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Based on the Scripture readings:
Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2: 1-12

2007 January 7
First Sunday after Epiphany
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor


There are so many things that would be meaningful to explore in a meditation this morning: so many items in the news and in our parish life and our personal lives.

Whatever your politics, this week Massachusetts' new Governor took the oath of office on a Bible with a Congregational past: after our local parish churches and a Congregational minister from Yale organized to free slaves from a ship and engaged John Quincy Adams as counsel, he argued for their release, won it, and a Bible was presented to him honoring the Amistad events, from our family history, and it was on hand for our first African-American Governor to lean upon this week.

Whatever your politics, our church covenant has been on the vanguard of women's rights and was the first to ordain a woman 150 years ago, and now one serves as Speaker of the US House, opening doors for my daughter and all of our children in extraordinary new ways.

But consider these stories, too. It has been five years since the founding of Voice of the Faithful, the reform movement in the Roman Catholic Church. Now three thousand US soldiers have died in Iraq. The globe seems to be warming just now. We had a wonderful parish party Friday night. We're struggling, and even hand-wringing a bit, about our vision and budget for 2007, with mixed insights and tender feelings. Just before the Constitutional Convention regarding same sex marriage this week, the Executive Director of a religious group opposing these rights physically assaulted a supporter of them in Worcester.

It's hard to know what to preach about this week. There is a lot to celebrate and a lot to mourn. There is a lot to do.

The scriptures for yesterday and today -- days when tradition presents the Birthday of Jesus for Armenian Christians, the arrival of the Magi for many more, and the Baptism of Christ for still others -- the scriptures are filled with characters like those in our week's news. Isaiah was written to exiles trying to get home, like gays and lesbians in the modern world. Isaiah speaks of dramatic regional struggles, like the war in Iraq. And it says, very unwelcome in my ears, that darknessBack to top shall cover the earth. That's a hard message.

Matthew speaks of political rulers like Herod and religious leaders such as his co-opted advisors, and then it speaks of Magi, a pretty close representation of the Greek word that meant something like scientist-philosophers, cunning as a brain surgeon and wise as the Dalai Lama. Matthew also speaks of Jesus the infant and Mary His mother. (Joseph is away for another verse, until the slaughter of the innocents.) The Magi have gold and frankincense and myrrh, and just about everything in the news now comes up in these two pericopes,1 from gifts to a church, to reconstruction of broken communities, to the loss of children in war, to the strange behavior of some religious folks.

Of course there is one more ingredient in these scriptures. It is light. Light that is God's glory and identity, as well as God's gift. There is the light of a star: something that can lead us but also something we won't see if we don't look for it. For darkness is all around in both of these stories: the darkness of despair, ignorance, injury, and injustice. The darkness of cruelty, bigotry, and jealousy. But light is at the center of the story. Light gets practically the first and last word in God's story.

The light of Epiphany is complex, mysterious, deep, and obvious. The meaning of Epiphany can be as simple as the four letter expression, "Ah-Ha," or it can be as multi-faceted as the lifelong quest to perceive God's presence. Epiphany means revelation on one hand, but I'm more drawn to its additional definition, which is manifestation. The scriptures we heard today, the season we're just beginning that runs until Lent, is about the manifestation of God. Ideally we'll go through this season and encounter a number of opportunities to see God and repeatedly say, "ah-ha."

Can I show you something? Someone here will worry about this, but it's no more dangerous than the average sermon example. This is something that we received as a Christmas gift this year from church friends: frankincense and myrrh. You light it, it smokes, and it gives off a perfume. [Here Ken lit some bulbs of frankincense which flamed and smoked, and carried them into the congregation on a plate.]

Why am I doing this? Everyone we know in this Biblical story almost certainly smelled this scent. This was part of the very essence of the time of birth and starlight and revolution. I just wonder if for a moment, just a moment, we can perceive what they perceived? I wonder if we can sense what they sensed?

I wonder if we can perceive the same conditions for the presence and the manifestation of God?

What do we believe is a manifestation of God? When do we recognize, feel, apprehend orBack to top comprehend God in our presence? When is God more than an idea but material in our midst?

Is the inauguration of an African-American Governor a manifestation of something about God? Is the election of a woman to such high office in our democracy a manifestation? Is the legality of marriage for committed, spiritually bound persons of the same sex? Is a group of people uniting to sustain a parish, who may disagree about details but still dining together, such a manifestation? When Christians unite to reform their faith's expression, is God there? Is God in our communion? Is God in our lives?

We could argue and debate each of these questions. We could come up with pretty decent arguments that God is almost nowhere. I'm asking us to do what the Magi did and by an act of will and hope and faith and love look for a tiny light in an often dark and even distracting world. For we won't see God anywhere if we don't look for God somewhere. We won't be God's people anytime if we don't open ourselves to God sometime.

In Matthew, everyone in Jerusalem is worried about the birth of Jesus. Everyone is worried because the balance of power is changing. And that is hard. The light of one tiny star and the vulnerable baby beneath it was starting to illuminate the abject inadequacy of the claims of all temporal Herods as well as the fraudulence of their promises, laid bare by Jesus' presence. Light changes things.

Are we ready for God's light? Are we open to perceive God's manifestation in our midst? Are we willing to ask, whatever the story -- political, personal, budgetary, or celestial -- how to find God in our story, in each moment? Can we understand the material and transcend it to engage divinity just by the light of God's gifts?

Light gives to that which it illuminates. It renews the nature of that upon which it shines. It is the giver's nature, the gift, and the thing that we then share by faith. Light is at the beginning and end of our story. Where are we?


Pericope (pronounced "peh-RIH-cuh-pee") - an individual "passage" within the Gospels, with a distinct beginning and ending, so that it forms an independent literary "unit"; similar pericopes are often found in different places and different orders in the Gospels; pericopes can include various genres (parables, miracle stories, evangelists' summaries, etc.). [Definition from ]

Copyright 2007 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.
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