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From the East - Sermon, 1/5/20
January 7, 2020, 12:02 PM

According to many theologians, the birthday of the church is traditionally celebrated on the Feast of Pentecost.  It is on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, appearing as tongues of fire.  This story is probably pretty familiar to most of us here this morning.

I am not about to argue with two millennia of Church History.  After all, I can think of some pretty grumpy Church History seminary professors who might think I wasn’t paying attention in their classes.  I am willing to stick with the idea that the church began at Pentecost but I am going to argue that Christianity began on this very day, the Feast of the Epiphany.

Before I make my case for the start of Christianity on Epiphany, it’s important to take a quick trip down memory lane.  As we hear about in the reading from the prophet Isaiah, there have been centuries of prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  The Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of God, has been prophesied for centuries.  Whole books of scripture are devoted to these predictions. 

The Messiah, the promised one, will redeem the people of Israel.  The people who walked in darkness will come to see a great light.  The light will come and the glory of God will shine on the people of Israel.

Finally, after all this time of waiting, the people are told to “arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  This message, however, was really only meant for the people of Israel.  According to many the people who spent a lot of time studying these prophecies, the coming of the Messiah was only meant for the chosen ones, the people of God, the people of Israel. 

But Jesus Christ, as he is good at doing, shatters all expectations and actually draws all people to his side – and that is what we celebrate today.  Unlike the way in which the prophecies have been understood for centuries before the arrival of Jesus, Jesus is actually revealed to all the nations – not only to the people of Israel.

One of the reasons we gather today is to celebrate the arrival of wise ones “from the East.”  We hear in the Gospel according to Matthew that “wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.”  “The East” is an early catch phrase that describes anyone who is not Jewish, anyone who is a foreigner, anyone who is unfamiliar to the ways and customs of Israel.

In other words, these wise ones from the East are the last ones we would expect to see in Bethlehem at any given time.  Certainly, they are the last ones we would expect to be drawn to the light of Christ.  However, there is just something about Jesus that draws people – even and maybe especially the unexpected people – to his side. 

And we can count ourselves among those unexpected people.  Even if we have Jewish family members as I do, I believe all of us here would be considered foreigners, people from the East, to the ancient people of Israel.

It is not to us that the birth of Messiah had been predicted for centuries.  None of us would count ourselves, nor would we be counted by others, among those to whom the prophecies have been delivered.  Many people at the time of Christ’s birth would probably be scandalized that a group of people like us – people from “the East” - would gather to celebrate the arrival of the Messiah.

But in Christ, and what a wonderful phrase, but in Christ, we do celebrate together this morning.  And we celebrate because of the arrival of the wise ones from the East.  Even as an infant, Christ begins to gather all people to his side – even the unexpected ones.  Christ has been revealed to all the nations, both inside and outside the nation of Israel, for the salvation of the world. 

It is because Christ has been revealed to both insiders and outsiders that we who had been considered outsiders are brought to the inside.  This is one of the first gifts of Christ – and what a gift it is!  And, like any good gift, we cannot keep it to ourselves.

We are meant to be like the star that draws the wise ones from the East to the side of Christ.  We are meant to draw others to Christ – even and maybe especially those who feel far away.  The wise ones from the East – ones who were foreign to the people and prophecies of Israel – they are drawn to the manger by the rising of a star.  Who else needs to be drawn to the manger?  Who else feels far from the manger?  Is it our neighbors?  Is it our family members?  Is it even those who sit near us in the pews in this church?

In today’s world, in today’s culture, even in today’s church, there are people who need to be drawn to the side of Christ.  There are people who need to know that they are not too far away for Christ to reach them.  These people “from the East,” these people who would be considered foreigners, are indeed in desperate need of the saving message of Christ’s birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. 

We who have been drawn by the star of Christ and we who have been transformed from people from the East to people of Jesus, are meant to become the star of Christ to others.  With our proclamation of Christ’s saving message, others will be able to say our “light has come.”

This is, indeed, the start of Christianity – at least the kind of Christianity we experience, the kind of Christianity that expands beyond the prophecies of old that restricts the news of the Messiah to the chosen people.  When the wise ones from the East arrive to pay homage to the Christ child, a way opens for us, other ones from the East, to arrive at the side of the manger.  And because a way has opened for us, we are meant to open a way for others to the side of Christ. 

Let us be strengthened by our presence this morning to face this difficult challenge.  Amen.   

 

For centuries of Christian history, the Feast of the Epiphany has been associated with house blessings.  By welcoming the wise ones “from the East,” Jesus showed hospitality to even the most unexpected people.  The Feast of the Epiphany is an excellent opportunity to remember our own call to hospitality.  In a moment, I will come around with House Blessing Kits.  You are invited to place symbols of blessing on the doors of your home as a sign of your willingness to welcome even the most unexpected people to the place most dear to you – your home.  

 
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