What is it about Epiphany that makes it so appealing? Is it because it’s usually the first Sunday of a new year? Is there something about the wise men that captures our imagination? Is it the music, from “We Three Kings of Orient Are” to “As With Gladness Men of Old”? I can’t put my finger on it, but there was certainly more energy in the air today at church than there was, say last week, the Sunday after Christmas. And I know it won’t be as easy to command their attention with the Baptism of our Lord next week.
My grandson spent about thirty minutes looking at and playing with the characters in the stable on display in the sanctuary, as three camels and three wise men joined the shepherds, sheep, cow, donkey and the holy family. For the children’s sermon I had some frankincense and myrrh for them to smell. They weren’t impressed. But they know what the gold was! They got to take a shiny gold coin with them because I had plenty – a bag of 144 for just a few bucks.
There is something exotic, mysterious, and treacherous about these visitors from the east. We’re not sure we trust them. They don’t prove themselves until they return home a different way instead of reporting back to Herod. They bring great gifts that point to Jesus’ roles as king, priest and sacrifice.
A bright star, an angelic dream, several fulfilled prophecies, and a dramatic escape – it’s just a great story, I guess.
Today I began my sermon with a challenge. “Picture in your mind the most unusual person you’ve ever seen in a worship service.” After a few moments, I shared a few images that had popped into my mind this past week. A pair of Mormon missionaries, a lady with a bird’s-nest hairdo (complete with robin’s eggs), and a suicious looking young man in a long black trench coat. The challenge set up the arrival of the wise men – foreign astrologers – who showed up to worship Jesus and are now honored with a day in the church year, Epiphany. Definitely not your typical worshipers of the king of the Jews.
Now on a post-nap Sunday afternoon, I’m wondering what a typical worshiper looks like. Since the gathers to worship in just about every language in every corner of the world, anyone should be able to fit in. Since Pentecost the worldwide Church has the multicultural look of heaven recorded by John in Revelation.
Yet as I look around on a Sunday morning, I will surely see someone who looks out of place. Someone with a different idea of what it means to worship. So one with a different idea of what is attractive. Someone who has different values. Someone who thinks I’m different. (So what’s with the black shirt and white plastic neck thing?)
And I will be challenged to live the Epiphany reality that my Savior is their Savior, too.
Epiphany brings back great memories of touring with the Ft. Wayne Seminary Kantorei each winter I was studying for my M.Div. 12-16 male voices plus an organist and director packed up a couple of vans and headed out for a two week tour of churches in different areas of the country.
My first year found us in Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri. That was a long, cold trip (We always traveled in early January). My second year I think we didn’t roam as far, going to Wisconsin and Minnesota. My fourth year is fuzzy; I’m thinking we were in Indiana and Illinois, perhaps some Ohio.
This was probably my most enjoyable choral experience. Very talented director, voices, and instrumentalists. A lot of camaraderie with men all studying for the pastoral ministry. I still remember the music, the people, and the worship experiences.
The current edition of the Kantorei is touring in parts of Florida this year, but in parts of Florida not close by, so I won’t get to see them. I hope that they have just as memorable experience as I did.