"The Path of Light": Sermon for the Feast of Epiphany, Year C

Jan 06, 2019

Passage:Matthew 2:1-12

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Epiphany

Keywords: epiphany, faith, hope, light, love


At the Feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the "magi" and their path to the Christ child. What does this story of the magi mean for us?


In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. This is one of the Principal feasts of the Church.

I love this day. It comes right at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. And on this day we are reminded through the Gospel reading of the visitation of the magi to the Christ child.

We all love the story of the magi. We even enact the story each year in our Epiphany Pageant (make sure you come tonight at 6:00 to see it!).

There's an element of this story that made me think of another story that made the news a few years ago. And at first glance, these two stories don't have much in common. But let me them both you and you be the judge.

Back in 2012, a man named José Alvarenga from El Salvador was living on the Pacific Coast of Mexico working as a fisherman. José set out each shift in a 24-foot fiberglass boat for deep-sea fishing. The boat had no top and a single outboard motor. At the end of a normal 30-hour shift, fishing for sharks, marlin, and sailfish, José would head back into shore with the catch.

Then in November of 2012, José sets out to sea. A terrible storm comes out of nowhere and disables his motor and all electronic communication devices on his boat. 

To make matters worse, he has to dump all five hundred pounds of fish he's caught overboard to try to make the boat maneuverable in the storm. And... his fishing gear blows over the side in the wind.

José is adrift in the Pacific.... He has no food... And no one can find him. 

Days on the water turn in weeks. Weeks turn into months.

José is able to catch some fish, turtles, jellyfish, or seabirds with his hands.

But José keeps telling himself that God is with him.  Every night in that open boat, he looks up at the thousands of stars in the southern sky. He tells himself, "God is watching over me."

Day by day, week by week, José continues to pray, to catch fish, to drink rainwater, and to float on the current.

Then, one evening José spots a light on the horizon. He's not sure what it is.

This light remains constant. As his boat continues to float in the current, he keeps praying and watching the light throughout the night. This may be it!

The next morning, he looks to the spot where the light was. It's an island!

He doesn't want to take a chance that the current will take his boat past, so he dives in the water and swims.

On January 30, 2014, thirteen months after José left the coast of Mexico, two locals there in Marshall Islands were shocked to see on the beach a naked, bearded man standing with a knife and speaking Spanish. José had traveled 6,800 miles.[i]

José saw the he was going home.


Now we have the story of the magi.

Who are the magi?[ii]

Matthew tells us they are "from the East." This could mean they are from Persia or even Babylon.

Wherever it is, they come from outside the reaches of the Roman rule.

The word "magi" is closely linked to "magician" and means "practitioners of magic."

Of course, we often simply translate the word to "Wise Men," because the magic part makes us nervous.

They practice some ancient form of studying the stars and the night sky.

In other words, these are the least likely people who should be identifying the Messiah... the Christ.

"They're not even from here!",  we might say.

But Matthew is not trying to endorse astrology by telling us about the magi.

The point is much bigger.

These magi... these wise men... are Gentiles. They don't know the story. They don't know all of the ways in which God has been made known with the people of Israel.

But still. Somehow, God has been made manifest to them. God is leading them to the light of the world.

They are coming to pay homage... to worship... the child born king of the Jews...the Messiah... the Christ.

Jesus, they somehow know, IS the light of the world.

And Matthew is also showing in this story is that Herod and the religious experts of the day could not see that same light.

When the magi arrive at Herod's court, asking directions, Herod summons the religious experts--the scribes and priests.

They quote the prophecy that the Messiah will be in Bethlehem. They know their own sacred scripture.

But none of them can see the light.

The magi head to Bethlehem. They find the house with the child. They worship him. And they give him gifts worthy of a king.

And the magi do not return to Herod, who has not seen the light.


So what is this Feast of Epiphany for us?

As people of faith, we are so blessed to have our own stories of encountering the light of Christ.

But, like José Alvarenga and like the magi, we might not always know our exact destination when set out on our daily journeys.

José believed he was simply headed out for his regular work, and ended up in the ordeal of a lifetime.

The magi had studied and studied and were going to find "the one" to whom the light was calling them.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to follow that light... that "way of Love"... in all we do.

That path...that "way of love"...that light of Christ...will bring us home when we are lost in the darkness.

That path...that "way of love"...that light of Christ...will guide us in our relationships with others.

That path...that "way of love"...that light of Christ...will change the entire world.




[ii] Much of this discussion of the magi is thanks to James C. Howell, "Matthew 2:1-12", Theological Perspective, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.