Sunday, January 6, 2008

Epiphany Sermon

Merry Christmas, Happy Epiphany!

If you weren’t in Church today, you would think I was crazy for saying such things, but today is the last day of Christmas as we celebrate the Epiphany, the arrival of the three kings at the manger, El Dia de los Reyes. Most of our country has sadly, forgotten about the 12 days of Christmas and its ending with Epiphany, stores are already stocking up for Valentines Day. Thankfully the Church and the Latin American culture that is present here remembers los Tres Reyes, the three kings and their presence in the Nativity.

We know from the Gospel of Matthew that wise men from the east (Gk. Magi) came looking for the baby Jesus following a star. King Herod is frightened that they are looking for a baby born “King of the Jews”… The wise men, leaving Herod, continue to follow the star and find Jesus with Mary and pay him homage and offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are warned in a dream not to return to Herod so they return home by another road.

Later tradition says there were three wise men or three kings because there were three gifts, and the names of Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior gets attached to them. The gifts they offer, recognizing Jesus and in anticipation of his life, are symbolic with gold for a king, frankincense for the son of God and myrrh for his death as a human being. But those were not the only gifts. The birth of Jesus was a gift not only to the Jewish people but to the world. His manifestation to the wise men, symbolically reminds us that this gift was to be shared with the world, for the light of God has come into the world. And it is up to us in our lives to share that gift, of the light that has come into darkness…

One gift I got this past week was to watch a lot of football. After Michigan beat Florida (Go Blue!), I was in a great mood. As I watched USC dismantle Illinois in the Rose Bowl, I heard the announcers talk about an article on the coach of the USC Trojans, Pete Carroll. Pete Carroll has built USC into a college football powerhouse but he does not keep himself locked up on the beautiful grounds of USC. At night, some times you can find him in the rough parts of LA…

This is from an article in LA Magazine… (you can find the article online here.)

"They (Pete Carroll and Bo Taylor) make late-night journeys through the dicey precincts of Los Angeles. Alone, unarmed, they cruise the desolate, impoverished, crime-ridden streets, meeting as many people (mostly young men) as possible. The mission: Let them know that someone busy, someone famous, someone well known for winning, is thinking about them, rooting for them. The young men have hard stories, grim stories, about their everyday lives, and at the very least Carroll’s visit gives them a different story to tell tomorrow. Carroll says: “Somebody they would never think would come to them and care about them and worry about them—did. I think it gives them hope."

And its not just a one time visit…

"A young man stops Carroll, takes the coach aside and becomes emotional while explaining how much this visit has meant to him. He gives Carroll a bracelet, something he made, a symbol of brotherhood and solidarity. Carroll accepts the bracelet as if it were a Rolex. He’ll wear it for days, often pushing back his sleeve to admire and play with it. He gives several young men his cell phone number and tells them to call if they ever need to talk. One, an ex-con, will call early the next morning and confide in Carroll about his struggles feeding his family. Carroll will vow to help find him a job. (So far, Taylor said, Carroll has found part-time jobs for 40 young men.) "

from 23 Reasons Why A Profile of Pete Carroll Does Not Appear in this Space in Los Angeles Magazine By J.R. Moehringer

That is bringing the gift of light into darkness, of taking his coaching to an all new level and indeed bringing hope into dark places. He used his gift of coaching to reach a whole different segment of the population. Indeed we are called to bring our gifts, to celebrate once again at the manger, but to go out and offer our gifts to a world in need, like Coach Carroll. We must not tarry too long or we might miss our chance.

And that is the story of Befana, an Epiphany legend…

Befana the Housewife, scrubbing her pane,
Saw three old sages ride down the lane,
Saw three gray travelers pass her door -
Gaspar, Balthazar, Melchior.

"Where journey you, sirs?" she asked of them.
Balthazar answered, "To Bethlehem,
For we have news of a marvelous thing.
Born in a stable is Christ the King."

"Give Him my welcome!"
Then Gaspar smiled,
"Come with us, mistress, to greet the Child."

"Oh, happily, happily would I fare,
Were my dusting through and I'd polished the stair."

Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn.
"Then send but a gift to the small Newborn."

"Oh, gladly, gladly I'd send Him one,
Were the hearthstone swept and my weaving done.

"As soon as ever I've baked my bread,
I'll fetch Him a pillow for His head,
And a coverlet too," Befana said.

"When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,
I'll look at the Babe."
But the Three rode by.

She worked for a day and a night and a day,
Then, gifts in her hands, took up her way.
But she never could find where the Christ Child lay.

And still she wanders at Christmastide,
Houseless, whose house was all her pride,
Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;
Wanders, and knocks at every gate,

Crying, "Good people, the bells begin!
Put off your toiling and let love in."

(Befana by Phyllis McGinley )

The kings have come, the gifts given, and we are invited to again celebrate the gift of the Christ child, to offer our gifts, our hearts again at the crèche. But as we celebrate this day, and leave here in awe and wonder for the gift given to us, the light that has entered the world, let us in turn share our gifts and help spread that light in the darkness today.

Let us pray.

Light of the world, we bow before You in awe and adoration. Bless us and our simple faith seeking understanding. Epiphany means manifestation, lifting the veil, revelation. Reveal to us then what we need to know to love You, and serve You, and keep Your word with fidelity and truth, courage and hope, this day and always. Amen. (prayer by Miriam Therese Winter)

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