The blessing of Wise Guys
Welcome to Epiphany Sunday! Now what is an Epiphany you may ask. It’s an aha moment! It’s when you have that light bulb moment and something clicks in a new way and you gain a deeper understanding. Now in Greek today’s feast is a Theophany. Which means that today commemorates a visible manifestation of God to humankind. And just like Christmas was a season that celebrated the birth of Jesus, and God made flesh. Epiphany is a season of moments where the manifestation of God made flesh is revealed in a deeper way to humanity. Every Sunday in this season we will gather to celebrate these Aha, I get it moments.
Today, well actually tomorrow if you want to be technical, commemorates the arrival of the wise men, the magi to Bethlehem. Scripture doesn’t tell us how many there were, we get the tradition of three, from the three gifts they bring. Tradition has also historically named these wise guys, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. But Matthew doesn’t tell us they were kings, or that there were three….These were probably whole caravans of men, women, and children traveling together on a long journey.
There are several Aha moments in the lesson of the magi
One is that evidence of God is all around us in creation. The wise men are led by a star. We hear that these men were watching the sky, and reading the stars…God at least once seems to have worked through astrology. By charting the stars these men new when a new star appeared and they gathered their caravan a set off on a journey. But this Star was not like the pillar of cloud and fire that the Israelites followed in the desert. Nor was it turn by turn GPS. These magi ended up in Jerusalem at first, because where else do you find the King of the Jews. They arrive at Herod’s place and ask to see the King of the Jews. Herod’s like, “That’s me!” Ermmm no we want the new king….What?!?! Herod understandably gets upset. And the people of Jerusalem are afraid. But why? Herod is a puppet king for the Roman Empire and lives in continual fear of being overthrown or replaced. Totalitarian shadow governments, Intrigue, resignations, and forced retirements existed even then. This current regime came into being after the failed rebellion of the Maccabees. As a nation, Jerusalem has endured recent civil war, and isn’t eager to repeat this experience.
So if Herod isn’t the one they’re looking for, where is the child…and the answer wasn’t found in the star, astrology, or the collected wisdom of Herod’s advisers, chief priests and scribes…The answer was found in the Scriptures. So our next epiphany is that although evidence of God can be found throughout creation and yes in the stars, you’ll get a clearer image of God and where to find God in the Scriptures! They found the news of the birth of the New King in the book of Micah. Now if you’re not overly familiar with Micah he’s one of the minor prophets, but in terms of learning about God’s plan we learn that even the minor prophets matter!
Now we know that Herod met privately with the wise me and interrogated them, now when did this star appear. And when you find this King come back and let me know so I can go and “worship” him too. And we know that it was about 18 months to 2 years since the star appeared because Herod had the little boys of Bethlehem 2 years and younger killed when the wise men didn’t come back.
Now there’s a joke that Wise women would have asked for directions, arrived on time, brought casseroles and diapers…but that’s just that, a joke. Because the wise men arrived precisely when they were needed.
The Aha moment they reveal is in the gifts they bring: gold, Frankincense, and myrrh. They brought money! They brought incense used in worship! And They brought myrrh a spice that was both incredibly valuable and used in preparing bodies for burial.
Now contrary to what our mangers often depict, the wise men don’t arrive at a manger scene. Remember they began traveling when a star appeared, but the journey took over a year, and Mary and Joseph and Jesus have now settled into a house in Bethlehem, but they’re still very poor. And we know they were poor because when Jesus was presented at the temple, which we’ll celebrate in February, but when he was presented at the temple he was presented with two pigeons. Every firstborn son was to be redeemed according to law given by God to Moses in Exodus by sacrificing a lamb at the Temple. If the family couldn’t afford a lamb they offered pigeons instead. So our next AHA moment is that until the wise men arrived Jesus’s family was poor. But the wise men brought money and fabulous gifts that emphasized Jesus as King, Our Great High Priest, and Sacrifice.
And those gifts financed the flight to Egypt and gave them the resources they needed to begin a new home in a new land. Which gives us our final Epiphany for today, God values homes, and he places us in them for our good. It is out of this high value for the home, and God’s provision for it through the wise men, that people in the Church began the tradition of blessing their homes for the New Year at Epiphany.
Early on the priest would go to all the homes. As the church grew priests began blessing the elements on Epiphany that people would take home. A family or individuals along with their church friends or neighbors would hold a short service of prayer to ask God’s blessing on their dwellings and on all who live, work with and visit them. In this way, we invite Jesus to be a “guest” in our home, a listener to each conversation, a guide for troubled times, and a blessing in times of thanksgiving.
And the formula used for the blessing is the year broken up by 3 crosses and 3 letters. The threefold sign of the cross represents the trinity and asking for the fullness of God to dwell in our homes. The letters hold two meanings.
20 + C + M + B + 20
Christus Mansionem Bendicat, Which is a latin phrase translated is a request for Christ to bless this home and to by his power make it a mansion in which he is pleased to dwell, just like how we hear of the mansion with many rooms which we will one day in death find our final home with Christ.
The letters also symbolize the names handed down to us through tradition of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Now regardless of whether those were their names or not, or whether there were only three or not…the invocation is the same. Just as God sent them with gifts to meet the Holy Family’s needs we are asking God to give us in their name every good gift we will need for our home in the year to come.
I want you all to bless your homes for several reasons: It is in the home that the first experience of love occurs; it is there that love is nurtured and grows to maturity. The Christian home is also the ground for much of people’s spiritual growth. You spend far more time at home than in church. So dedicate it be a place where you will grow in your love for the Lord.
I want you to bless your homes because the ministry of Jesus occurred in many different homes. Jesus hallowed the home as an environment for nurture, education, healing and renewal. And with Christ our homes can still be those places today.
Lastly I want you to bless your home because the visible and outward symbol becomes a reminder of an inward commitment. And as a visible symbol it becomes a means of telling others the good news of Christ. When people visit, or when your neighbor asks, what in the world is that? You can tell them it’s a symbol and request for God to bless this home.
So today we will bless chalk for you all to take home and I’ve prepared a short service for you to bless your homes this Epiphany, tomorrow. Now why chalk, “ Chalk is made of the substance of the earth and is used by teachers to instruct and by children to play. As the image of the chalk fades, we will remember the sign we have made and transfer it to our hearts and our habits.”
Let us pray. Loving God, bless this chalk which you have created, that it may be helpful to your people; and grant that through the invocation of your most Holy Name all those who with it write may receive health of body and protection of soul for all who dwell in the homes where this chalk is used, we make this prayer through Jesus the Christ. Amen.