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Star We Have Not Yet Seen

January 4, 2016

A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the First Sunday of the Year, Epiphany Sunday, January 3, 2016

 Matthew 2:1-12

“My view is that if your philosophy is not unsettled daily

then you are blind to all the universe has to offer.”

― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Milky Way spanning over Grand Canyon and Colorado River

Have you ever had the opportunity to gaze up at the heavens from a dark, open space? For those of us who have grown up in cities or near suburban malls with their 24/7 blare of lights, the experience can be overwhelming. While we may be able to pick out the North Star or a faint Big Dipper and Little Dipper, until that moment when we see an open sky, we can never understand the expression “the sky was blanketed with stars.” And yet, until 150 years ago and the invention of the electric light, this was the common experience of all human beings. Exactly two years ago I was at the Grand Canyon with my family and the sky was so vast and bright, that looking up I felt a sense of vertigo – as if the immensity of space would overpower earth’s gravity and I would fly away. Seeing the plethora of stars, large and small, winking and burning, so far away and yet traveling toward us from millions of light years before, filled me with wonder even as it unsettled me. I may have known intellectually that there were millions out there, but stepping onto the edge of the canyon in the quiet blackness showed me instantly I truly had no idea. Most of us have no idea.

Here we’ve been, living our lives, commuting to work, playing Uno with friends, apportioning our SNAP benefits, helping our spouse get used to her walker, buying a house, voting in elections, comparing prices at the grocery store, falling madly in love, figuring out our major at college, playing the piano, choosing a coffin and marker for a loved one, charging down the soccer field, mowing the lawn, shaking our head as we pay the oil bill, hauling the bags of nonperishable donations to the food pantry, reading the latest novel, learning to take our first steps, weighing whether we can afford to go to the dentist, losing our home to the bank, getting 100 percent on our spelling test, landing the deal at work, recovering from rape, advocating an end to fracking, going for chemo treatments, calling members to see if they’ll serve on the church council, getting our book published, trying to adjust our immigration status, washing and folding mountains of laundry, repairing that crack in the basement wall, purchasing our monthly commuter rail pass, rocking our newborn to sleep, gathering for worship. And all the time, right above us, is this fathomless universe, awash in stars, causing us to wonder: if we have not seen this, what else have we been missing?

Today we observe Epiphany, a day when God reveals, discloses, uncovers, presents to us that which was once unseen and unknown. We are reminded that there is always more to see, more to be revealed. And what we see shapes how we act in the world.

The writer of Matthew chose to open his Gospel with this story of magi seeking the one born “King of the Jews.” Written about three generations after Jesus’ birth to a community that had never known any existence other than that under the Roman occupation, Matthew’s narrative is revealing. He exposes the illegitimacy of Herod, the Jewish, client-ruler who had been appointed “King of the Jews” by Caesar Augustus himself and who was charged with pacifying the Jewish population. As the local regent he oversaw the construction of cities and monuments that honored the Roman conquerors and a network of ruling families, temple functionaries, and tax collectors that ensured the values and priorities of Rome set the context for life in the occupied territories. And Herod’s command of the military backed up social and economic coercion with the ongoing threat of violence. But Matthew’s narrative gleefully mocks the power Herod exerted, as the magi, warned in a dream, depart another way.

The story of the magi proclaims that God’s salvation will not be thwarted and that people who are ready to listen intently to dreams, to be open and alert for alternatives to what is given, and to be ready to depart upon a different way will be the ones to experience God’s coming.

And we, millennia later, are reminded that our faithfulness to God requires being ready to see our world differently, to go beyond what is given, to wonder and imagine God’s coming in our time. Who are our Herods presuming to tell us what is of value and setting the conditions for how we must live?

This Epiphany, let us expect God to reveal to our eyes those stars we have not yet seen, and by that vision to guide us in the very depths and practicalities and loyalties of our daily lives, to look up and chart our course by the birth of this disruptive, holy child who causes us to see and to question and ask, shall we too depart by another way?[1]

 Living God, you have created us to live within a span of time.

Each of our lives is a bright thread in the tapestry of life,

unfolding over centuries.

Because we live in time, we can learn from the past

and give to the future.

So we thank you for the light that shines from the past:

in the discoveries and achievements of countless people,

in heroic deeds and in unsung acts of love.

Most of all we thank you for making yourself known to us;

for taking the time

to reveal yourself to the world,

and for the long unfolding of your revelation.

Today we thank you above all

for the shining light of Jesus Christ.

You have always known that light,

but to us it burst into history

like a new star in the night sky.

So we celebrate the epiphany of your love

and pray that the light of Christ

may shine on us, every day. Amen.[2]

 

 

[1] Adapted from a sermon originally published, but never preached, by The Rev. Noelle Damico. Used with permission.

[2] Brian Wren “Within a Span of Time: A Prayer of Thanksgiving” from Advent, Christmas and Epiphany: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship.

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