“My Heart Cries Out for the Living God” Jan 7, 2024
“My Heart Cries Out for the Living God”
Welcome, one and all, to Epiphany Sunday. This Sunday marks the end of the 12 day period after Christmas that we refer to as “Christmas tide.” The day of epiphany has been and always will be January 6th. According to Mr. Webster, an epiphany can be defined as “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure. Again, an epiphany can be described as “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.” For example. (And this is the funny one:) “Three kings are sitting, pondering in an empty room. One then springs up and says: “I have an Epiphany…I’ve just realized I have never had an epiphany.”
We all have epiphanies of our own from time to time. They can range all the way from such things as realizing where you put your wallet to the discovery that God’s grace and forgiveness can set us free from all the guilt and anxiety we pack around due to the missteps of our past.
Watching the news of late I have been reminded of the sad event three years ago on January 6th, the day of Epiphany, when our nation’s capital was stormed by an angry mob resulting in countless injuries and at least 4 deaths. I’m still waiting for some sort of epiphany to sweep over me that might explain that gruesome event, but for today let’s focus on this rather unusual story of three men who took a trip based on something slightly more than a hunch and had the epiphany of a lifetime.
From the 72nd Psalm we read: 10 Kings along the Mediterranean coast—the kings of Tarshish and the islands—and those from Sheba and from Seba—all will bring their gifts. 11 Yes, kings from everywhere! All will bow before him! All will serve him!” Now, This may have been a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the psalmist. I mean, to say that all kings will bow before him and all will serve him seems a bit unrealistic when you look back at the history of kings in our world. But this certainly speaks to our gospel passage today. Here are three men, astrologers who study the stars, and who were probably men of means as well; three men who took it upon themselves to act upon a hunch and upon prophetic scripture that they possibly weren’t all that familiar with in the first place. But off they went, guided by a star in the sky. Let’s keep in mind the these three men had spent a good part of their lives studying the stars, so this one had to be unusual. This one had to be special; this one had to be brand new. Even so, it is quite remarkable that they took it upon themselves to travel a great distance on what seems to us, evidence that is not all that solid. This is part of what makes this story so remarkable. Sure, there are those that might say that the most surprising aspect of this story is that these three men on such a journey actually stopped to ask directions at all, but we’ll leave that for another day.
The problem lies in the fact that their questions alerted king Herod .(vs 1) At about that time some astrologers from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in far-off eastern lands and have come to worship him3 King Herod was deeply disturbed by their questions, and all Jerusalem was filled with rumors.”
The rest is, as they say, history. Being warned in a dream to go home by another route, the Magi gave Herod the slip, which made him very angry. This resulted, if you’ll recall, in what has been called the slaughter of the innocents when Herod ordered the death of all male children under the age of 2. By the time this came about, however, Mary and Joseph along with their new baby, Had left Bethlehem after being warned in the dream to do so. So yes, even as a little baby, Jesus was causing trouble, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The point is that the appearance of the Magi along with their gifts and attitudes of worship remain an important part of the story that tells us how it was that Christ came into the world.
I’ll admit that I’ve often thought of the visitation of the wise man as being nothing more than just an interesting side plot; a bit like the icing on the cake. But after reading through our Psalm selections today, a few things came to mind that put the visitation of the Magi in a slightly different light.
All through the scriptures, both Old Testament and new, we learn of the mercy and compassion of Christ. We learned that he goes out of his way to help the poor and the marginalized. If you were looking to find Jesus back in his day, the best place to start would be amongst the riffraff: the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and sinners of all stripes. At the same time, we also learn that God came to this earth to offer forgiveness and repentance and salvation to every man, woman, and child-and that includes those who are in positions of leadership and power.
So you have to ask yourself, who was it they came to see the Christ child on that glorious day? It was a handful of shepherds who showed up out of curiosity more than anything else. There were possibly some towns people who came around wondering what was going on. But it was the Magi, the three kings, who came with intention and forethought to witness this glorious event. But more importantly, it was the Magi who came to honor the Messiah with their worship and their gifts.
Historians can only guess, but their guess is that these three astrologers, these three scientists of the day, Had come from a society that practiced the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism, which is still practiced today. It is a religion that involves numerous gods along with some theologies that we might find hard to swallow. But according to Wikipedia they follow the righteous path of Asha, practicing good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Maybe I’m out of line here, but this is the image that I would like to keep of the three men who showed up out of the blue following nothing but a light in the sky and a burning desire to gaze upon the face of God.
At the beginning the 84th salm, we read:
“How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.”
This is how I see the wise men. They were men of stature, men of science, and men who were revered in their native land. But most of all they were men whose hearts cried out for the living God. Their journey was not based upon faith and the evidence they had was sketchy at best, at least by our standards. What they did have were hearts that cried out for the living God and it is safe to say it was the hand of God that steered them in the right direction.
So what can we learn from the Magi? Were these just some rich guys who found a good excuse for a road trip? Or were they hoping to gain something from this journey? The answer is no and no. I’m inclined to think that their presence in Bethlehem came from a deep seated desire to experience the divine and to be in the presence of goodness and beauty and light as they have never imagined.
So what can we learn from the Magi? Well, it’s election season once again and undoubtedly there are candidates who will be quoting scripture as they see fit and this is all fine and good. But amidst all the hoopla and fanfare, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could look into the hearts of those who seek to serve? And wouldn’t it be wonderful, once we have done that, that we find a soul that yearns for the courts of the Lord and the heart that cries for the living God.
Amen and Shalom