Bishop Skip’s Sermon for The Epiphany (2016)
The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams, III
Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany
Clergy Conference, Christ the King Retreat Center
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
On the Feast of the Nativity, we celebrate God coming to us in the infant of Bethlehem. On The Epiphany, we celebrate our going to God.
Actually these are two parts of a single truth, for even as we in our myriad ways look and search for God, God is always coming to us and has found us before we ever find God. The promise once again is that God is with us, Emmanuel. It is the good news of our baptism – to know that God searches out each one of us, that God claims us before we even know how to look for God.
Yet, we know at the same time that it is our responsibility to commit to the search in an intentional way, just as the Magi traveled across the desert of the Middle East in their search of the promised King. But note this – they search for one who had already been given. The promise of this searching is that God is not playing hide and seek with us. Just as with the wise men, we search knowing the gift is already given. It is God’s will to be found and the Scriptures promise us that God is nearer than our own breath.
The story of the Star indicates that a way, a light, is provided. It ushered the Magi into Christ’s presence where they had an opportunity to offer their gifts to the One who was their hope, the final end of all their searching. Their way was to follow the longing of their hearts. Our way is the same, for we have learned from the spiritual masters over the centuries that all of our longings, out of a place of wholeness or something less, are in the end a longing for God. It is good to recall the words of St. Augustine who said that, “God is the end of all our searching.”
When one of my boys was a child he had a friend over for a sleepover. It was getting late and their voices were a bit loud. So I went back to the bedroom to ask that they hold it down. The response I heard from the darkened recesses of the sleeping bags on the floor was, “Okay. We were just talking about things we want to ask God when we get to heaven.” I suggested they keep talking.
Do you see? The search is always going on – the search for meaning, making sense of the world, our place in it. Our responsibility is to pay attention. It is essential for us as clergy. So much of our life is spent being so busy tending to others that we often do not take the time to go deeply, to search substantively. Some would say that our busy lives are often an avoidance of significant questions of meaning and our purpose in life. We need, for our soul’s health, to allow ourselves the questions of meaning and longing that are in every human heart. Those little boys knew that on some level – maybe not up here in their head, but they knew it where it counts – in the heart, and it came out in their wonderful questions.
So today we celebrate that journey of searching taken by all who are seekers after God – our human journey illumined by some so-called wise men, led by of all things a star, through deserts and hazardous unmapped wilds, no GPS, just to get a glimpse of a longed-for ruler of earth and heaven – one to lead them and all out of the brokenness of the world as they knew it. And aren’t we all like those pilgrims from the East in search of fulfillment and health, holiness and wholeness, peace and justice, the quieting of our fears? Or as the Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” so eloquently says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
The three travelers ended up at the Crib, the end, or was it the beginning, of their search. How? By following the foolish wisdom of their imaginations, by acting as if their dreams were possible, paying no attention to the data that would dissuade them, and risking a journey in search of an impossible dream. They did things we are taught mature responsible adults just don’t do. They let intuition take precedence over intellect, imagination over reason. It was a long, mad, ill-advised journey into a place some would call fantasy-land. They were classified as naïve and dismissed by learned and practical folk.
Isn’t this the kind of critique that is often levied against dreamers and visionaries? People who dare to follow the longing of their hearts? Those who act upon dreams and follow stars are rare in an enlightened and reasonable age. We prefer to live with certainty, as elusive and sometimes idolatrous as it may be. Note, however, that it is called the Christian faith, not the Christian certainty. It involves a level of trust beyond us. Even as we often have difficulty accepting chaos and surprise, this Feast says that sometimes that is the only way to go and may be just the charism needed in today’s church and world.
The Epiphany journey is an invitation to go on a trek we cannot order or control, to follow a way we cannot and never will fully comprehend. Like Frodo, J.R.R. Tolkien’s hero in The Lord of the Rings, we might have to endure the terror of encountering monsters and dragons, those within ourselves and those outside. Yet, like Frodo, if we go on this terrifying adventure, we need to go with both faith in miracles and the conviction that everything, in the midst of it all, can be reconciled. That’s not pollyannish – that’s part of our trust in a God who wants to be found and who already resides in us, even in those parts of life with which we struggle the most.
We of the Epiphany promise are invited to listen to the voice of God and step out in pilgrimage, to enter this year trusting in the possibility of God’s dream for you, God’s dream for your faith community, God’s dream for the world. We go forth carrying the gold of love, the incense of longing, and yes, even the myrrh of suffering. And like the Magi, we dream that the One for whom we search is waiting for us, to embrace us and welcome us home. Go. God is with you. God awaits you.