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January 4, 2004

The Epiphany of Christ

(Matthew 2:1-19)

One way to reflect on this great story of the Epiphany is to see it as the three movements of the spiritual life: the journey to Christ; the realization that we are in the presence of Christ; and what happens to us after we meet Christ.

I think this great story sums up the whole Gospel and it says that the first movement of the spiritual life is to seek Christ. That’s what life is all about it. Like the three wise men, we’re on a journey, a holy pilgrimage throughout our lives to find Christ. The Gospels never call anyone “wise.” That’s our first clue. The wisest thing we can do with our lives is to seek the holy Christ. And from the start, we read that the spiritual life, the journey to Christ, the pursuit of truth, has political implications. The wise men meet the horrible King Herod who is “greatly disturbed along with all of Jerusalem” about a rival king, and he summons them and asks them about the star and the holy child and pretends to be religious and interested in God, and like all rulers, he tries to coopt the religious leaders and keep the religious community under control. But the difference here is that the wise men are determined to seek Christ, so they go ahead with their journey and follow the star, and that’s what we have to do: decide that no matter what anyone else says, we are going to seek Christ and worship him and do what he says and live our lives according to him and his Gospel.

The second movement of the spiritual life comes when we suddenly discover that we are in the presence of Christ, when we recognize Christ in our midst. That’s an epiphany, that dramatic, sudden realization of God’s presence. Like the wise men, at some point, each one of us has had an epiphany moment when we realized we were in the presence of Christ, when our hearts were filled with joy and we gave our gifts to Christ. I think the point of life is to seek Christ and to be ready for those epiphany moments, to be on the lookout for Christ and to prepare for epiphany moments!

The third movement of the spiritual life according to our story is how our lives change after we meet Christ, how like the three wise men, we go home a different way. Once we meet Christ, like the three wise men, we no longer cooperate with the empire or the rulers or King Herod or the president. Once we meet Christ, like the wise men, our lives are permanently changed. From now on, our allegiance is to Christ. As people of wisdom, we are going to worship Christ and do what he says, not what anyone else says. This disobedience infuriated Herod, who like all rulers, wants only to kill his rivals and maintain his imperial power, so Herod massacres 2000 young kids in Bethlehem in order to kill Christ. If the wise men had gone back to Herod, he would have killed them, too, so they disobey him and obey God, and that’s what we have to do, disobey those who kill and obey the nonviolent Christ.

Today, our country and other countries continue to kill holy innocents around the world, and our job, as people of wisdom, people who worship and obey the holy Christ, is to non-cooperate with the rulers who kill the innocents, to resist them, to defend the children, and to stop the slaughter of the innocents, because first and foremost, we are epiphany people. We have met Christ. Our lives are changed. We love our enemies and practice the nonviolence of Christ.

Today the Gospel asks us: where are we in the epiphany story? Are we on the road to Christ, are we meeting Christ, or are we going home in a new direction? When did you meet Christ? How has your life changed because you have met Christ?

Right now, we’re going to break bread and pass the cup and I invite you to experience this moment as an epiphany, to realize that we are in the presence of Christ. So let’s give him our best gifts--our very hearts and lives.


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