“We three kings of Orient Are, bearing gifts we travel so far…” This phrase from our final hymn this morning is one of the quintessential Epiphany hymns. Sung all over the world today, it tells us again of the purpose and nature of what the kings are doing. Sadly the kings often get short shift with all the pandemonium of Christmas, which means by the time Epiphany actually arrives we just want to crack on with a new year. Yet there is something so important about what the kings tell us today, more than just being twelfth night and the close of Christmastide liturgically, the kings point us both to our mission as a church as well as the purpose of what this year is to look like for us as we listen for God’s movement in our midst.
Themes of righteousness, peace, and justice, suffice our readings this morning. From the coronation themed psalm, to the restoration of Israel in Isaiah, and the dichotomy of Roman versus heavenly authority in Matthew, we are given a lens to look into the nature of what is before us in 2021. Many interpretations have been made about the purpose of the kings, many renditions offered of who they were and why that was important. The three kings have represented the three ages of man, young, middle age, and old. They have represented the three known continents of the world in Jesus time. But more importantly they represent the coming of the whole world to the manger, a coming which demonstrates God's desire to go beyond our human walls and limitations to reach every corner of our world through Christ. This is the inverse of the end of Matthew's great commission later in his gospel that commands us to go and make disciples of all nations. The king's arrival at the manger is Gods going to the very edges of our world to show us first what we are to do with him in our year together. We are to go to the edges of our neighborhoods, of our cities, of ourselves, and make disciples of all we encounter. But, aren't we doing that already? We are, however this year it's about the road less traveled that brings us to a renewed spirit of mission in our parish.
The road less traveled is less about avoiding conflict, which is one way to read of the king's journey today, and more about listening and showing up to where God is speaking in our lives. It's easy to hear sometimes in the way this scripture is read just how deceptive herod was with the kings, almost sly, as he attempted to lie about his desired intentions to know about his new baby. His ask was not of God, but rather was about himself and his desire to remain in control. He was, afterall, a representative of the roman state. A state that mandated control as the number one condition for participation in society. You were born into a certain role, you died in that role. Care came through conformity and order. Jesus, on the other hand, represented the antithesis of this. His birth was about the tearing down of social barriers, of mixing culture groups, or living among the most hopeless of society and flipping leadership on its head. Jesus’s kingship was about transformation rather than control, something that made Herrod anxious.
What is key here is that the kings going back by another road was about their discerning God's presence in their midst, a discernment which drew them to the manger in the first place. They did not just wander aimlessly in the desert looking for this child, they followed the signs and listened with the ear of their heart for where God was moving them to go. In this act, God is showing us how to move like the kings in our ministry to be agents of this Epiphany transformation we see with the kings today. In epiphany God goes to the very edges of who we are and says- you, you there, I need you, come and see what I am doing. And what is God doing? Well, God has birthed in our world a new order of righteousness, justice and peace at Christmas, and invites us to come and bear an active witness to what is happening before our eyes. Remember church to be a witness is to say something when you see something. And we have seen a lot over this christmas season, so it's time to say something.
Saying something about what we’ve seen is demonstrated both verbally and non verbally. The gifts we bring of Gold, frankincense, and Myrrh, remind us that this child we see today at the manger is not just any king, this is the messiah. Gold, a symbol of kings tells us that all our riches are found in Christ’s majesty and rule. Frankincense, a symbol of prayer to God, tells us this isn't just any king; this is our God and Myrrh a symbol of anointing in death, tells us how the governance of this king our God will unfold- on the cross and through the tomb. Do you see a theme? Our gifts, this time, this journey is abnormal- much like what this holiday season of lockdowns has felt like. Yet we are hungry to go back to normal in 2021, to rub 2020 off the calendars and pretend it didn't happen. However, returning to our past normals isn't possible after today. 2020 did indeed happen, and it is giving us a mandate to lean into 2021 with renewed mission and zeal for the discipleship of all nations.
You see, today is about God's speaking to what God sees; redemption of our time, of going beyond our limits of family and uniting humanity in the unending arch of salvation wrought out for us in Christ at Christmas, and sealed forever in the Christ of the Cross. In this salvation, the righteousness, justice, and peace of God's kingdom reign and the fear of Rome's oppression is obliterated forever. 2021 offers us a great opportunity to both encounter God in our midst and speak of our desire to work through God’s grace and purpose for our lives to see this redemption come to pass. A redemption that starts with prayer, a prayer for ourselves and for our world.
2020 showed us just how messed up our world has become. Covid made billionaires richer, while the poorer got poorer. Our mental health has suffered. We spent most of last year in a heightened state of anxiety over our health and finances, and God's creation groaned under the pressure of pollution and our disregard for this jewel that God gives us as a home. Now we could easily just go back to our old ways and habits, but this morning won't allow that. I believe the story of the kings this morning is asking us a very direct question today. Namely, what are we going to do about what we’ve seen and heard this christmas season? Will we continue to travel the road less traveled in 2021 with God, listening with the ear of our heart for where righteousness, justice and peace are thriving and use our lives to amplify that message? Or will we write off 2020 as a blip in the universe and return to what was, a life of isolation, deepening poverty, and war? It's a stark question, because it's a stark difference we are given in scripture this morning. Rome's control, over God's control. 2020 showed rome's weaknesses as we struggled to keep eachother afloat, 2021 holds the promise of salvation by taking a road less traveled, a road that brings us home to God, a God who came to us at Christmas and showed us how to live differently.
Epiphany reminds us that God came to all of us in Christ, and sends us out to meet all in the name of the same Christ we embrace at the manger today. God with us, Emmanuel, does not mean with only those who look like us, or act like us, or think like us, or love like us. God with us, means all of us- and all means all. So this epiphany church, how will we go into the world this year to to speak to what we have seen born among us this Christmas? How will we walk a road less traveled, living lives for righteousness, justice and peace for the sake of the discipleship of all nations this year?