January 2, 2000
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,

wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, "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." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was

frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief

priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was

to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been

written by the prophet: 6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by

no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who

is to shepherd my people Israel.' "

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the

exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem,

saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him,

bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." 9 When they had

heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that

they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child

was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with

joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and

they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests,

they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been

warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by

another road. (NRSV)

Isaiah 60:1-6

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has

risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the

peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over

you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your

dawn. 4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they

come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be

carried on their nurses' arms. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your

heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be

brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude

of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those

from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall

proclaim the praise of the LORD. (NRSV)

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Sermon - Personal Epiphanies

This Scripture lesson is familiar to all of us - it is a part of the

Christmas story as we know it - the wise men see the star and they follow,

convinced that they will encounter God - and when they do the fall to their

knees, overwhelmed at the love and truth that they witnessed. In response,

they offer the infant King the best gifts they can, gold to signify love,

Incense for the reverence of prayer and myrh for his self-denial and

suffering. They traveled far and they met God face to face - and they

worshiped him with their gifts.

This Sunday we not only celebrate a New Year, we also celebrate Epiphany,

the manifestation of God in the world, an appearance that was to change the

course of history and shape our celebration of the birth of Christ.

We aren't so different from those three kings - even if the star that we

follow isn't really in the sky - we are being led by our hearts to believe

that Christ will be revealed to us as we gather to celebrate this holy birth.

All throughout the darkness of Advent we wait for the coming of that light

which will warm our hearts -We want a taste of that wonder and a glow that

will last throughout the year -

Did Christmas happen for you? Were the gifts enough? Did the carols warm

your heart? Was Jesus Christ revealed to you - did you bask in the warmth

- in the glow of love that we anticipate will transform our hearts and make

it a wonderful life - once again. Did you come face to face with the Christ


Somehow, as Christians we confuse an epiphany with the warm glow we

experience as we sing Silent Night on the porch of the church or watch a

child's eyes reflect the Christmas tree lights. - the fact is - those warm

glow moments are easily captured in our stories - we love those wonderful

feel good Christmas stories - we tell them over and over again - we watch

the old favorites year after year and we search for new examples. But we

fail to realize that there is a big difference between basking in the warm

glow of a special moment and meeting God - face to face. Those warm glows

are but a fleeting moment, they come and go - and within a few hours, the

busyness of life gobbles up the memory and the experience is easily forgotten.

But epiphanies, those up close and personal encounters with God challenge

us, they lead us, they upset our assumptions about the world, they become

times that we remember in our private moments, when we need reassurance -

when we need God's presence with us. They might reveal God instantly or we

might discover that we really did meet God as our mind replays the event,

when we find ourselves returning to it over and over, remembering -

God's love made manifest - revealed to us - revealed for us - when? Where?


Seeing an old man, on a cold and dark winter afternoon, peering forlornly

from a torn curtain, in a broken down building and you wonder - does he have

heat or food - You know in your heart the immensity of his pain and

suffering and suddenly it is easy to reach out to God's kingdom in genuine

love for all of humanity. You begin to look for ways to make a difference.

Being caught off guard by a small African American toddler being gently led

by a gruff looking grizzlied white man. You realize that all of your

assumptions are being challenged. God sees us without regard for race and

at the same time enjoys the glory of our diversity. Love flows regardless of

boundaries and borders - Our task is to spread that news to all people.


You watch a parent and a child, reconcile after years of anger have nearly

destroyed their relationship - and you realize the power of God's

forgiveness and you understand yourself a part of that gift - your world is

changed as hope and peace and love focus your every action.

When, you went to deliver your Santa Fund gift you hear that the family you

drew is in desperate need with a new baby on the way. You hear yourself

saying, "don't worry, I will go back out to get the things they need." In

the midst of the Christmas rush you quit thinking about your own family and

take on the task of providing for another.

And as you wrapped the extra gifts you prayed a deep and faith-filled prayer

thanking God that you heard of their need and that you could respond.

Christianity has survived nearly 2000 years. If it were just a feel good

religion it wouldn't be what it is today. Christ came so that the world

would believe. Not only believe in God, but believe in love and hope and

peace. Believe in the possibility of justice and joy.

Christianity is a religion of action, of practice, of our effort to bring

God's justice into the world. That is the light we speak of - as the light

of Christ shines in the world it does reveal - everything, the good and the

bad, and in that moment of revelation, we can see clearly what needs to

change, where we can make a difference, what we are called to do.

Your memories of "God - revealed" moments will be different from mine - but

they will still pack the same punch. Their intensity surprises you and you

never quite forget them. Today, the second day of the year 2000, is the

perfect time to look back and remember those epiphanies and claim them as

your own - for they are there to guide you in the days ahead. Let them

determine which of your gifts you will offer to God - important gifts that

you are asked to offer as your worshipful response to the possibilities that

God has shown to you…. After all, a new year has dawned - it is time for


As we come to this table this morning, let us pray that once again we will

meet God, face to face once and discover that we are not so different from

those wise men who were led by the star. We have followed Jesus Christ and

we have seen all that God has for us, and we will offer our very lives to

bring the glory of God to the world.  Amen.

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