It is a delight to be preaching once again on Epiphany Sunday. If you were here on Epiphany last year, you might remember that I had the privilege of preaching on this holy day. Epiphany Sunday is the day in our Christian calendar that reminds us of the star that led the wise men to Jesus. It led them to the revelation- the epiphany- that Christ was the Messiah. It led them to the understanding that this was the one that they were meant to follow and whose message they were meant to share.
Last year we reflected on that star. We thought about the ways that the Christmas star guides us in our lives, the ways we have to be attentive to the light so that we might not miss out on whatever God has for us in the year to come.
And as we reflected on that star, I offered the congregation, stars of their own. A star like this. A star with a word on it. It’s become a popular Christian tradition in recent years to have a star word for the year- a word that has been chosen, mostly arbitrarily, for you. A word that might guide and lead you in your Christian faith over the year to come.
Over the last month or two, I asked for folks to share stories about their star words. I asked for folks to tell me how their words were reflected in the last year.
Now I know that some of you “lost” your word, maybe even immediately. And I know that some you didn’t like your word and you chose not to reflect on your word. And all of that is okay!
But some of you thought about your star word. You kept your word, you reflected on your word, you prayed about your word. You used the star to help you consider the ways God’s light might be guiding to you to a deeper relationship with Christ over the course of the year. For those stories you’ve shared with me, I’m incredibly grateful.
I encountered someone who had the word “persevere”, and this person shared with me that much perseverance was required over the last year through facing medical challenges for self and loved ones. Perseverance was required when facing the loss of beloved friends and family this year. This person has had to persevere- with God’s help- and that word has stayed fresh on the mind.
One among us had the word anointed. And she created a song from that word- a meditation that included the word that God had guided her to this year.
Another had the word “patience” when she had been waiting years and years for something she longed for. That patience paid off and that gift came to fruition, and she was cognizant of the patience that she had exhibited in years prior that brought her to this place of blessing.
And I had a couple of you who told me that you kept your word all year long, and you still don’t like it. One of you had the word “repentance”. That’s a hard one, isn’t it? Being called to repentance by this star glaring at you every day. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to have a word like joy or love or comfort?
Some of you had words that were really hard- hard to claim for yourself. Hard to act on. Hard to see. And isn’t that how our faith in Christ goes? Sometimes the stars- the lights by which we are being led- are hard to follow. We don’t know where they’re leading us. We don’t know if we even want to be led. But Christ invites us to follow the star- the guiding light that brings us closer to him.
And so whether you wrote a song, or you meditated on your word, or you put it in your Bible and saw it every so often, or you threw it away on January 7 last year, I hope that your star word was somewhere in your heart. I hope that, over this last year of 2019, you allowed God to guide you and show you an intention for the year that God would have for you- a light that has guided your path.
And so, we are here again on Epiphany. We’re here reflecting on that same star. The same story in Matthew- of the wise men being led by a star to Jesus and then going back to share that story of the Christ child with the world. These incredible wise men, these Gentiles from far-away places, came to know that Jesus was king, through the star.
And so, as we revisit the passage today, I think it’s important that we look at another aspect of this story- something that we didn’t really talk about last year.
Today I want us to think about the road. I want us to think about the road that these wise men traveled on. The wise men traveled on a road that brought them from far away because of the star that was guiding them. They set out on foot, or perhaps on camel as we like to depict in the nativity scene. But regardless, they traveled a long way to meet this child.
We all have our stories of how we have traveled a long way to know Jesus. We all have journeys that we have taken that have drawn us closer to Christ.
Some of us have longer journeys than others. Some of you have followed Jesus all of your lives. Some of us have come to understand Christ more intimately in recent years. But whatever your story is YOU have been on a road. You have been on a journey to find the Christ child. To understand who this person is for you and for the world.
And so the wise men took that long road- they took the long journey. And we know that an important piece of this story is that is that they were interrupted on their journey. As they were nearing Jesus, they were called to visit with Herod. Herod pulled them aside and asked them to find out more about this Jesus and where he lived. He too must have seen the star. He would have been concerned about what this unusual event could possibly mean. He would have been nervous and afraid because a star was often a sign that a new king would arise.
Herod wanted to use the wise men for his own purposes. Because Herod was afraid. Herod wanted to pull their focus. He wanted to draw them away from believing that this boy could be king. And Herod wanted to know how he could stop such a threat to his own throne.
Herod says that he wants to know more about the child so that he can go and honor him himself. But let’s be clear. Herod was known for being kind of shady. He was widely known for being paranoid and prone to overreacting. And so many scholars believe that even these foreign wise men would have known that Herod was not to be trusted. And yet the wise men listened. We don’t have any record that they argued with him or protested his commands. They just went along their way to seek out this child who would be king, and they found him. They found this small child at home with his mother, and they knew immediately that he was the king.They worship him because they instantly know who he will become.
Before leaving the child Jesus, the wise men had a dream. They had a dream that they should not go back to Herod. Because these wise men were diviners- they spent their lives interpreting dreams- they knew they had to trust that dream. And so, instead of going back the long road they’d gone before, they left for their own country by another road. They went by another road.
They went home by an even longer road than the one from which they came. They did this so that they would avoid what they knew to be dangerous and untrue. They knew they couldn’t go back the way they’d come. They couldn’t go back to Herod and his deception. They wouldn’t be distracted from their path by someone who meant ill will and harm for the message that this new king had arrived. They had to go back by another road.
And isn’t that what we are called to do? On our journeys, when we are so easily distracted and pulled away by things that take us away from Christ, we are called then to go by another road. We are called to leave what might be familiar and even easy and go by a more difficult road that is the right road.
Nothing about Christianity is intended to be easy or simple. In fact, we are called to be set apart. We are called to be different. And we are called to make choices in our lives that reflect the Jesus that we worship. And so, we can’t go back to the ways that we have known. We can’t go back to the things that distract us. We can’t go back to the people that pull us away from Jesus.
There have been so many times in scripture when folks have chosen to go by another road. Ruth and Naomi- they chose to go by another road. Ruth had every right to go back to her own family after her husband’s death, and yet she stayed with her MIL. She made a choice to go by another road. And that road led her closer to God.
When Hannah asked God for a child and God gave her Samuel, she could have kept that baby and raised him to adulthood. But instead, she made a promise to God that she would commit him to the Lord once he was older. She made that promise and kept it. She went by another road. And God honored her and Samuel for their faith. How many of us would have chosen those paths?
In modern times we can see people throughout history who have gone by another road. We think of those who have stood up against injustice, poverty and oppression.
We think of Corrie Ten Boom who hid Jews in her home during WWII so that they might escape the Nazi Holocaust. Instead of the path that was simple and safe, her faith led her by another road to risk her own life for the lives of others.
As we draw close to February 1st, we think of the Greensboro Four, who, 60 years ago, chose to go by another road. Instead of going along with the unfair treatment they were used to, they sacrificed their comfort and their dignity in order to stand up for equality and civil rights by sitting at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s.
But we don’t just think of these well known folks who made bold moved in extraordinary circumstances. We must also recognize those who have gone by another road in ordinary ways.
We have to choose difficult roads. We have to go by another road than the one we’ve taken before. WE have to choose God’s best for us. WE have to listen for the dream that God is giving us. We have to listen and see who God is guiding us to be, and we have to choose to go by another road.
We go by another road every time we choose forgiveness over holding a grudge. We go by another road every time we choose understanding over aggression.
We go by another road when we choose peace over war.
We go by another road when we choose to give away more of what we have
than what we keep for ourselves.
We go by another road when fill our minds with things that are true, noble, right,
pure, lovely, and admirable instead of letting our culture lead us to put
our faith in things that give us temporary satisfaction.
We go by another road when we choose to place our trust and confidence in
God’s greatness and in God’s mystery even when it feels more natural to
be afraid or uncertain of the people, places, or ideas that confuse or
Once the star has guided us to Jesus, then we have a choice. We can go back from where we have come, or we choose to be changed. We can choose to go by another road. And this choice is not one that happens only once in our lives. It happens constantly as we seek out God’s intention for our lives.
You all know the Robert Frost poem that ends:
“Two road diverged in a wood and I,
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
That poem resonates with us, because we are all faced with paths to take in every choice that we make. And while we like to think that our choices are inconsequential, most of them are more significant than we know. And Jesus wants to be part of that. Christ wants to be part of our choices in this year to come. Christ wants to be the cornerstone of our paths.
Once we have met Christ, we can’t go back to the ways that we would prefer to live- to what’s comfortable and easy. We must press on to what is difficult- all for the sake of Christ our Messiah and King.
The wise men went by another road because they didn’t feel an allegiance to Herod. They feel an allegiance to Christ. And we must reflect on that for ourselves. To whom is our allegiance? To the world and all it offers, or to Christ?
And so, this year, I don’t have a star for you, but I want to encourage us all to consider the road that we are on. What epiphany might God be offering you this year? What revelation about your life and about what choices you face, might God be speaking to you? Where and how God is calling you- not to keep going where you have been, but to go by another road?