Sermon: By Another Way
Rev. Nindyo Sasongko
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they [the wise men] left for their own country by another road.”
This sentence concludes the story of the magi, story read on the Epiphany day. Epiphany is celebrated by the Western Church on January 6. Interestingly, the Eastern Church, the Orthodox, celebrates its Christmas on January 7. Originally, the early church only had two pivotal seasons of the year, Easter and Epiphany. These were the times for baptism. Over the centuries, especially this past century, the focus shifted from Epiphany to Christmas. This is, in one way or another, is unfortunate, because it obscures the power of the symbolism of Christ as light of the world.
Christ as light is crucial for us. The light is in confrontation with all the false powers which try to ignore it, cover it up, or shut it out. We see this light in Jesus Christ. The gospel of John says, that the true light, “which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn. 1:9). Our world is in darkness, evil and death still have their time, but the truth of this passage is that the light is not overcome by the evil and death. It manifests in the world, showing forth the glory of God which reaches out to the world. The light is, according to Malachi, the “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:2)—or, I would prefer to call it “the Sun of Justice.” It shines through us, making our faces radiant and set our hearts throbbing with life and hope. Epiphany celebrates the public appearance of the Holy Child, the light of God, before the world.
The light is not sitting comfortably in its place. It is taken from its place of beginning and dispersed into the world. It reaches out to the outsiders and strangers from far-off. Here we see wise people from the East. Imagine that they are not the “three kings” as we are acquainted to. They are, indeed, gentiles and, as such, they are unclean to the Jewish law. They even do not have a place in the Jerusalem temple. For the Jews, these people would not have access to the Holy One of Israel, the God of the covenant.
The wise people of the East represent the world. Christ has indeed appeared not only to his people, but also the gentiles. Christmas is about God’s humility, in which the Divinity has made available to human reach. In Christmas we see God-incarnate, God became one of us, sharing our vulnerability. More than this, in Christmas the Source of Life is made accessible.
The Epiphany story in Matthew opens with the star, the star of wonder, star of light. It leads the seekers from far away country to look for true wisdom and enlightenment, the Light of life! It leads them to a house where a child and his mother dwell. The truth of the Epiphany is that the outsiders see whereas the insiders are blind. When they see the Child as the True Light, they bring homage and gifts. Not so with Herod who uses priests and scribes for his violent end. Herod is a type of leader who uses and abuses institutional religion for his own establishment. He endorses deception and hypocrisy and not wisdom and light.
We see here the paradox of Epiphany. We see the dispossessed people who seeks the light, but we also see the powerful ones who claim their power, riches and glory. The proud, the arrogant, and the violent try to establish their center and try to block the weak from access to the source of life. But when they do this, they become blind. They cannot see the light that seeps into the world, breaks boundaries and gathers all people, for “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Epiphany concludes the season of light, which we have begun in Lent through Christmastide. The light interrupts our darkness, blasting into our night’s darkest hour and loosing in the world. It is the light that leads the wise men to the child and his mother. It is also the light that came in a different form, in a dream so that they would not return to Jerusalem and to Herod. They must go home by another way.
Epiphany is a way for us to learn how to journey home through a different road. It teaches us to take courage to walk in a new and, possibly, a more challenging and mysterious way. For the wise men, the meeting with the Child brings about new things. They are given gifts! In the past, they studied and interpreted the stars and the heavenly bodies; but now, they learn to understand a dream. And they come to distinguish evil from wisdom. And so, they leave for home by another way.
Another way, that is what the season of light—the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—is all about: “another way to live, another way to love, another way to belong, another way to show forth the glory of God, another way to reach out to the world” (Megan McKeena).
Today, we are also invited to be in communion with the Lord. The communion is also called Eucharist. It is not only a remembrance of the suffering and death of our Lord, but also a thanksgiving. The wise men, overwhelmed with joy, they prostrated and then opened their treasure chests. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were offered to the Child. What do we bring to Christ today? We see here a loaf of bread and grape juice. We are not using raw materials of wheat and grapes. Rather, we see here human handiwork of bread and juice. In our giving of thanks, therefore, we see divine and human intermingle: God’s providence and human craftsmanship. And in celebrating our communion today, let us always consider Jesus Christ who is the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3) and who “endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (12:3). I pray that this communion also teaches us “another way” to live as disciples of Christ. Amen.