Epiphany 2014

Story: A husband asked his wife, "Why would God give the wise men a star to guide them?" She replied, "Because God knows men are too proud to ask directions."

"When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, rebuild the nations, bring peace among people, make music in the heart." So wrote Howard Thurman.

More from last year’s post: 

Fr. Jude Botlho: 

In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah reminds the Jews that salvation is for all peoples. It is true that the Messiah would be born of David’s stock. It is true that the light had shone on them and their eyes were opened to see the Lord, but this light would shine in the darkness, for all the people who lived in the darkness. At the sight of the light, all peoples, even those living in the farthest regions of the world, would flock to Jerusalem. Jerusalem represents the Church. We know that the regions of darkness represent all those who live in the darkness of ignorance. We often create our own darkness, when we believe that we can see even when we cannot do so. We cannot come to Christ unless God moves us. It is always God who takes the initiative and faith is an invitation, not an acquisition by our own efforts.

The Quest

Once upon a time, in a far off land deep in shadow, there lived two orphans who were very unhappy living in shadowland. One day they decided to leave their homeland and journey beyond the grey mountains until they would come face to face with the light that makes colours. So while the rest of the country was fast asleep in their grey beds, they packed their few belongings in a knapsack and set off on their quest to discover the light and bring it back to shadowland. – Most of the stories we remember from our own childhood are stories of quests where the hero leaves the world of the familiar and sets out for an unknown country in search of something special or someone special. Many of our great religious stories follow the same pattern. Does our faith journey lead us on such a quest?

Denis McBride in ‘Seasons of the Word’

In the Gospel we realize that the prophecy of Isaiah started being fulfilled when the star led the wise men to the new born king. The gospel does not tell us which country the wise men came from, how many they were, nor their names. God in his goodness caused a star to appear in the sky, a sign which the wise men understood, as a sign to let them know that the Saviour of the world was born. Though the star guided them, the wise men had to still search for the new born king. They thought that Jerusalem was the obvious place for the king of the Jews to be born, but on reaching there, the star disappeared as though signaling that they were looking in the wrong place. The wise men are like so many of us looking for God led by our own expectations, often leading us to wrong places and disappointments. We have to ask for help as the wise men did, as we cannot manage the faith journey on our own. Only when Herod sent them on the way to Bethlehem the star reappeared and led them to the birthplace of Jesus, ‘and the sight filled them with great joy.’ They had put in their human efforts to seek the Lord and now their eyes are opened with enlightenment. Though they saw just a helpless babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, they recognized him as the Saviour of the world. It is easy to get bogged down with things not being the way we expect them to be. It is only the light of faith that helps us to see what God wants to reveal to us. When the wise men recognized the child, worshipped him and offered him the gifts they had brought for the king. We cannot approach God empty-handed, even the simplest of offerings, is acceptable to God and in return we ourselves are doubly blessed. Like the Magi, when we have this vision of God, we ourselves are changed, we are blessed and we can no more return to the same way of life. The gospel narrative tells us that the wise men, being warned in a dream returned by another way back home.

Christmas Presence

I have always been a less than adequate speller. Practice and learning phonics with my children has aided in my improvement, but sometimes I still get it wrong.  And, it can be in the most embarrassing ways. Several years ago, I had planned the family Christmas to be celebrated in my home.  I had even mailed formal invitations to each family member. They read as follows: “The honor of your present, is requested on December 25th, to a family celebration of Christmas, at five o'clock in the evening.” I didn't catch my mistake, but my entire family did.  Being the good-humored bunch that they are and loving a practical joke, they all became conspirators. Christmas evening, at exactly five o'clock, my doorbell rang.  Putting on my best holiday smile and producing my warmest "Merry Christmas" I opened the door. My salutation was caught in midair when, instead of family faces, I was greeted to an enlarged copy of my invitation with the word "presents" highlighted, and all the gifts everyone had planned to bring stacked neatly on my doorstep.  No one was in sight.  Realizing I had been "had", I collected the presents, brought them inside and closed the door. I rushed to my bedroom, found a sheet of poster paper and wrote in large letters, "Thank you for your presents, I do hope you come again next year!", highlighting the word "presents".  Then I taped it to my front door and waited, and waited, and waited.  Finally I relented and opened the door and collected relatives from behind, bushes, trees, shrubs and cars.  We laughed and cajoled.  After dinner, as is tradition in our home, the oldest grandchild there reads the Christmas story from Luke's account.  We pray, thanking God for the prior year's blessings and then begin opening the gifts. When the wrapping paper was put away and children bustled around in the den with new toys, the adults nibbled on dessert.  This is the time when conversation generally gives way to introspection. Watching our children play, my brother-in-law sighed, "How often do we want God's presents more than His presence?" Everyone smiled.

Lissa Lee Joseph Donders in ‘With Hearts on Fire’

When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept tracking their first non-stop global flight without refuelling. Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon: such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our scepticism. – It was no different at the time of the Magi in today’s gospel story. To the cynical observer the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star, but the secret of the whole universe –the secret of God’s incredible love for his people. For the child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man.

Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

Star of Bethlehem

Gordon Wilson’s daughter was killed by a bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987. Instead of calling for revenge, he forgave her killers and began a campaign for reconciliation. He said: “I am a very ordinary sort of man. I have few personal ambitions and no political aspirations. I just want to live and let live. Life has been kind to me in the main, and I have tried to live by the Good Book. I do not profess to be a good man, but I aim to be. I would like to leave the world a better place than I found it, but I have no exaggerated ideas of my ability to do so. I have hitched my wagon to a star, the star of Bethlehem.”

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’

Angel at work?

The British express train raced through the night, its powerful headlight piercing the darkness. Queen Victoria was a passenger on the train. Suddenly the engineer saw a startling sight. Revealed in the beam of the engine’s light was a strange figure in a black cloak standing in the middle of the tracks and waving its arms. The engineer grabbed for the brake and brought the train to a grinding halt. He and his fellow trainmen clambered down to see what had stopped them. But they could find no trace of the strange figure. On a hunch the engineer walked a few yards further up the tracks. Suddenly he stopped and stared into the fog in horror. A bridge had been washed out in the middle and ahead of them it had toppled into a swollen stream. If the engineer had not heeded the ghostly figure, his train would have plummeted down into the stream. While the bridge and tracks were being repaired, the crew made a more intensive search for the strange flagman. But not until they got to London did they solve the mystery. At the base of the engine’s head lamp the engineer discovered a huge dead moth. He looked at it a moment, then on impulse wet its wings and pasted it to the glass of the lamp. Climbing back in to his cab, he switched on the light and saw the “flagman” in the beam, seconds before the train was due to reach the washed-out bridge. In the fog, it appeared to be a phantom figure, waving its arms. When Queen Victoria was told of the strange happening she said, “I’m sure it was no accident. It was God’s way of protecting us.” No, the figure the engineer saw in the headlight’s beam was not an angel…and yet God, quite possibly through the ministry of His unseen angels, had placed the moth on the headlight lens exactly when and where it was needed.

Billy Graham from ‘Unto the Hills’

May we find God in all things and see all things in God! 

From Father Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     The tale of the star:

Eusebius, a scholarly church historian of the early fourth century, evidently made a considerable study of the literature available to him, and came to this conclusion about the star: "The star was new and a stranger among the usual lights of heaven, a strange star, not one of the many known stars, but being new and fresh." A recent writer, Robert McIver, has spent 3 decades researching this subject. In his book, Star of Bethlehem - Star of Messiah, published 1998, he cites star records from ancient Chinese and Korean astronomers who both noted such an unusual new star about the time of Christ’s birth. He also discusses paintings in the Roman catacombs, as well as coins from various countries which depict an unusual star about this time. He even notes possible interpretations, but it is at least an interesting coincidence, if nothing else, that such indications of an unusual new star at about the time of Christ’s birth can be found all over the world. (SOURCE: "When They Saw The Star" by Henry M. Morris). 

2.     Every December, Mrs. Diane Bartosik  

wears a little golden pin on her United Airlines uniform. It’s a beautiful pin depicting the three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem. In her work as a flight attendant, people will sometimes comment on the beauty of the pin. She uses those situations as opportunities to be a witness for Christ. She wore that little pin on her flight to Los Angeles this past week. She came to one seat, where there were two young girls, seven and ten years old. The seven year old said, "That’s a pretty pin." Diane responded, "Do you know what the pin means?" They both looked carefully at the three men on camels following a star . . . . and then said, "No." They didn’t know what it signified. Then Diane explained, "It’s the three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus." "Do you know that story?" They both said, "No". They had never heard it before. Over the next few hours as they flew across the Pacific, many people commented on the beautiful pin; but to Diane’s amazement, not a single one seemed to understand or at least did not acknowledge that they understood what it symbolized. Throughout the flight, people were attracted to the glitter of the pin --- but in every case, the people Diane met were either indifferent to its meaning, or did not understand its meaning, or in one case a mother did not want her little six-year-old son to even hear the story of the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Wise men. 

3.     Epiphany of a pilot:  

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle yesterday when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft's electronic navigation and communications equipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter's position and course to steer it to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter's window. The pilot's sign said "Where am I?" in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign, and held it in a building window. Their sign said "You are in a helicopter." The pilot smiled, waved, looked at his map, determined the course to steer to Sea-Tac airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the "You are in a helicopter" sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded "I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, similar to their help-lines, they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer." 

Fr. Munachi:

On a cold harmattan morning three palm fruit farmers were warming themselves by the fireside. Soon two of them were engaged in a heated debate comparing their religions to decide which one was the true religion. Okoro, the oldest among them, sat quietly listening to the debate. Suddenly the two turned to him and asked, “Decide for us, Okoro. Which religions is the right one?” Okoro rubbed his white beards and said thoughtfully, “Well, you know there are three ways to get from here to the oil mill. You can go right over the hill. That is shorter but it is a steep climb. You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest.” He paused and then added, “But you know, when you get there, the mill man doesn’t ask you how you came. All he asks is, ‘Man, how good is your fruit?’” 
From the Connections: 


The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Note that Matthew does not call them kings nor does he give their names nor reports where they came from -- in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”).  In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better understood.

A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story.  The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17).  Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.

Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come.  First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.  Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich.  The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes.  But the magi -- non-believers in the eyes of Israel -- possess the humility of faith and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.

Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:

  • gold is a gift fitting for a king, a ruler, one with power and authority;
  • frankincense is a gift fitting for a priest, one who offers sacrifice (frankincense was an aromatic perfume sprinkled on the animals sacrificed in the Temple);
  • myrrh is a fitting “gift” for someone who is to die (myrrh was used in ancient times for embalming the bodies of the dead before burial).

Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognize all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.

The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.

What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow.  The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion. 

‘Into the Woods’

In the Broadway musical Into the Woods, composer Stephen Sondheim and playwright James Lapine recast the familiar stories of Jack in the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and an original tale about a baker and his wife who are childless.  In the beginning of the story, all of the characters express their wishes for happiness: a handsome prince, a warm home and enough to eat, a child to love.  But in order to realize those dreams, the characters have to travel “into the woods” to confront the wolves and witches and giants and charlatans that thwart their dreams.

In their journeys through the woods, the characters discover that life is not a fairy tale: some characters die; others see their fairy tale lives disintegrate.  No one is particularly happy.  They discover that the line between dreams and nightmares is a fine one.  They realize that the real monsters we must defeat are selfishness and greed, that the most potent spells we have to break are fear and self-deception.

The woods is a dangerous place, the company learns, but the way of happiness is marked by humility and generosity.  As one of the characters sings at the end, wishes come true — not free.

The Epiphany Gospel recounts a similar journey: like the fairy tale characters seeking “happily ever after” in their trek ‘Into the Woods,’ the magi set out to find the Messiah-King the world longed for.  Every human life is a journey: in our journeys through the time God has given us, we seek signs of God in our midst; we seek happiness that is authentic and real.  In the end, we come to realize that it is love in all its joy and sorrow, in all its demands and gifts, that make us real and whole human beings.  In encountering the Christ, the magi behold the love of God in their midst (a love that the self-absorbed Herod cannot see); in taking on the monsters and witches within themselves, Cinderella and Jack and company conquer the dangers of the “woods” and begin to live lives of true happiness and meaning.  May our encounter with Christ — in the Sunday gospels of this new year, in our everyday lives of both struggle and grace — be a constant epiphany of re-creating and transforming our lives in the love of Emmanuel, “God with us.”  


One of the striking features of the Gospel of John is the way it depicts the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The other gospels usually tell us stories about Jesus. Then, like the disciples, we are left to ask, "Who is this, that wind and sea obey him? Who is this who feeds the multitude on a couple of loaves and a few fish?" But in the Gospel of John, there's never a doubt who Jesus is, because he tells us. Usually he does so with a statement that begins with the words, "I am." Put him in a situation and he will clarify who he is and what he has come to do.

You can put him in the desert surrounded by people who are chronically unsatisfied, and Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35). 

You can put him in the midst of people who are confused, people who ask, "Who are you, Jesus? What makes you different from all the other gurus, rabbis, and religious leaders?" And Jesus says, "I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture" (10:7, 9). It is an act of self-definition.

You can put him at graveside, in the midst of grief-stricken people, and Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live" (11:25).

Or put him in the midst of people who feel disconnected by life's difficulties, and Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart

In the Gospel of John, in one situation after another, Jesus defines himself and says, "This is who I am...." In the eighth chapter, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (8:12). His words echo the opening words of the Fourth Gospel, where the writer defines the person and work of Jesus in terms of light. "What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people ... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (1:3-4, 9). 

Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." This is the kind of thing we might expect to hear in these days after Christmas. Not long ago we gathered on Christmas Eve to hear the prophet Isaiah say, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." We don't know if old Isaiah had any idea who or what he was talking about, yet we celebrate Christmas as a festival of light. We string up twinkle lights on fir trees. We illumine our houses. We burn candles in the windows and plug in GE bulbs on the shrubbery. We burn up the kilowatts because Jesus Christ is born. In the bleak midwinter, why not shine a little light?... 

1. The Light of the World.
2. The Light Comes into Darkness.

 What's in a name? 

Well, in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare thought that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But in San Quentin Live, Johnny Cash sang a ballad that showed how one guy's life was completely skewed because he was a "Boy Named Sue."  

Sometimes names really do matter. "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name." "Blessed be the Name of the Lord." 

In the Western Church we call this Sunday the "Second Sunday After Christmas." The day after tomorrow, January 6, will be "Epiphany," the official end of Christmas. Only a small percentage of Christians will take note, since they ceased being Christmassy the day after Christmas even though the church celebrates the twelve days of Christmas called "Christmastide." But in the Eastern Orthodox tradition Epiphany IS Christmas. Epiphany is the day that the "wise men" arrived where Joseph and Mary were staying and worshiped the newborn baby Jesus.   

In our "Cliff Notes" version of Jesus' birth, we converge all the miracles of Emmanuel-God WITH us-into one magical, manger night. But the "wise men," who were Persian astrologers, Gentile "wizards," outside-the-box "scholars" of their day, were still following that strange star during this time. They were making their way to Bethlehem to find whatever awaited them at the end of their star quest, or to put it in terms Judy Garland made famous, at the end of their starbow. 

They were not sure what they would find, but they followed the star well stocked. These astrologers went to a kind of theological "Cabela's" to be prepared for all possibilities of what lay at the end of the star. 

One brought a gift for a "king"-nothing less than pure gold. Gold is never a bad choice. Gold testified to the true royalty of this sign-rich king. But how was this newborn child, not born in a beautifully carved crib but in a stable and laid in a manger, in any way a king? To leave a gift of gold for such a hapless child was a true testimony of faith. 

The second "wise man" or "scientist" brought frankincense-a gift appropriate for a priest, for one who would serve God's mission in this world. The gift of frankincense would provide the scent of an offering to an attentive God, and provide a sense of peace to those who made their sacrifice of the fragrant gift. Did the baby Jesus look like a potentially powerful priest? Probably not. Leaving an expensive gift of a pot of frankincense was truly an act of faith. 

The third astrologer or "wizard" brought myrrh. This was perhaps the most insightful-and weird-of the three gifts of the magi. Myrrh was used as an embalming spice. It was used in burial rituals. In fact, myrrh was a sign of death. Not a very traditional "shower gift." Yet here is death in attendance at the baby Jesus' bedside. 

Think about it. What was an amazing foretelling of what Jesus' life would be on this earth: as a "king," as a "priest," and as the "messiah."....

Closing the Chasm 

Many years ago, I was walking in the farm that has belonged to my father's family in Kentucky for many generations, and I happened to looked down and I saw this giant anthill. There must have been thousands of these little creatures scurrying back and forth. It was a world unto itself. And as I looked down, I thought to myself, given the capacity of an ant, they have no way of understanding something as big and complex as a human being. If they were aware of me at all, I must have loomed over them as some kind of ominous presence. Then it dawned on me that if I had the power to somehow become an ant and yet take into that new condition as much of the reality of a human being as would be possible - in other words, if I could cross this chasm of otherness from my side - then it would be possible for ants to understand the human in ways that they could never have known before.

As I walked away, I began to realize that the chasm between an ant and a human being, vast as it is, is nothing to compare between the chasm between a human being and this mysterious, divine reality that gives life. And I realized that we are as incapable of understanding God on our own as an ant would be incapable of understanding us.

John Claypool, God Became What We Are

Called to Obey Love 

Kierkegaard has a fable of a king who fell in love with a maid. When asked, "How shall I declare my love?" his counselors answered, "Your majesty has only to appear in all the glory of your royal glory before the maid's humble dwelling and she will instantly fall at your feet and be yours."

But it was precisely that which troubled the king. He wanted her glorification, not his. In return for his love he wanted hers, freely given. Finally, the king realized love's truth, that freedom for the beloved demanded equality with the beloved. So late one night, after all the counselors of the palace had retired, he slipped out a side door and appeared before the maid's cottage dressed as a servant.

Clearly, the fable is a Christmas story. We are called to obey not God's power, but God's love. God wants not submission to his power, but in return for his love, our own.

God moved in. He pitches his fleshly tent in silence on straw, in a stable, under a star. The cry from that infant's throat pierced the silence of centuries. God's voice could actually be heard coming from human vocal cords.

That's the joy of it. God has come to be with us! 

James T. Garrett, God's Gift, CSS Publishing Company

 God Is in Everything 

When Christians say, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth," they do not mean that God is everything, but they do mean that God is in everything. "In everything," wrote Paul to the Romans, "God works for good with those who love him ... " (Romans 8:28). The theologian Robert McAfee Brown likes to use in his writing the musical metaphor of themes and variations.  There are many musical compositions, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for example, which begin with a clear, identifiable musical pattern, or theme. What follows in the music is a series of variations on this theme, the theme being repeated in ever more complex combinations. Sometimes the texture of these combinations is so complex that the theme is hidden, seemingly obscured by the competing and interlocking notes. But those who have heard the theme clearly stated at the beginning of the work can still make it out, can feel the music being organized by the theme. In Jesus Christ "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth ...." That's the theme of all of life heard clearly by the ears of faith, and those who have heard that distinct theme can hear it being sounded wherever the music of life is being played, no matter how jangled are the false notes surrounding it. 

Thomas G. Long, Something Is about to Happen, CSS Publishing Company

Witnessing Involves Listening

 While I believe that the gospel is always a proclamation about God's actions, effective witnessing involves a lot of listening. For a proclamation to be "good news" for someone, it has to address their needs, their questions, their concerns. I've often quoted this statement from a course on witnessing: "You don't throw a drowning person a sandwich, no matter how good the sandwich might be." 

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes

 The Word Became Flesh 

If John's Gospel were the only one we had, this is all that we would know about Jesus' birth: before his name was Jesus, his name was the Word, and he was with God from the very beginning of creation, bringing things into being, making things happen, shining light into the darkness.  

He was God's self, God's soul, God's life force in the world. He was the breath inside all living things. He was the electric spark that charged peoples' hearts. He was the fire inside the sun. He was the space between the stars. He was the axis around which the galaxies spin.  

John goes on to say that not everyone got that message. Many were blinded by this light and preferred the darkness they knew to the light which they did not know. The Word sidled up to them and hummed life into their ears, but they cleared their throats and walked away. So God decided to speak in a new way. God decided to speak body language. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us -- full of grace and truth."  

This is John's Christmas story in a nutshell. Like Luke, John is telling us about an encounter with the Holy One. God's Word was translated into a human being. God's self, soul, and life force were concentrated into one mortal life on earth, and as a result, nothing would ever be the same again. Not because everyone listened, because everyone does not, but because the eternal Word of God took human form.  

Paul E. Flesner, Sermons for Sundays in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, CSS Publishing Company


 Entertaining Angels Unaware 

The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament reminds us of that incident, and counsels Christians to make hospitality a Christian virtue. "For you may be entertaining angels unaware." But more than that, you may be doing it to Christ, who said, "If you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me." 

Tom Long teaches at the seminary at Princeton. But for a while he lived in Atlanta, and attended a Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta. Like most downtown churches, it has to cope with the problem of the homeless. So they opened up their gymnasium in the winter as a shelter. It was the practice of that church, as it is in this church when we open our buildings as a shelter in the winter months, to have people from the church serve as hosts and hostesses. 

Long volunteered to be a host one night. The night came and since no one else volunteered, he invited a friend to come and join him. His friend was not a member of that church. In fact, he wasn't a member of any church. But periodically, in their conversations about religious matters, this friend would say, "Tom, I'm not a theologian, but it seems to me...," and then he would express his opinion. 

On this night as they were hosting the shelter, they met the men as they arrived, saw that they had something to eat, hung out with them for a while. Then as the men began to prepare to retire, Tom's friend said, "Tom, you get some sleep. I will stay with them the first watch, then I'll wake you up, and you can come and stay with them for the rest of the night." 

So the friend stayed up and mingled with the guests, listened to them, asked questions about who they were, what had happened to them in their lives that they were now homeless. At 2:00 a.m. he went in and woke up Tom. He said, "Wake up! Wake up! I want you to come and see this. Granted I am no theologian, but I think that Jesus is down there." 

It was promised. "Those who show hospitality to the least of these," he said, "have done it to me."

Mark Trotter, Collected Sermons,


 Living without Christ 

Fred Craddock once told a parable about a man who moved into a cottage equipped with a stove and simple furnishings. As the sharp edge of winter cut across the landscape, the cottage grew cold as did its occupant. He went out back and pulled a few boards off the house to kindle the fire. The fire was warm, but the house seemed as cold as before. More boards came off for a larger fire to warm the now even colder house, which in return required an even larger fire, demanding more boards. In a few days the man cursed the weather, cursed the house, cursed the stove, and moved away. 

The futility that man felt is the futility of those who try to live the Christian life without Christ. He is the Word that was in the beginning with God and was God. And he is alive today. To those of us who are drowning he is someone we can hold on to. He is someone who can set our feet on dry ground again in this New Year. 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
Glory to God in the High Street 

Many years ago a pastor in Glasgow, Scotland named George McLeod chanced to look up at the stained-glass windows over the chancel of the sanctuary. The phrase, "Glory to God in the highest" was carved in the glass. As he looked he noticed that a pane of glass was broken and missing, the pane on which the letter "e" in the word "highest" was carved. Suddenly he found himself seeing the words that were now there, "Glory to God in the High St." High Street was a nearby avenue. It struck McLeod that the only way to glorify God IS to glorify him in the High St.  The only way to truly glorify God is to glorify him where we live, work and play. Certainly John did that. He did it in his preaching. He did it in his life. 

Robert Raines, The Secular Congregation, quoted by King Duncan

 Among You Stands One 

"Among you stands one whom you do not know." I suspect there is a lot of truth to that statement, especially at Christmas time. We think of Jesus as the one born in a manger. But Jesus is not just a baby. We have all kinds of misconceptions about who Jesus is, so that it may well be true that he stands among us as one we do not know. 

When we try to describe the Incarnation, we find it difficult to make positive statements. How can we explain that the Son of God gave up being God to become a human being for such a short period of time? We have difficulty explaining that. Even the theologians grasp at all kinds of language to try to explain the mysteries of our faith. Paul Tillich said God was the Ground of our Being. I think it was Rudolf Otto who used the phrase, "the mysterium tremendum," the tremendous mystery. We can't find words big enough, strong enough and powerful enough to describe the mystery at the heart of the Christmas message.

Mickey Anders, A Negative Gospel
God Became Human! 

Many years ago now, someone gave me a little book by J. B. Phillips entitled, When God Was Man, for a Christmas present. This was written back in the 1950's. I am sure if he were writing it today, he would give it the title, When God Was a Human Being. At any rate, I was reading the book in the days that followed the holiday, and happened to leave it open on a chair in our den. We went out that evening. A lady in the community who had baby-sat for us was there with our little boy. When we came home about 11:00 o'clock, I could tell as soon as I entered the house that the baby sitter was very excited. She picked up my book, which she had found on the den chair, and began to wave it around, and said, "Is this true? When did it happen? What was He like?"  

Well to be honest, I was taken aback because I knew this person...