5 January 2020: The Second Sunday After Christmas

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The gospel text for this sermon was Matthew 2.1-12.

Mary has given birth to Jesus in a manger.
Angels have appeared to shepherds while singing
“Glory to God in the highest
peace to all humanity.”
The Word has become flesh,
and dwelt among us.
We’re still celebrating Christmas,
the birth of the Prince of Peace.
Our Gospel passage today,
tells us about just after Jesus’ birth.
Sages, magicians, astrologers
tend to their work,
listening for the divine’s revelation
in the stars.
They see a new star,
one that heralds a new king’s ascending.
They travel from Persia to Jerusalem,
and ask about this king of the Jews.

This comes as something of a surprise to Herod,
a Roman governor of this region.
He’s paranoid that there’s a new king,
someone who will take over his reign,
someone who will lead a rebellion against Rome
and cost him his job, if not his life.
His collaborators in the region aren’t too pleased either.
They have an easy time,
keeping the peace among the Jewish people,
happy to not upset the applecart.
It’s good to be friends with the ruler,
no matter how bad he treats people on the ground,
if you’re in a safe spot.
When the Magi ask Herod
where this new King of the Jews has been born,
he consults with his collaborators.
They consult scripture —
again Matthew quotes scripture —
and see that it’s in Bethlehem.
Off Herod sends them,
hoping they’ll come back
so he can pay homage too.

On Friday, word was given to the American people
that 3,500 troops are being deployed.
Thursday night in our time zone,
we learned that the United States
had killed Qassem Soleimani,
the top Iranian military commander.
Some commentators compared this
to Iran executing a strike on Mike Pence
our Vice President.
Just as we hear this text today,
our country has attacked the leader of the country
whose forebears came to worship Jesus the king.
As we continue to join the angels
greeting the Prince of Peace,
we have arguably committed an act of war
and may quickly be escalating in that direction.

After Herod sends the Magi
in the direction of Bethlehem,
they find Jesus.
These Persian pre-Iranians were Zoroatrians,
who had traveled roughly 1,100 miles,
that’s using modern roads,
to pay homage to the Christ Child.
The church celebrates this event,
the Epiphany,
every year tomorrow.
Because we have two Sundays after Christmas this year,
we get to hear the text today.
Epiphany is one of seven Principal Feasts in The Epsicopal Church,
and one of three that is on a fixed day.
We hear this story every year,
because it’s when we celebrate that in Jesus the Christ,
salvation has been available to all people and creation,
not only to God’s chosen people.

God’s covenants with Jews are eternal,
and Jesus does not replace them.
Through Jesus, though,
as we see with the arrival of the Magi,
with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh,
salvation is available to all.

The Rev. Megan Castellan
admonishes us to
“Remember [Epiphany songs, like ‘We Three Kings’]
when you listen to the president
exult in the death of Iranians.
Remember that story
when you hear pundits talking about Iran
being an axis of evil,
and how an entire nation of the magi’s descendants
should receive the worst of our war machine.”
We’re still hailing the Prince of Peace’s arrival.
Today we hear about the Magi doing the same,
non-Jews proclaiming that a King was born in Bethlehem.
And we’re potentially on the brink of war.

I am not the first
to feel despair
about wars being started during Christmastide
or wars being fueled
while still celebrating Jesus’ birth.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
writing at the height of the Civil War in 1863
felt the same way:
‘And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

‘Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”’

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany,
when we celebrate that God’s salvation
is available to all in Jesus.
Today is the second Sunday after Christmas,
and even while we’re gathered,
politicians and pundits
are on the Sunday Morning talk shows
attacking or defending the potential of war
and a targeted strike by the US military
without consultation or authorization from congress.

As someone who turned 15 in October of 2001,
this feels a lot like May of 2003.
I’ve been told for others it feels again
like 1991.
As someone who is Very Online,
I’ve had to limit my time on Twitter
to not in despair bow my head
and say “There is no peace on earth.”
The Word has become flesh
and dwelt among us.
It’s still Christmas.
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

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