The Bible doesn't name the three kings who visited the manger where Jesus lay. In fact, it doesn't tell us there were three of them, and it doesn't tell us they were kings. Those stories came later. What the Bible does tell us (in Matthew 2:1-12) is that some “magi” noticed a new star, somehow identified it as the star of a newborn king of the Jews, and followed where it led.
It seems an odd thing, that God should call these foreigners by a star. On Christmas eve we heard the reading from the Gospel of Luke, where angels led the shepherds to the manger, and that's less surprising – angels are God's messengers throughout the Bible. They were the natural choice.
But God led the magi to Jesus by a star. They were not Jews; some translations of the Bible call them “astrologers,” maybe they were from Persia. Stars were the language they understood, not angels. God found the right language in which to call them.
What draws people to an encounter with God? What brought you? How did you come to sense the light of Christ shining? Who did God use to speak to you in a language you could hear and understand? Epiphany is a time to reflect on questions like these.
God is looking for the right language. And this is where we come in. God is using us – as individuals and as a community – to speak a language no one else is speaking to reach people who otherwise would not hear and know of God's presence with them.
Many of you became members of St. Paul's because you heard God speak to you in the language which is St. Paul's; you came here and in one way or another it seemed “right”. And, now that you are here, you are a part of that language yourself. You are the way God is speaking here, irreplaceable parts of the work God is doing right now through St. Paul’s.
There are lots of ways to "do church," but whatever you do together in the future -- whatever new things you try, whatever old things you hold on to -- they will only “work” if they are expressions of what makes this community special, if they grow out of what God is already doing here. Our job is to discern the way God is working, to recognize the language of God that is uniquely St. Paul’s, and to learn to speak that language more fluently.
There used to be a poster that said “The only gospel some people will read is the one written in your life.” God is trying to use us to be somebody’s star.
The Spirit is at work in us, opening our eyes. And the Spirit is also working through us, reaching out to bring new life to others. That’s how Epiphany works.
We'll celebrate the Epiphany this Sunday, listening as the mysterious strangers set out on a journey whose destination they cannot begin to imagine. Hope you can join us!
PS. Happy New Year!