Sermon Epiphany 2019 January 6, 2019
The Rev. John M. Atkins
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of
Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where
is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed
his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When
King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with
him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the
people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be
born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been
written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall
come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod
secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact
time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem,
saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have
found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of
them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped
over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star
had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the
house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt
down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests,
they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having
been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their
own country by another road.
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Most of the time I’m a pretty good listener. But there are times when I’m not.
I’d been coughing for months. I tried various remedies, but the coughing
continued, as well as fatigue, labored breathing and symptoms of dehydration. I knew I was ill. But there were things to do, tasks to complete.
Late Thanksgiving evening I woke up to my body violently and uncontrollably
shaking – similar to a seizure. I knew then something was wrong. I watched the
clock. The shaking lasted 3 ½ hours. I’ve experienced this type of shaking on
three prior occasions, after which I found myself in the hospital.
But this last event was much worse. As stubborn as I can be, I thought I’d give
myself one more day to heal on my own – avoiding all hospital co-pays and fees.
But after I told Ted about my early morning shaking, he insisted I go to the ER.
I didn’t want to go. He scolded me. So, I agreed to call my doctor to get his
opinion. The doctor’s recommendation was in agreement with Ted, of course. So we traveled to the ER.
Everything is a blur – except for the words of the ER doctor that somehow
became indelible in my memory. I vividly remember the male doctor standing at the side of my ER gurney saying: “It’s a good thing you came in when you did. If you would have waited, I’m not sure of the outcome. Your extremely high white blood count tells me you are very sick. You have pneumonia among other things going on. I’m admitting you into the hospital.”
Once again, I learned my lesson. When we listen, God provides. But we must
In Luke’s Gospel, Joseph has but a mention. But in Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph
plays a very important role. It was not in an angelic annunciation to Mary, but rather in a dream of an angel coming to Joseph, assuring him to take Mary as his wife even though she was pregnant. The angel told Joseph that it is God’s will. And, the child to be born will be from God’s Spirit. The angel left Joseph saying that he was to name the child, Yeshua (Joshua), Jesus. Joseph listened to the angel. And, Jesus was born.
After Jesus’ birth, Joseph decided to stay with relatives in Bethlehem for a time. Probably for two reasons. First, he could save up money to travel the long
journey back to Nazareth and better provide for his new Family. Second, I think Joseph wanted to ensure that Mary’s child was old enough upon the Family’s return to Nazareth that people wouldn’t question if the child Jesus was his. Nosey neighbors might put two and two together if the Family returned too soon after Jesus’ birth. I think Joseph was thinking strategically for the sake of his Family’s reputation.
While the new Family lived in Bethlehem and Joseph worked, foreigners from the East visited them at the house where they were staying. The men were
astrologers from a royal court in the Middle-East. Those soothsayers looked to
the stars concerning the future. Their cosmic observations pointed to a new star that had arisen, and they interpreted that a king was going to be born somewhere in Judea, a newborn King of the Jews. But they made a terrible mistake before finding the child. As they followed the star, the Wise Men went to the present king, the ruthless King Herod the Great. Herod’s suspicious and jealous mind schemed a devious plan. He would send the Wise Men to find the child and then Herod would have his guard’s kill it. Of course, he wouldn’t tell the Wise Men his plan. But those around Herod knew what would happen if he found the child.
Herod’s own soothsayers and scribes combed sacred texts and found the location which would boast of the birth of a new king. Seven centuries prior, the Prophet Micha foretold the birth of a new king in Bethlehem of Judea.
The Wise Men set off to find the child in Bethlehem and promised to report back to King Herod. But in a dream, the foreigners were warned to go back to their home another way. This obedient action would help protect the child from King Herod.
The Wise Men finally discovered the house where the Family was staying. To the shock of his parents, the foreigners entered the house, and reverently kneeling before the child Jesus, presented gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those foreign Gentile men symbolize that Jesus is born not only for his Family, not only for the Jews who share his heritage, but rather, Jesus is born for all people – a special sovereign, a ruler adorned in divine love and purpose for all the world. On leaving the house, the Wise Men warned the couple that Herod would look for the child to kill him.
That night, Joseph had another dream. An angel came to Joseph in the dream
and told him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt in order to escape Herod’s wrath.
The angel said to stay in Egypt until it was safe to return to Nazareth. Joseph
awoke from his dream and journeyed with Mary and the child Jesus safely into
Egypt. There they stayed for some time.
Again, Joseph listened and God provided. God provides if we listen. But we must listen.
One evening while I was in the hospital, the night nurse assigned to my room
approached me, with tears in her eyes. Every one on the floor knew I was an
Episcopal priest. She came to me, not to take my vitals or give me medicine. She came to talk. “My brother hurt me deeply as we were growing up. I cannot
forgive him. In fact, I never want to see him again. Is that wrong of me?
Sometimes I feel so guilty.”
I listened. She cried more. She listened. When that dear nurse left my hospital
room, she thanked me for listening and giving her things to think over.
When we listen, God provides. But we must listen.
I listened, finally. The Wise Men listened. Joseph listened. My distraught nurse
listened. Are you listening?
Better yet, what are you listening to? If you and I listen for the voice of God,
our deepest needs God will provide for us and for others through us.
Yet, it is critical that we listen for God’s voice speaking through various venues and through many, often unsuspecting envoys of God.
Keeping our hearts and ears open to hearing and distinguish the voice of God is
imperative for a healthy life of blessings and profound faith.
Take a lesson from me. Listen.