Tag Archives: Egypt

Hope for a Different Way [OR Epiphany and the Magi’s Star] Matthew 2:1-12

**sermon art: Epiphany by Miki De Goodaboom

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 9, 2022

[sermon begins after Bible story]

Matthew 1:1-12 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “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.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They 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.’ ”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then 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.” 9When 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. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On 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. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

[sermon begins]

As Christmas decorations get packed away, they often leave bits of themselves around, finding their way into corners and carpet fibers – pine needles either real or fake, tiny gingerbread house candies, and shimmery tinsel. Tinsel sparkles like glitter, but unlike glitter that is teeny-tiny and sticks to just about anything, tinsel shimmers in very thin strips, like super chill tin foil.[1] Tinsel is sometimes long, its strands tied together into snake-like garlands that drape across ceilings or coil around a Christmas tree. Tinsel reflects nearby light and sparkles even when the lights are dim. It’s inexpensive and widely available so it’s not surprising that tinsel fell into the hands of the five of us siblings when we were little. Just having left my dad who was losing his fight with mental illness, Mom and the five of us kids were starting over and getting ready for Christmas. Like anyone’s memory from childhood, mine are a bit spotty. But I remember sitting at a table with tinsel, scotch tape, and a hanger – watching my sister tape tinsel garland to the wire hanger that had been shaped into a star for the top of our Christmas tree. I now have that star with its singed scotch tape. It hangs by a thick red ribbon from my ceiling in the kitchen every year from the four weeks before Christmas through its 12 days, from Advent through Epiphany.

Six weeks of the shimmering tinsel star in my kitchen hardly compares to the years long journey of the Magi in our Bible story today. They’re sung about as kings or talked about as wise men, but those translation choices were made well after Jesus’ birth.[2] The Magi is what they were called in Biblical Greek. They were from the East, which at that time meant out towards Persia or Babylon now modern-day Iran and Iraq. Guided by a star, their journey ended with gifts of gold and spices given to a toddler Jesus by the time they finally arrived. We include the Magi in our nativity sets for simplicity’s sake not for Biblical accuracy. Simplicity is helpful. It helps us shorten a story into manageable parts so that we can tell the story and understand it.

The Magi capture our imagination. Not just ours. Early Christian writers, preachers, artists, and singers too. In the Ancient Near East, the Magi were astronomers and magicians who advised kings. Their visit to Jesus and the Feast of the Epiphany are a time to celebrate the good news of Jesus to the great joy of all the people.[3] Magi represent the inclusive good news for “all the people” because they couldn’t have been more foreign to our Jewish cousins in the faith who first heard this story. These magical advisors to kings also reveal God working through unexpected people in the Bible yet one more time.

The Magi are unexpected people, and they do unexpected things…well, after they do the expected thing by checking in with King Herod. It makes sense as advisors to Eastern kings that they would consult with King Herod to continue searching for the King of the Jews. Herod is so frightened by the Magi’s news that Jerusalem was frightened with him. I wonder if Jerusalem was frightened knowing that Herod was afraid, because a fearful king is a terrifying king. Fearful kings do violent things as their fear turns to anger. Case in point, after the Magi left town a different way to avoid Herod, the holy family escaped to Egypt just before Herod “sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, according to the time that he had learned from the [Magi].”[4] Herod was fearful and angry and violent to the point of killing children.

We too live in a time of violence, suffering and sickness. Caution is advised as we try to interpret God’s intentions or activity in any event. More recently we saw the carnage wrought by hundreds of insurrectionists in D.C. and a lone gunman closer to home, or the ashes of someone’s home destroyed by fire, or the deathbed of someone’s loved one in pandemic.[5] Proceed with caution when interpreting God’s intentions or activity in any event. We are not God. We can mistakenly imply that God was with some people and not others if we confuse God’s blessing with a house still standing after the fire or someone still breathing after an infection.[6] Epiphany isn’t only about the Magi’s star journey to see Jesus, the escape to Egypt, and the threat of Herod. It’s also about the Magi’s return home a different way after visiting Jesus. They first met Jesus when he was still little, the embodiment of hope not yet matured.  Scripture assures us that the King of the Jews’ birth, life, death, and resurrection means something different is happening along with what we see and experience. The short word for this is hope.

Kids have a way of making a way when it seems like all is lost. Like when my siblings and I made that star for the top of our Christmas tree. The tinsel star as reminder of resilience through trauma and making a way when all seems lost. For us, the child-like wonder of Christmas crafted a star of hope. Kids are great at making a way when the evidence presents a wall. Flash to the Magi who followed a star as months turned into years, finding their way through a perilous journey to give their gifts to Jesus. Christians through the centuries have also made a way through whatever the circumstances of the moment may be. On January 6 every year, Christians worldwide celebrate Epiphany. January 6 is also now recorded in our country’s history as one of violent conflict over power. As Jesus followers, we are offered a different way in the face of violence and power – the wonder of Christmas revealing Jesus as the star of hope.

We sang a Gathering Song at the beginning of worship today – Christ be our Light. The song led us in prayer as we praised Christ for lighting the way of peace, hope, and salvation. Quite often, maybe far too often, the ones we need saving from is ourselves. Prone to conflict, scape-goating, and violence as both catharsis and solution, Christ shines light on the futility of those ways while guiding us on a different way to love not just ourselves but our neighbors too; to love not just our neighbors but our enemies too. Christ shines the love of God first – the unconditional, ever-expanding love of God for you. Epiphany is a good day for hope as Christ shines Star-light on a different way for us. Thanks be to God and amen.

___________________________________________________________

[1] Tinsel has a history dating back to the 1600s. Check it out at https://www.thefactsite.com/history-of-tinsel/

[2] Sandra Sweeney Silver. Early Church History: Who Were the Magi? “In the ancient Middle Eastern world these Magi were trusted advisors to kings, were learned men proficient in the knowledge of mathematical calculations, astronomy, medicine, astrology, alchemy, dream interpretation and history as well as practitioners of magic and paranormal arts.” https://earlychurchhistory.org/beliefs-2/who-were-the-magi/

[3] Luke 2:10

[4] Matthew 2:13-18 These few verses summarize the holy family’s escape to Egypt and what is known as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” The stories are worth reading because we don’t hear them in the regular schedule of Sunday worship scripture a.k.a. Revised Common Lectionary.

[5] Without preaching the details, the shooter who recently shot and killed people across Denver and Lakewood, the 1/6/2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Marshall fire in and around Boulder CO, and Covid deaths, are inferred.

[6] Ryan Warner interviews Isaac Sendros on Colorado Matters: When the evacuation order for the Marshall Fire came, the 600-member staff of Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville sprang into action. The hospital’s CEO Isaac Sendros recounts how they cleared everyone from preemies to COVID patients. https://www.cpr.org/show-segment/how-to-evacuate-a-hospital-the-story-of-clearing-out-avista-adventist/

Luke 13:10-17 – “Freed Into Rest [or Jewish Patriarchs through Moses in 2 Minutes or Less]”

Luke 13:10-17 –  “Freed Into Rest [or Jewish Patriarchs through Moses in 2 Minutes or Less]”

August 25, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 13:10-17   Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

 

I’m going to show my hand and let you know straight out of the gate that my sympathies lie with the leader of the synagogue.[1]  Not because there are parallels between his position and my own as pastor – that would be way too easy  of a target; plus it would leave you all out of it which basically means I’d be preaching to only myself which I can do on any old day without you sitting here while I do it.

To give us some understanding of the leader of the synagogue, think with me for a bit about the history of our Jewish cousins and our common ancestors of faith.  The story of Abraham and Sarah gives us the courageous travelers, uprooted by God and sent to a land far away.[2]  We can appreciate the romantic adventure of their tale from beginning to end; or we could read it through the hard lens of being migrants and immigrants.  Regardless, they were free people.

Sarah and Abraham’s son Isaac and the shenanigans of Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau lead us right into the Joseph story.[3]  Joseph, the favorite son sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, ends up second-in-command of Egypt – saving his band of brothers as the sun sets dreamily in Egypt over the happy family reunion.  Okay, that last part smacks of Hollywood cinematography but you get the picture.  We get to end of the book of Genesis on a high as Joseph, with his dying breath, tells his brothers once more about God’s promises.[4]  So far, these are great stories of deeply flawed people but wildly free people.

We can literally turn the page to the book of Exodus and all manner of hell has broken loose.  Hundreds of years have passed, the new king does not know Joseph, and has no appreciation for the numerous descendents of Joseph and his eleven brothers.  “The Egyptians came to dread the Israelites…and became ruthless in imposing tasks on [them], and made their lives bitter with hard service.”[5]  These were hard times that lead to harder times that led to Moses’ leading the Israelites out of slavery to the Egyptians into…well, the wilderness.  But they were a free people there!  They were a free people who were given laws – laws given by God to preserve life and protect people’s relationships with God and each other.

Some of you could likely come up with the ten big laws, a.k.a. the Ten Commandments.  The one I’m really interested in this morning is the third one.[6]  After being told to have no other gods and to not misuse the name of God, comes commandment number three to:

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”[7]

Just sit for a moment with this and think about how huge it must have sounded to a newly freed people who were freed from ruthlessly imposed tasks and bitter lives of hard service.  Just imagine that.  It’s difficult at best to understand the magnitude of the freedom given by this law.  At worst, our understanding of it becomes blasé in our current context of labor laws, workers’ rights, and weekends off.  But for the Jewish people of the 1st century, keeping Sabbath meant to be freed into rest by the law of God!  Freed into rest.  Take a breath on that one for a minute.   Freed into rest….

The leader of the synagogue would have worked very hard to make sure that the people followed this law because it was for their good and for their God.  This doesn’t mean he had pure motives when confronted by Jesus’ healing the woman.  It’s a given that he didn’t.  But it does mean that the Sabbath being held up by the leader of the synagogue is a good thing.  So then where does it go awry for the synagogue leader?

Listen again to the beginning of the story:

“ Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

Jesus is teaching away, he sees this woman who he can help and so he does.  The problem is that Jesus does this on a day when there is a rule of law about work; a rule of law that has the big history and current meaning of being freed into rest.  And the leader of the synagogue becomes indignant on behalf of this law, starts talking to the people about coming to be cured on any other day but the Sabbath, and gets an earful from Jesus.  Not just any old earful, but a shaming earful.

Jesus clearly did not get the current parenting advice about public shaming.  You may have heard some of this advice.  If your child or grandchild or someone else’s child is up to no good, you are to talk to the child privately to preserve their dignity and create a safe space.  It’s good advice.  It’s even wise advice.  It’s advice that applies well to adults too.  Jesus didn’t get the memo.  While I feel for the leader of the synagogue, I’m grateful for what comes next in the story because then Jesus makes an interesting move that actually isn’t about shaming.  It’s an exegetical move – a move that interprets scriptural law as it has been handed down through the centuries and lived out in that synagogue, a move that breathes new life into the law.

The leader of the synagogue had become so bound into the law, the law was no longer doing its job of preserving life and people’s relationships with God and each other.  Jesus’ interpretation of the law frees the law so that, at least the woman, could be freed by the law.  I like to think that the leader of the synagogue took some time later to ponder the moves that Jesus makes in the synagogue – first freeing the woman from that which binds her, then freeing the law from the person who would try to bind it, and, maybe, just maybe, freeing the lead of the synagogue, the very one who would bind the law.

My sympathies lie with the leader of the synagogue because we can get curved in on ourselves and the law in the same way.  We are given a law to preserve life and protect people’s relationships with God and with each other.  And then we bind up that law, playing a kind of keep-away game between Jesus and law, wondering what will happen to that which we hold dear if we are compelled to a different interpretation of the law – slavery and the role of women in the church are two recent historical examples.  It is into this bound up, curled up mess that Jesus saves by the power of the Spirit.  Calling us on all the ways in which we bind ourselves and each other into the law and freeing us back into the law as a place of rest.

For this and for all that Jesus has done and is doing, thanks be to God!



[1] David Lose, “Dear Working Preacher” for Sunday, August 25, 2013.   http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=2699

[2] Genesis 12-20.

[3] Genesis 21-34.

[4] Genesis 35-50.

[5] Exodus 1:12-13, New Revised Standard Version.

[6] In Jewish tradition, the commandment to keep the Sabbath is number four.  Luther’s Small Catechism lists it third.

[7] Exodus 20:8-11, New Revised Standard Version.