Overwhelmed by Joy

christmas-dayKenora                                   Epiphany
Year A
January 5, 2020
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Everlasting God, the radiance of all faithful people, you brought the nations to the brightness of your rising. Fill the world with your glory, and show yourself to all the world through him who is the true light and the bright morning star, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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“They were overwhelmed with joy.”

I like this statement. It so aptly describes the journey of the wise men, the magi, who have traveled for we don’t know how long; who have sought the answers to the mysteries of the universe, and now, before even seeing the Christ child, before even entering the house, “they were overwhelmed with joy.”

And this made me think of all the times in our lives when we are overwhelmed with joy.

And there are many times when we feel a sense of fulfillment, of overwhelming joy, of a happiness so deep that it is mind boggling.

There is being present at the birth of a child.

There are our rites of passage, when we go from one state of life to the next: baptism, confirmation, graduations, and weddings.

There are times of celebration when we achieve a goal toward which we have dedicated our lives and worked tirelessly, as did the wise men in our gospel passage for today; that is a cause for being overwhelmed with joy.

And this statement about the Wise Men made me think of a treasure hunt as well.

Despite the movies and the adventure tales with which we have the opportunity to fill our leisure pursuits, there are people in the world who are considered treasure hunters. They range from the people who wander around with metal detectors, to archaeologists.

My favourite two conflicting lines from different Indiana Jones’ movies are: 1) ”We do not follow maps to buried treasure and x never ever marks the spot. 70% of all archaeology is done in the library.”

And 2) “If you want to be a good archaeologist, you gotta get out of the library.”

Both are said by our hero, who is seeking to follow where the finds the wonder in the world, in the universe, at the same time he seeks to inspire good archaeologists out of his students.

So, let’s see if we can take a look at the life of the wise men. The life that brought them together, that allowed them to study and to learn not only from each other, but also within their individual fields, and also led them to be overwhelmed with joy outside the house where the child and his mother were to be found.

The definition of wise man could be equated to someone who is very smart, who has spent years just studying, learning, and making connections between the various things they’ve learned or seen along the way. Today we’d equate them to someone having multiple PhD degrees in various, and possibly unrelated fields of study.

So, here we have three men who have spent their lives in learning. We’re able to hypothesize that they may have known each other, possibly even lived in the same place and worked together, helping each other, and encouraging each other. And they’ve developed a close-knit friendship, a companionship along the way.

But what brings them out of their cosy, academic lifestyle to travel who knows how far and how long to find the star for which they have searched; to discover the fulfillment of prophesy, the child?

What about their various studies came together to give them the common focus of looking for the birth of the Messiah, of looking for the star in the sky.

The movie The Nativity Story, gives us the idea that they are convinced to go and see this star over Judea, and along the way, their faith deepens to the point of reverence when they actually encounter the Messiah held warmly in his mother’s arms.

Their journey begins in theory, but that theory is surrounded by doubt. What will they find? Where will they find it? What will they see? How will it affect them?

It’s a great thing to study, to be able to add your thoughts, conjecture, and hypotheses to those of the scholars and thinkers who have come before, but to actually find that you’re able to see the outcome of prophesy, of the movement of the planets that will create the light of a new star in the sky, that has the ability to be completely mind blowing.

The magi, then, have to see if their hypotheses are correct or if they’ve been out in left field, so they set out, and they allow themselves to be convinced that to set out will reveal its own purpose in time.

A journey of faith for men of wisdom.

Faith that is tested in the same way each of our faith is tested, as we encounter the unfamiliar customs and ways of the people whom we meet. Faith that is sorely tested when they encounter Herod and his mission to “pay homage” to the child.

And when the magi find the place where the light of the star reaches the earth, they are overwhelmed with joy. They are overcome by faith, and they’re stunned by the revelation of prophesy.

After giving their gifts, gifts fit for kings to this penniless family in Bethlehem, the question asked in the movie “The Nativity Movie” between the three wise men, was “how’s your faith now?” in the face of discovering the child and his mother in the glow from the star above them.

And this is where we live, too.

In our lives, we seek, we look for answers, we ponder the mysteries of the universe, we come to church where we praise and pray, and where we encounter the divine. We study the scriptures in order to come to a better understanding of God and the mysteries of the universe that are all around us and, yet, at the same time are within us.

And even the ‘wise men’ of today, our top scientists, and philosophers are unable to approach their work without a sense of faith because they encounter mysteries that they can’t explain, and which only lead them to believe even deeper than they did before they began their exploration and their experiments.

But at the heart of the exploration, at the heart of the discovery is the one unmistakable fact that we are all a part of God’s creation, and God’s creation is filled with miracles and wonders, all around.

We are interrelated with everything and everyone around us.

We are able to live in harmony with each other, we are able to seek those mysteries that fill us with wonder, with awe, with a sense of overwhelming joy.

The wise men didn’t see or hear the angels. They didn’t even know that the angels had heralded Jesus birth for the shepherds in the fields. But at the same time, they took the threads of philosophy, of early science, of prophesy and tied them together.

They observed a journey in the making, not only an academic journey but also a physical journey, and a journey of faith, and as a result, their lives were changed, forever. Their hearts overflowed with joy, and their faith filled their very beings.

Just imagine what, if anything the bible might have said if they hadn’t ventured out their door to follow where the star led?

They would have observed the star, noted its brilliant passage across the sky. They might have approximated where its light illumined the earth, for whatever reason they would never come to know, in abstract, much less intimately, and they would have moved on to the next puzzle they found within their books, prophesies, star charts, and their philosophical circles.

So, in their example, in their stepping out of their homes, their comfort zones, as a result of this journey they are a part of our journey of faith because they found the treasure that we have also found, the birth of the Messiah, the Christ child, Immanuel, God with us. And so, they are able to be our witnesses, our representatives in today’s gospel.

As with Dr. Jones’ search for the Holy Grail, he’s not looking for treasure, rather this is his journey of faith, and so with each clue that he finds, he says “May he who illuminated this illuminate me.” After all, this Dr. Jones isn’t the archaeologist, he’s the professor of medieval literature. But in the search for the Holy Grail for the Jones’, it was a journey of faith, a journey to behold the chalice of the last supper.

And for the wise men, today, they saw where ‘x marks the spot,’ they saw where the light of the star reached the earth; and they had the opportunity to pay homage, to worship the Messiah, and to come away with a sense of joy, of peace, and of wonder at the workings of the creator of the universe.

So, when we worship, when we explore and grow within our faith, when we step out of our comfort zones and follow what could appear to be a wild star chase, but when we follow where God leads, we will always be overwhelmed with joy.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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