiphany. Here is their story as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. This story is only told in the book of Matthew.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matt. 2: 1-12
Having Epiphany Day fall on a Sunday is especially significant! Like Advent, Epiphany is a season to remind us that our faith gives us light in times of winter darkness. In the dark, short days of the winter times of our lives, the light of God still appears.
I put the word out this week asking you to wear or bring something that had a truth that is important to you….
Perhaps you wore a T-shirt or a button with a slogan. Eric gave this T-shirt to me for Christmas. It has religious signs from around the world. And it says “Prays well with others”. I like that. I am a Christian. Without any hesitation, that is my faith. At the same time, I respect others and their traditions. I appreciate their points of view.
I also wore a button. It is one I have had for decades. It says “Women’s Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society”. As many of you know, I love handcrafts like sewing, knitting, cross-stitch, and quilting. I especially enjoy getting together with friends and working on projects together. My children think this button represents my girlfriends and me when we get together, even when we aren’t doing crafty type things. I will let you unpack that as you see fit.
You may have worn your UCC T-shirt or polo shirt. Being a part of this church means something. It brings light to our world. Whether you serve at our hygiene pantry or at Gammon School, work as a deacon, sing in our choir or attend worship, your presence makes a difference. You are bringing light into the world by your presence here.
Perhaps you didn’t get the word to wear a button or a T-shirt, but you have a word or a phrase you like. Your phrase says something about what you personally believe or think. It may be clever or it may be simple. It may be a quote or it may be your own words. But it means something to you. It reveals a truth about you. It is your light bulb phrase.
I invite you to gather in groups of 2-3 people around you, not including your spouse or someone you know well. Reveal your T-shirt, button, word or phrase. Tell them why it means something to you. Be sure to allow everyone in the group time to speak for 1 minute each.
The Wise Ones followed the star in the sky from a long distance – some say as far away as Africa or Asia – to find the Christ child. It is important to note that they are among the first to believe, even though they are Gentiles. They are outsiders – racially, politically, and religiously. This story in the Gospel of Matthew indicates that Jesus came as a Jewish Messiah, but that he fulfills the hope of all people who seek authentic life.
As the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary notes, “Jesus is God’s revelation to the whole world. The magi are Gentiles in the extreme, characters who could not be more remote from the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem in heritage and worldview. Even at the very beginning of Jesus’ life, then, we see the dividing walls between races and cultures breaking down.”
The Wise Ones teach us that God is with us. In Jesus, God has experienced the whole spectrum of human life – joy and celebration, fear and deep sorrow. In Jesus, God comes close to people and experiences all of the ups and downs of human life.
• That beautiful child you watched opening a present on Christmas? That is God’s own child. And so is the child in a refugee camp, waiting for his next meal.
• That young man who has turned into a loving adult and brought such joy into your life? That is God’s own child. And so is the soldier fighting for freedom in Yemen.
The nativity you put up with love and nostalgia in your heart contains an important reminder that travelers from afar came, following a spark of light, with hope in the hearts. They searched for God-with-us, Emmanuel, light in their darkness.
Each January 6th, we remember the travelers from the East following a star who came to find the Christ child. As we make new discoveries of God’s presence with us this New Year, may we always remember that God’s light and love is for all people everywhere.
The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VII. Abingdon Press. Nashville. 2015.
Perrott, Michael B. “Experiencing Epiphany”. www.sermoncentral.com. Jan.1, 2009.