Taking Another Road

St Andrew’s Anglican Church 

Indooroopilly 

SERMON 

The Epiphany of our Lord 

Sunday 6 January, 2019 

Isaiah 60.1-6 

Psalm 72.1-7, 10-14 

Ephesians 3.1-12 

Matthew 2.1-12 

Taking Another Road ©Sue Wilton

Autobiography in Five Chapters  

I. 

I walk down the street. 

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk 

I fall in. 

I am lost… 

I am hopeless. 

It isn’t my fault. 

It takes forever to find a way out. 

II. 

I walk down the same street. 

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 

I pretend I don’t see it. 

I fall in again. 

I can’t believe I’m in the same place. 

But it isn’t my fault. 

It still takes a long time to get out. 

III. 

I walk down the same street. 

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 

I see it is there.

I still fall in…it’s a habit 

My eyes are open; I know where I am; 

It is my fault. 

I get out immediately. 

IV. 

I walk down the same street. 

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 

I walk around it. 

V. 

I walk down another street.

by Portia Nelson 

I wonder what holes we all found to fall into in 2018? Where are the deep  holes in your life that you found yourself stuck? Maybe you still feel stuck and  maybe some of the ditches in the road have been not anyone’s fault. Maybe  they were just there. It can be hard to find the way to that new street.  

But if you find yourself in a place of longing for something different, a new  way, you have come to the right season! Epiphany, and the weeks that follow,  is a time for the voice of Divine longing to be heard; a time of encounter with  God and the unavoidable transformation that follows. The word ‘Epiphany’  comes from the Greek and means ‘manifestation’. I think sometimes with the  excitement of Christmass, the penitence of Lent and the drama of Easter, we  overlook the importance of Epiphany. Sometimes, I think, we don’t really  expect God to show up, to be manifest in our lives or to lead us from our old  fear-filled patterns of thinking to a new way of being. Sometimes, it is easier to  stay on the same well-worn path, ignore our restless longing, and just mark  time as we plan what we might give up for Lent. 

Because the thing is, the Spirit speaks in the language not of prohibition but of  our desires. Our path forward can be found not in anxious self-denial but in the  person we become when we are our most courageous. Our deepest longings  call us to Divine discontent, to recognise what should not be endured in the present, and prompt us to set out bravely on a journey of discovery where our  fears can be brought to light. Hopes and fears. Sounds a lot like the carol, “O  Little Town of Bethlehem” that may still be ringing in our ears;

“Yet in thy dark streets shining the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all  the years are met in thee tonight.” 

Epiphany is always a place large enough to hold both our hopes and our fears  and live in the tension between a threat and a promise. The story of the  visiting Magi is no different. There is a sense of foreboding as much as joy in  this story. The threat can be heard in the fear of Herod, the king, and in the  apparent political naivety with which the wise men proclaimed the new child  “the king of the Jews” to a man whose own rule over Judea was precarious and  volatile. Those of us who know the rest of the story will already be feeling the  horror of the violence that so often eventuates when those in power feel  threatened and insecure. The text from Matthew’s Gospel continues; 

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men he was infuriated,  and sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem…” 

There is always the choice available to us to listen to the voice of our fear and  turn away from the visitation of God. It is our fears that divide us one from  another and prompt us to violence in all its forms against others and against  ourselves. So many of the holes into which we fall are created in fear. Fear of  what “the other” may do to us- fears of being robbed of our safety, our worth,  our freedom, our power. If we do not allow our fears to be brought into  contact with our holy longing, nothing will ever change in the way we inhabit  this world and all our relationships. But, if we allow this longing to lead us, as  David Whyte describes it, “like a comet’s passing tail, glimpsed only for a  moment”, the Spirit can take us “to a physical doorway… to awe and discovery  that frightens and emboldens, humiliates and beckons”, making us into pilgrim  souls. 1 Pilgrims cross boundaries, walk the margins, and humble themselves  before that which they do not understand. This is the story of the wise men  from the East. Catching a glimpse of that comet’s tail, they set out away from  all that is known and familiar and find themselves at a doorway to the Divine.  

The wise men are symbolic of all the outsiders to the story of Israel- including  you and me. The story of these foreigners takes us into the greatest fears  about society and of simply being human. In our social relationships we fear  that there is an exceptional group, an inner circle, a powerful elite, of which we  will never be a part. As humans finding ourselves consciously alive on this  planet swirling through space, we are haunted by the fear of being alone, of  being excluded, of not belonging. The magi come representing the outsiders, but outsiders driven by their holy longing for truth and for the One who is the light not of a chosen few, but of all the world. These pilgrims come first  respectfully to those in power, and then, finding the wealthy rulers to be  underhanded and self-serving, discover the Christ-child in the middle of  everyday life.  

It is in the middle of everyday life that God can always be found. Just as Joseph  and Mary were probably taken in by their kinfolk into the family hearth and  home, so too these visitors, representing the nations and wisdom of the world,  are invited into an ordinary living room to receive the welcome and mystery of  God. In awe and wonder, they realise that the mystery of God can be found at  home in this small space, and in this small child.  

This story of foreign visitation is assuring us that there is space even for us in  the living room of God. Encounter is at the heart of the Epiphany, and we  cannot surrender to such Divine hospitality and remained unchanged.  

The wise ones came as foreigners, were nearly entrapped in the deceits and  manipulations of those in power, but encountered the Divine dressed as a  humble child and invited to have a place in the household of God. 

When they left they could not go back the same way- they could not return to  trusting in their old ways of relating to power -but had to return by a different  road. 

This is the kind of Epiphany into which we are invited. It is where awe and  wonder and fear meet together and invite us to find a new way. It is where our  deepest desires- all that we are, all that we have and all that we can become – is offered up to the God who gently brings our fears to light and helps us to  find the courage to embody the same holy hospitality to others and even to  ourselves.  

So may this season be one of encounter with the One who stands in the  tension of the threat and promise of your life. May you have the faith to follow  your holy longing to the place of your deepest hopes and fears and find that  Christ is already there to meet you. And may the blessings of this Epiphany  open your eyes and light the way down a different road in the year to come.  

+Amen

1 “Longing” in David Whyte, Consolations, (Many Rivers Press, Washington, USA: 2014), p135

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