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Sermon and Liturgy for Epiphany Sunday - Year A
Ephesians 3:1-12 and Matthew 2:1-12
"The Wisdom of The Magi"


READING:  Ephesians 3:1-12 and Matthew 2:1-12
SERMON :  "The Wisdom of The Magi"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-epipse.y-a 462
                    
     The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
     for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
     found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
     SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
     
     The story about "The Man Who Hated Christmas" was written
     by Louis Cassels a number of years ago and has been passed
     around the Net - where I found it.  There was no attibution
     given at the time.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)


* GREETING & CALL TO WORSHIP (from Isaiah 60:1-6)
L    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
     and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P    And also with you
L    Arise, shine, for your light has come 
     and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
P    Darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the
     peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and his glory will
     be seen upon you.
L    Nations shall come to your light, 
     and kings to the brightness of your rising.
P    Violence shall no more be heard in your land, 
     ruin or destruction within your borders.
L    The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for
     brightness shall the moon give light to you by night.
P    For the Lord will be your everlasting light, 
     and your God will be your glory.


INTROIT
     This is the Day, This is the Day, 
     that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.
     We will rejoice, we will rejoice, 
     and be glad in it, and be glad in it.
     This is the day that the Lord has made, 
     we will rejoice and be glad in it.
     This is the day, this is the day that our Lord has made.


CHRISTMAS CANDLE LIGHTING
VOICE     This is the day that the Lord has made.  We rejoice in
          all that God has done.  We enter into God's presence
          with joy and celebration, knowing that the one who was
          born in Bethlehem is even now being born anew in the
          hearts of those who love him.

VOICE     As the Wise Men sought him and found him by the light
          of the star, so we, following the light that God has
          given us, find him this day in the praise and the
          prayers, the and words and the actions, of his faithful
          people.

VOICE     We thank God for the Christ child and for the hope, the
          peace, the joy, and the love that his coming has
          brought to the world.

Light the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Christ Candle

VOICE     Let us pray:  Loving God, Emmanuel, as we enter into
          the new year, we give thanks to you for how you have
          blessed us in the past year - and for what you will
          lead us to in the days ahead.  Grant that we may walk
          with the one born in Bethlehem, and that our worship
          and our praise may bring to him, and to you, and to the
          Holy Spirit,  the glory and honour due your most Holy
          Name.  Bless this gathering of your people with your
          presence and feed and inspire us in body, mind, soul,
          and spirit.  Amen


* HYMN: "This Is The Day" (verses 2-3 and repeat 1)      - VU 412


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS


INTROIT For The Word of God    (VU 371 v.2 & refrain)
  Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!

                                        
A READING FROM EPHESIANS 3:1-12
     (NRSV)  This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for
     Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-- {2} for surely
     you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that
     was given me for you, {3} and how the mystery was made known
     to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, {4} a
     reading of which will enable you to perceive my
     understanding of the mystery of Christ. {5} In former
     generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as
     it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets
     by the Spirit: {6} that is, the Gentiles have become fellow
     heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise
     in Christ Jesus through the gospel. {7} Of this gospel I
     have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace
     that was given me by the working of his power. {8} Although
     I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given
     to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless
     riches of Christ, {9} and to make everyone see what is the
     plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all
     things; {10} so that through the church the wisdom of God in
     its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and
     authorities in the heavenly places. {11} This was in
     accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out
     in Christ Jesus our Lord, {12} in whom we have access to God
     in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

L    This is the word of the Lord.
P    Thanks be to God.


CHILDREN'S TIME


* HYMN: "We Three Kings"


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 72:1-11 and The Gloria Patri (Sung)


FAVOURITE HYMN/ANTHEM: "From A Distant Home" (VU 89)


A READING FROM MATTHEW 2:1-12:
     (NRSV)  In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in
     Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to
     Jerusalem, {2} 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." {3} When King Herod heard
     this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; {4} and
     calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the
     people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be
     born. {5} They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it
     has been written by the prophet: {6} '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.'" {7} Then Herod secretly called for the wise
     men and learned from them the exact time when the star had
     appeared. {8} 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
     homage." {9} 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. {10} When they saw that the star had stopped, they were
     overwhelmed with joy. {11} 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. {12} And
     having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they
     left for their own country by another road.

L    This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


HYMN: "The First Noel"                                    - VU 91


SERMON: The Wisdom of The Magi

     Let us Pray: Loving and Gracious God, bless thou the
     words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts, we
     ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen

More than any other characters in the Christmas story the three
wise men have been the subject of much good humour - like in the
story of the little boy who was setting up a manger scene in the
corner of the school room and, puzzled for a moment about what to
do, he calls out to the teacher - "And where shall I put the
three wise guys..."                

We really know very little about the wise men despite the story
we tell in plays and songs around Christmas time - you know the
one - about how three kings arrived in Bethlehem - fast on the
heels of the shepherds - to pay homage to the baby in a manger. 

The problem is that the gospels do not confirm this often told
story.  In fact what we do know is a bit different:

first     - the three kings were not kings at all, but rather
          they were magi, wise men, professional scholars in
          fact, schooled in the science of astrology.
second    - we do not know if there were three of them or thirty,
          we only know that there were three gifts given.
third     - there is no mention of the manger in the story of the
          wise men, in fact just the opposite.  The story states
          that the wise men entered into a house.
& fourth  - the last statement is really no surprise if you read
          the story found in the gospel of Matthew carefully -
          because you discover in it that the wise men arrived in
          Bethlehem close to two years after the birth of Jesus -
          time enough for Mary and Joseph to have found a house
          and settle in.

Today, I want to look at the story of the magi - let's call it
the story of the three wise men for convenience, and draw four
points from it.  Each of these points concern the wisdom of the
wise men - a wisdom that is available to us if we want it.

First 
- we discover in the story that the wise men sought for truth and
wisdom.  

The magi knew that the star that they followed was no ordinary
star.  These three had apparently been searching the heavens for
years for signs of something unique and significant occurring in
their world.  They were open to new wisdom and truth - more than
this - they searched for it.  They were not simply content to get
along with that which they already knew.  So, when they saw a new
star in the heavens, they sensed in their hearts that it was a
sign from God.

The bible tells us over and again - that if we seek, we will
find, if we knock, the door shall be opened to us, if we ask, we
will receive.  But how often do we actually seek for wisdom?  For
new truth?  For guidance?  

Think of assembling all those new toys and tools that appeared
this Christmas.  How many people actually looked at the
directions before beginning to assemble them?  How many tried to
put something together relying on the knowledge they already had
- only to find that it was not good enough? 

The wise men gained their wisdom because they were seekers - they
were looking for new things, new insights, new signs.  They read
their manuals, they searched the heavens for signs and wonders. 
And so can we.

Second 
- The Wisemen set forth in faith to find what the star pointed
to.

Faith by definition involves the idea of making a journey - of
venturing forth - of risking one's very self in a new activity. 
The living God cannot be found by proxy.  That was Herod's
mistake - he wanted the magi to go in his place and search for
the Christ child.  Only then would he come and worship the new
born king.  By contrast the magi had to travel from a foreign
land in search of wisdom and truth.  They did not know where the
star would lead them, how long it would take, or what the end
result would be for them.  They only knew that it was important
for them to follow that star to wherever it lead.  It was a
personal quest and the result was an opportunity to worship the
one who would be king of kings and Lord of Lords..  

This may well be the most important truth for us in the Epiphany
story.  

A story of faith with Jesus has to be a personal story, a
personal quest.  

It is not enough to know all kinds of facts about Jesus Christ. 
One must encounter the wonder of God's grace for sinners and then
make a personal decision to receive him into our heart as Lord. 
One must decide to follow him and then do so.  No one else can do
that for us.  Faith is not inherited like the family jewels - nor
can it come from simply knowing what others have said about it..

Faith is like the difference between having read about how to
make a cake and actually making one.  One call know all there is
to know about cooking, one may well have memorized the recipe for
the cake that he or she wants to make - but until one actually
gets out the ingredients and mixes them together and puts the
results in the oven - it means absolutely nothing.

Third 
- The wise men sought help from other people as they tried to
find the king

We so often try to live our lives without making any demands on
others.  We try to be independent.  To stand alone.  To make it
by ourselves.  Sometimes this comes out of noble motives - we do
not want to burden others.  Other times it comes out of fear - we
are afraid of looking weak or foolish.  

When the magi arrived in Jerusalem it seems that they lost sight
of the star.  They knew they were in the right area, but they
were not yet at the right spot.  Kind of like us sometimes when
we go driving in a new city to find a friend.  We get into the
right neighbourhood - but somehow can't quite locate the street
we are looking for.  Our map may be outdated or in error,
whatever the reason may be, we are stuck and remain stuck until
we ask someone else for help.

That is what the magi did.  The bible says they consulted with
the people in Jerusalem.  They ask where the new born king is and
how they can find him so they can pay homage to him.  Because
they ask - they receive.  Their question is answered by people
who are familiar with the scriptures and prophecies concerning
the birth of the Messiah - and they take that answer and set
forth with it - and when they do so, once again they see the star
going ahead of them - until it takes them to Jesus.

There are many people who can help us on our journey of faith -
if we are wise enough to ask them.  The question is: are we
willing to ask for help when we need it?  When we are in the
right neighbourhood, but can't quite find our way to our
destination will we stop and ask for directions as did the magi? 

Fourth 
- The wise men accepted what God lead them to and believed in it.

In the story of the wise men often much is made of what they gave
to the Christ child.  But consider what they were given for a
minute.

They set forth looking for a king - a king of kings in fact. 
After a long and hard journey they end up at a simple home in
Bethlehem - and there they find a carpenter and his wife and
child.  There are no costly treasures in the house, no purple
robes, no gold rings, nothing in fact to show that they are in
the presence of person destined to be a great king.  Only the
star stood overhead to indicate that anything special at all was
going on.

And they accept this.  Although all the outward signs, save one,
are telling them that they are in the wrong place, they accept
that single sign - the sign of God that they have been following
for so long - and ignore the rest.

So many of us have a hard time accepting what God has given in
the form that he gives it.  Because we are waiting for a gift
from God - we look for great miracles, instant healings, signs
and wonders, trumpet calls and 21 gun salutes. 

We may pray to God for a special blessing - and then turn away at
our door a  pan-handler who is looking for a meal, or a neighbour
who is dropping by unannounced, or a client who shows up just
when we are preparing to leave work for the day.

Louis Cassels tells a story about a man who hated Christmas.

     It was late Christmas Eve, but in spite of his
     wife's pleas he would not accompany her to church. 
     The whole crazy idea of God becoming a human being made
     no sense to his logical mind.  He stood watching the
     heavy snow at his picture window.  He thought of the
     birds and wondered if they would find the seeds he had
     put out for them.  It was snowing hard enough that the
     seed holders were quickly covered.  He turned on the
     backyard lights, but both the birds and the seed were
     lost in the falling snow.  Putting on his heavy coat,
     he went outside and opened his big barn door.  Then he
     spread bird seed just inside the barn, hoping that the
     birds would see it.  They did not!  Still hoping to
     help these little starving creatures, the man tried
     desperately to shoo the little birds toward the light
     of his open barn - but they were too frightened.  Here
     they were only inches away from the food and water they
     needed, and he was helpless.  "If only I were a bird",
     he thought to himself, "I would show them the way to
     that life-giving food."  Just then the church bells
     began to ring announcing Christmas morning.  Suddenly
     he understood why God's Son came to show us the way to
     eternal life in the way that he did - as one of us. 
     From that point on he became a believer.

We have this idea fixed in our minds that God does not, or should
not, appear to us in the ordinary aspects of our life.  We do not
expect God to show up while we are at work in our office, or
sitting in a classroom, or doing dishes at the kitchen sink.

We have a hard time too considering that God's answers to our
questions can be found in a 2000 year old book, 
or on the lips of our employees or our friends, 
or that a dream we have had during a long and troubled night is,
in fact, a message from God.

The wisdom of the wise men was and is simply this 
- they sought wisdom, 
- they were willing to journey in faith to personally discover
what God was doing, 
- they did they hesitate to ask for help along the way and
finally 
- they accepted what they found - even though it was plainly
dressed - and believed in it.

Simple stuff really - but wisdom normally is simple stuff.
Simple - but when used - as the wisemen used it, it leads us to
God.  May God bless us all with this kind of wisdom.  Amen


HYMN:  "As With Gladness Men of Old"                      - VU 81


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LORD'S PRAYER


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand
     for the Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow -
     VU 541) and Prayer of Dedication


* HYMN:  "I Am The Light of The World"                    - VU 87


* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now
     go forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people
     of God, the body of Christ.


* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace 
- and may the word of our God be made flesh in you 
- may the light of God surround you,
- and the love of God fill you
both now and for evermore.  Amen.

                
* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                    - VU 964

 
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1999 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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