An Epiphany throwback sermon that I preached at Hope UCC back in 2009:
As many of you know, I watch too many children’s movies, especially those made by Disney and Pixar. So it will probably come as no shock to you that when I was thinking about what to say to you this morning about the visit of the Magi, the feast of Epiphany, one of the first things that came to my mind was a scene from Disney Pixar’s wonderful movie, The Incredibles. In the world of The Incredibles super heroes are real and used to regularly save people and make the world a better place. But after too many lawsuits from rescues that went bad, the government has decided that the supers must go underground and live like normal folks. Enter the hero of our story Bob Parr AKA Mr. Incredible, probably one of the most famous supers, known for his superhuman strength. Except years after he has gone into hiding and given up superhero work he is now a miserable hulking shell of a man who works as an insurance claim processor. Upon driving home from work one particularly frustrating day he parks the car in his driveway and goes to get out, only he accidentally destroys the car door and smashes in the window with his superhuman strength. He is so frustrated with his situation – the car, his job, his life – that in a fit of anger he picks up the car over his head as if to throw it across the street. And suddenly he stops because he sees a neighborhood child at the end of his driveway riding a tricycle and looking right at him utterly stupefied. Mr. Incredible suddenly puts down the car as carefully as he can trying his best to remain nonchalant about the fact that he just picked up an automobile like it was a toy. Cut to several scenes later Bob has just lost his job and driven home defeated and depressed. He gets out of his car only to see that same little boy sitting there on the tricycle. “What are you waiting for?” He asks the boy gruffly. The boy replies “I don’t know, something amazing to happen, I guess.” Mr. Incredible turns away and glumly adds “Me too.”
Me too. I don’t know about you but I have often wished and waited for something amazing to happen. Something so amazing it would tell me without a doubt this is what I have been looking for, here is the answer! A burning bush would be nice, barring that a star appearing high and bright in the sky would work too. Something amazing to happen. A sign, a plan I could sign on to. Something so amazing that it could not be mistaken for something else. It seems l am waiting for an epiphany. That sudden insight or flash of clarity that would point me in the right direction. I sit, like that little boy on the tricycle. God says, “What are you waiting for?” and I answer, “Something amazing to happen, I guess.”
In our scripture lessons this morning we have the familiar story of the wise ones, the three kings (though of course this passage does not say how many there actually were) who indeed had something very amazing happen to them. They saw a star rising and having determined this was sign of the birth of the King of the Jews, they had followed that star and come to pay homage to the new king. It is absolutely amazing that they recognized this astrological occurrence and seeing it decided to disrupt their lives to go pay homage to a foreign king. It is amazing that these pagans come to recognize Jesus for who he is while the political and religious leaders around the newborn king have no idea what is going on. And the truly amazing thing to me is that with all that wonder and insight they almost screw up the whole entire thing.
No really! They are looking for a king so they go where it might be understood a newborn king would be, Jerusalem, the center of the world for the Jewish people, then and now. And they go to Herod, who the Romans have actually named the king of the Jews. Herod has no idea what they are talking about so he gets his wise men together and using a passage from Micah they tell him that the Messiah is supposed to be born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. Herod sends them off to Bethlehem to find this baby. Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. They had come all those miles and in the end they were still a few miles off. They were looking in the wrong place!
So off to Bethlehem they go to that least likely place, and suddenly, look what the text does here, it says the star went ahead of them. What, they had lost sight of it when they went to Jerusalem? It was like “Oh there it is again, this must be right!” Did the star go there from the first, but they didn’t follow it thinking it must be off. Jerusalem is the center isn’t it? That’s where the King is supposed to be isn’t it? And yet, the king is not to be found in the places most would think to look, but instead the star leads them to a simple house in a simple place. This is such an amazing thing that upon finding him the wise ones are filled with joy. They were overwhelmed with joy. Have you ever been overwhelmed with joy, wept for it, danced because of it, been beside yourself with joy? Cause that’s what happened to the wise ones having found their king and completed their quest. They give their gifts and having been warned in a dream they don’t go back to tell Herod what they have found but go home another way.
This whole amazing quest for a king and they almost missed him. They were lost even among all the miraculous things that had gotten them to that point, they were still looking in the wrong place. And thinking about that I suddenly I realized it was time for an epiphany for me. I too am waiting for something amazing to happen. Sometimes I feel like screaming at God, “When are you going to act? When are you going to show yourself, make yourself known? When am I going to understand? Where is my star to follow?” But what if, just what if, I am off by a few miles. What if I am looking in all the wrong places?
Over and over again the stories of the scriptures are of people and places that are often overlooked, ignored, and thought to be unimportant, but in reality are very important indeed. But it is human nature, I think, to look towards the most powerful places and things – to look to those things with more status or more money, and think the answer to all our problems lie there. Only if those are the only places we look for amazing things to happen, we may be missing a whole lot of epiphanies. Where are you looking for a star to appear? Have you tried looking just a few miles out of your way?
If tomorrow a star was to rise over the most unlikeliest of places and people would we even see it or would we be preoccupied looking for it somewhere else? Do we seek the star in places of war and poverty? Do we seek it in places of pain and suffering? Do we follow it when it leads us to areas that make us uncomfortable? What if the answers to our big questions were found in mundane conversations with our children instead of sound bites given by our elected officials? What if there was something amazing happening every day and we walked right by it because we didn’t think we could find anything in that place?
Lately when I watch the news I think, “What more can happen? How much more can the world take?” There in the holy land is war and suffering and death. In Asia and the Middle East there is oppression and pain, suspicion and anger. In our own backyard there is a profound sense of anxiety and of people holding their breath hoping we have hit the bottom but underneath it all terrified the bottom is still a very long way down. And once again I feel like that kid on the tricycle just waiting for something amazing to happen, God to somehow swoop down and fix it all. But what the wise ones learned was that even in the midst of oppression, suspicion, and death, the star was still there. They just had to look where they least expected it.
Towards the end of The Incredibles Mr. Incredible is there with his wife and children and confessing how much he has failed them. He says, “You are my greatest adventure and I almost missed it.” I almost missed it.
Don’t miss the amazing things that are happening in the world. In the midst of war there are good people struggling to make peace and heal wounds. In the midst of poverty there are good people feeding who they can and crying out for better policies so that all might be fed. In the midst of pain there are people who comfort in hospitals and hospices. In the midst of ecological crises there are people making breakthroughs in technology and people who just are learning to conserve a little more. In the midst of fear we have each other. God is still doing amazing, amazing things in our midst, through our actions, in our hearts. Watch for the star to lead you but don’t look for it where cultural wisdom might direct you, look for it in the least likely places. Look for it in a baby. Look for it in each other. What are you waiting for? Something amazing to happen, I guess. Don’t miss it.