Bow before his brightness

December 31, 2007

For a preacher, the challenge of Epiphany is that it comes every year.
The story unfolds as it always does: King Herod, the wise men from the
East, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. By now, the pageant is
overplayed. The star of wonder has lost its awe. How, in this
over-handled text, can anything new break through?

Yet
this year something new did break through. As I read Matthew’s account
of the journey of the Magi to Jerusalem in search of the child born
king of the Jews, I was struck, not by the aspects of prophecy
fulfilled or the astrological phenomenon of the star, but by the wise
men’s raw, unrestrained response—they worshiped. Earlier biblical
translations read, “When they saw that the star had stopped, they
rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” The description bends over
backward with expression! The NRSV tries to subdue the hyperbole,
saying simply they were “overwhelmed with joy,” but that sounds like an
understatement. Something amazing happened to the wise men. They had a
moment of revelation, a transcendent experience of the divine, and they
could not contain their joy. Ronald Goetz writes, “They had lost the
composure and reserve of scholars and sages, giving way to an ecstasy
of naked adoration.” When was the last time that happened to you in
worship?

The celebration of the epiphany is an invitation to
praise. It is an opportunity to be so moved by God’s appearing in our
midst that we cannot help but “fall down and worship him.” In this
case, the task of the preacher may be to just get out of the way and
let the people pay their homage.

St. Theresa of Avila in the
16th century asked, “How is it that there are not many who are led by
sermons to forsake open sin? I think that’s because preachers have too
much worldly wisdom. They are not like the Apostles (or the wise men
for that matter), flinging it all aside and catching fire with love of
God, and so their flame gives little heat.” What worldly wisdom could
we possibly add to the already intense heat and brilliance of God’s
loving manifestation to us in Jesus Christ? What if this year we
attempted to say little but instead tried to bask much in the beauty of
God’s perfect light given to us in the Christ child? What if we just
knelt down?

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