In the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As I look out at you, I say to myself: “This is a group of people who really want to come to church!”
No health emergency or weather hazard can keep you away from Communion.
If you happened to be here for worship on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and/or Sunday the 26th, then you are in a group of about 350 people who, this year, made corporate Christian worship a part of a holiday that grows ever more secular in our society.
I wonder what other groups of people you might be part of. Most of you here are in the group of people who identify themselves as Episcopalians. I hope you are also among those who will attend our one service at 9:30, and our annual meeting at 10:45, on Sunday, January 23.
And, of course, I hope you are in the group of people who were warm, well-fed, and surrounded by loved ones as you celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Day. Tragically, not everyone is in this group.
I imagine you are probably also among those in the world who tend to be reflective. You take time to consider things and events. When you have an especially vivid dream, or something doesn’t seem right; if you are confused and wondering how to understand the world, or if things have turned out better than you ever thought they would, then you take extra time to question and listen for meaning. You search to see what you might have to learn in a given situation. You listen for God.
Perhaps you are one of those who is open to possibility, inclined to consider various layers of meaning, and willing to believe that the mysterious is as valid as something you can see and feel.
If that’s you, then you share qualities with some of the people from our gospel reading. Joseph believes in the mystical. He doesn’t doubt the reality that the messenger of God spoke to him in his dreams. These sent him, and his family, on journeys all over the area of Egypt and Israel.
The wise men also undertook a pilgrimage in which they were simply being guided by a star. They had spiritual inspiration that this sign was profoundly meaningful. They followed it without any concrete proof that they should.
Perhaps another quality of these characters from the Bible is one we can relate to – in that we have traveled on a bitter cold morning in the midst of a pandemic to gather for worship – we are like them in their willingness to depart from popular opinion, swim against the stream, or interrupt the status quo.
Joseph was one who did not let the usual way of doing things get in his way. After all, he was a pious and observant Jew. He strove to live according to the Law. Yet, when Mary came to him, revealing her pregnancy, Joseph did not take her out to be stoned, as the Law would require him to do. At the prompting of God he quietly kept her safe and protected her because of what God had done.
Scripture tells us that the wise men saw a star – an astrological occurrence – and, like Joseph’s dreams did to him, it spoke deeply to them. From our belated vantage, it feels like they were the only people who looked to the sky above and felt compelled to find out more about the once-in-a-lifetime star. Perhaps no one else was willing to acknowledge the unbelievable or the incredible. They seemed to be the only ones willing to adjust their lives according to what they perceived to be a sign.
Mary, Joseph, and the wise men, were people who paid attention to more than the busy-ness of their daily routine and what they could see on the surface.
By fleeing to Egypt, or by going home by another road, they kept themselves out of the evil grasp of Herod. They were not subject to the death and destruction so many others suffered in the slaughter of the innocents. Herod’s way was not the way to look for God or to go about finding the Savior of the world.
We honor these people for paying attention to their intuition and listening to the power of the way they understood their experiences.
Joseph’s faith in God, and in God’s messengers, was stronger than the pressure of his peers who were bound to seek punishment rather than possibility.
By listening to the still, small voice of God, the wise men found a baby in a manger and were changed forever by the power of the mystery they beheld there.
Joseph probably had a vague idea what was going on, but the wise men had no way of knowing that this child was God incarnate. They may not have known exactly what was happening, but they all knew it was something precious to protect.
This is an invitation to let today’s gospel, the season of Christmas, and the celebration of Epiphany, urge you to pay attention to inspired signs and intuition. Be willing to keep your heart and mind open to mystery.
If you do this, then you, too, will be wise, and you will find that you, too, have been led to the grace-filled presence of our Savior.
The Rev. Dawn M. Frankfurt
January 2, 2022
St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, KS