Being Open to the Journey: Epiphany Sunday

Before I read the gospel story for this morning, I would like to invite you to think about what you already know about the story of the three wise men.

Let’s start with the basics.

How many are there?

I started off by calling them wise men, any other terms we use to refer to them?

Got a guess where they are from?

Real test, do you know their names?

This is a story that has captured the church’s imagination for centuries.

Now as we listen to story from the book of Mathew, notice what the author tell us about the journey of the wise men.

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

Dressed in ornate robes and crowns, with the camels and gifts bent down in the dust and muck of a barn located in the middle of nowhere town to see the child that prophecies told about and stars shined upon it can be almost impossible to separate fact from fiction.

The author doesn’t tell us exactly where they came from, simply “the East.”

Matthew doesn’t tell us they were kings or magi.

Matthew doesn’t tell us they had names the Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior.Those were added centuries later.

I’m sorry to break this to you Matthew actually doesn’t tell us there were three wise men either.

Three gifts, not three wise men, we just assume.

If you are hoping that Mark or Luke fill in the details, sorry. It’s OK to open your Bible’s and check if you want.

I’m kind of ruining for you aren’t I? Taking away all the fun, imaginative parts of this story and left you with what?

Some strange guys, following a light in the sky (which may or may not have been there to begin with) to worship a God in flesh, they didn’t even believe in.

Yeah the wise men weren’t Jewish either. They were pagans, astrologers, magicians, philosophers at best.

I’ve ruined it for you, haven’t I?

Seriously, though we can keep the fun details even if they aren’t in the Bible. It makes the story fun. Let’s make sure we aren’t more concerned with arguing about the “right” ways to tell the story, what the “true” and History Channel fact are, and miss the transforming message of the journey to find the Christ child.

The way in which Matthew shares this story connects us with not only the physical journey from the East to the manger, but a spiritual one, a journey to find the fulfillment of God in our lives.

This seems to be a pretty popular time of year for people set out on spiritual journeys. Folks promise to themselves that they will go to church more, pray more, read the Bible more, do or be something that kick start their movement toward having a stronger relationship with God. Like the wise men, we set out on our own journey to find God.

Think about your spiritual journey. What got you started, or restarted on the road to a relationship with God?

I’d bet not two people in this room have traveled the same road…

Your road might be one of being brought up in the church. Sunday school, worship and youth group every week… the first time you had the chance to stop going. You did. For a very. Long. Time. Then something brought you back.

Your road might be littered with doubt and asking yourself if God even exists.

Your road might be filled with your asking questions, wondering, challenging what any of this Jesus stuff has to do with you and your life…

Your road might be covered with self-help books.
Your road might be a click away as you find community through the internet.

Your road might include interpreting your dreams and believing there is truth in your weekly horoscope.

I’m not sure why, but the church doesn’t always do a great job encouraging people to talk about the roads people have been on in their spiritual journey.

We only hear about the ones of people who grew up in the church, attend every week, read their Bible’s daily, and watch a healthy dose of religious TV. Like this is somehow the only acceptable road to having a relationship with God.

If that is the case the church is in big trouble.

When it comes down to it the church would not exist today if it weren’t for the determination or simple faith of people whose journey may have been a tad unconventional but they still stumbled into the hay surrounding Jesus’ birthing trough. Or as Lily refers to it, the “cow bowl.”

The road the wise men followed was prophesy and astrology.

Not astronomy, which would suggest a more scientific approach. But astrology, because they believed something was going to happen as a result of the positions of the stars.

This is their journey and if it doesn’t fit with the typcial “right way” to have a relationship with God why don’t centuries of religious tradition, doctrine and dogma write out these guys? I mean come on; they only appear in one of the Gospel’s!

Could it be that these seekers from the East, trained in star gazing discover a truth that most of us struggle with?

That our journey to discover Jesus in our life, is various, it don’t often fit the preconceived notion of what a “Christian” should look like, and quite often even runs up against judgments from members of the church (or the church itself) of how we got there.

Why is it that churches find the journeys of some people unacceptable but God says that they are welcome at the manger?

One author notes that “…among the various amateur spiritualists who attend may be some who are better able kneel at the manger than those who have worshiped for a lifetime. Not every committed Christian in name has a taste for actually kneeling in the dust and muck of a barn in a backwater town with astonished recognition that this is where God prefers to make an entrance” (Baumna, Stephen. Feasting On the Word. Year C Volume 1. p214)

Rather than being judgmental of others or trying to hide our own journey to the “cow bowl” that holds God who comes to us in flesh, there is an exciting opportunity for us as the church to share the radically different paths we have been on.

To reflect on how those journeys have made us who we are today.

To be a reminder that, even those who consider themselves to be the most faithful Christians are no better than another. We don’t have a complete corner on the truth, and whether we want to admit it or not are capable of journeying in our own destructive ways.

This story of the wise men, no matter how many there are, what their names might be and from where exactly they traveled from is their journey.

And it is our journey.

Our journey. Revealing our hunger and longing to find our way to the promise found in the manger.

Our journey. Prompted by God, takes us in all sorts of direction and may not match the “acceptable” roads of the culture or church of our time.

Our journey. That redeemed by radical grace of the living God has the power to transforms us as a community to be a place of welcome, honoring the journey of others and encouraging the unique gifts that we bring to honor the new born King.


  1. Another thought regarding the importance of this story: As I recall, the Romans were an important audience for a lot of the New Testament, and they placed a lot of emphasis on astrology. The death of Julius Caesar was foretold by a comet, so naturally the birth of the King of Kings would be heralded by something in the skies.


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