Look Up and Pay Attention

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
January 5, 2020 ● The Feast of the Epiphany
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

Mother Hymes’ sermon on the Feast of the Epiphany, “Look Up and Paul Attention.” Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12.

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, January 5, 2020

When stopped at a stop light in my car, I often find myself behind a driver who fails to respond to the changing of the light from red to green. The driver ahead of me, is looking down at their cellphone, and inevitably misses the “go” signal when it appears. I yell at them, as if they can hear me, “Hey, look up. Pay attention!”

I serve on a university campus, and students—whether or not they are walking or driving—inevitably have their heads down, and are fixated on the cellphone in their hands. Pedestrians neither look up when crossing the street, nor do the motorists pay attention to the glaring warnings to slow down and stop when pedestrians are in the crosswalk. As you can imagine, the scenario is very dangerous, and can result in tragegy.  I often wonder, if the tragedy could have been avoided if only the people involved had looked up and paid attention.  Inattentiveness is dangerous, and becomes a matter of life and death.

From the streets of Tampa and the campus of USF to the wise men from the east in our gospel passage today. There is evidence that astrologer-priests in the Zoroastrian religion, looked up and paid attention to the rising star at the birth of the child born to be king of the Jews. They were Gentiles—outsiders—who came to Jerusalem and asked the Jewish inhabitants a very specific question, “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” (2:2).

Had not the people of Jerusalem, “the insiders,” observed the star? Perhaps they were distracted by the demands of their daily routines? The scripture does not explicitly answer this, but we know that King Herod, and all Jerusalem, were caught off guard and became fearful.

Herod consulted the chief priests and scribes to locate the birthplace. For Herod, finding the child was a matter of life and death—death for the child born to threaten his kingly power and the assurance that Herod’s kingly life would continue uninterrupted once the threat was removed.

The wise men asked Herod, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”  For the wise men, the question they asked was based on factual evidence—a star had indeed risen.  But, the ruling King Herod would have taken offence because his kingly power was bestowed upon him by the human Roman government; the child’s kingly power was his birthright.

The infant, Jesus, had the genealogical prerequisites to be Israel’s anointed one—the Messiah. If we look up, from our current passage in chapter two, and pay attention to chapter one in Matthew’s Gospel, we read a lengthy account of “…Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1).

David was Israel’s greatest King and Abraham was the ancestral patriarch of the Israelites but also to a multitude of peoples—gentiles. (Gen 17:4-5). These verses, dedicated to the genealogy of Jesus, established Jesus’ human kingship.

Recalling that the magi said that they observed HIS star—not “a” star—HIS star—at its rising and had come to pay him homage, we recognize the emphasis on Jesus’ divine kingship.  A celestial body arose at the birth of the Christ child, and served as the beacon for God’s holy leading of the magi to the birthplace (v.9). Who is this child that the heavenly bodies serve him?  Our English translation of, “Pay him homage,” does not fully expose the meaning of what the magi came to do. The Greek verb, proskuneo, means to fall down and worship, a type of devotion shown only to God. This specific verb is used in this text to definitively emphasize that Jesus is the one in whom God is present. No wonder Herod wanted to kill the natural-born threat to his power.

When the magi looked up and paid attention to the holy leading of the star, they were overwhelmed with joy upon entering the house. The magi knelt down and worshipped God made manifest in the child before their very eyes. God had revealed God’s self to Gentile outsiders whom God chose to experience God’s “manifestation” or “appearance”—the epiphany—in the person of a human child.

The classic 1985 movie, The Color Purple, featured the gospel song, “God is Trying to Tell You Something.”[1] It was a perfect song to emphasize the movie’s powerful themes of individual and communal restoration, reconciliation and hope.  Listen to the words of the song:

Can’t sleep at night, and you wonder why. Maybe God is trying to tell you something.

Cry all night long…something has gone wrong. Maybe God is trying to tell you something right now.

Now, when Herod sent the Magi to locate the child, his intent was not to pay homage to the child, but to kill him. But God’s divine communication, a warning in the form of a dream, guided the magi back to their own country instead. God was telling the wise men something, and because they paid attention to the warning, the life of the newborn Messiah was spared.

This isn’t the first time we have encountered God’s divine communication in the form of a dream. Three Sundays ago, we learned how Mary’s husband, Joseph, extended an extraordinary act of mercy for a wife whom he believed to have been unfaithful. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, instructed him to take her as his wife, and name the child Jesus. God was telling Joseph something, and because he paid attention and acted on the divine instruction, Mary, and the life of her unborn child, were spared.[2]

The distraction of the Herod-like dangers of this temporal world are all around us. And, the distractions of shame, grief, guilt, grievance and unforgiveness, to name only a few, always have the potential to live within us. Amidst the external and internal distractions of this human experience, God calls His faithful people to look up and pay attention to Jesus.  And, when we look up and pay attention to Jesus, perhaps we will find that God, who never ceases to disclose God’s self from humankind, is trying to tell us all something right now.

Inattentiveness to God’s presence is dangerous. May you have the desire to look up from that which distracts you from an obedient and abundant life in Christ, and may you have the discipline to pay attention to His holy leading. It is a matter of life and death.

Amen.

 

[1] “God is Trying to Tell You Something,” The Color Purple. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ8XkY6Too0. Retrieved January 4, 2020.

[2] Matt 1:18-25, Advent III, December 22, 2019