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January 3, 2021 – The Rev. Julie Hoplamazian

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The Second Sunday after Christmas

Watch the Sermon Here

In the name of the Triune God, who makes all things new. Amen.

Happy N… Second Sunday of Christmas, everyone!

What, you thought I was going to say “Happy New Year?” Friends, it’s a new year, let’s leave it at that, and not look the gift horse in the mouth.

Already, it’s easy to forget that we’re still in the season of Christmas. The new year has come and gone. Now it’s officially… January. The winter slog begins. Back to the grind, back to school, back to work… done with the holidays. Decorations are dismantled, lights are lowered, trees are trashed. And yet, in the church, we are still making the journey to Bethlehem with the magi.

A few days before Christmas, I, like many New Yorkers, ventured out just after sunset to try and see the “great alignment” – the Christmas star – the rare event that was the aligning of Jupiter and Saturn in the early night sky. I know there was a lot of meaning given to this event since it was happening so close to Christmas, but I must confess, my excitement had far less to do with its possible relation to the Christmas star the magi might have followed and far more to do with my childhood love of outer space and childlike fascination with celestial events. The little child in me who wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up could not believe that this once-in-400-years event was happening in MY lifetime. I had to see it.

So I met up with my friend Wendy, who lives in my neighborhood, to take a socially distanced stroll to go find it.

It was like there was this invisible magnetic pull from the southwestern sky, and almost oblivious to traffic, we kept meandering through the streets of Brooklyn, our bodies and sights fixed on that direction, as we searched for a spot where tall buildings and glowing street lights didn’t block our view.

We kept going, losing track of how far we’d gone. At every block we turned onto, we still couldn’t see it.

Finally, we rounded a corner and came upon a block mostly occupied by a very brightly-lit parking lot. Light pollution aside, there was not a single building or tall lamppost in the way! We had a clear view of the completely cloud-covered sky, with not a star in sight. (womp, womp)

I wonder if the magi’s trip from the East to Bethlehem felt similar.

“After the birth of Jesus…” magi from the east came seeking him. These foreigners, with no predisposition to seek out the Messiah, had heard about Jesus. They had seen signs in the sky. Almost like an invisible magnetic pull, they stayed fixed in the direction the star was leading them. They may not have been well-versed in the Torah, but they knew the scrolls of the stars, and they knew when divinity illumined their path. That sign in the sky was enough to keep them going.

I wonder – Was it ever cloudy on their journey? Did they ever worry they had lost their way? Did they stop by several gift shops until they felt certain that they had found the best gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

I don’t know, and these probably aren’t the important questions to ask. But as I shopped for gifts and searched for the Christmas star this year, they’re questions that connect me to the Christmas story as I, too, seek and search for Jesus.

We say that Christmas is a season, not a day, but already, it’s easy to forget it’s still Christmas. My husband put on my favorite Christmas album yesterday while we were doing some household chores and my first thought was, “Ugh, aren’t we finished with that?”

The day has come and gone, the magic has dissipated. Holiday fervor quickly gives way to winter fever. The choir of angels have sung every Christmas carol in the book, and are now back in heaven on mandatory vocal rest.

But it’s still Christmas.

Thank God.

Thank God there is still time to seek and find Jesus. Thank God Christmas isn’t just one big day with loud angel choirs and sweet mild Mary and awe-struck shepherds and weary Joseph and ox and ass and sheep, all gathered in a pastoral manger scene, so fleeting that if you show up late, everyone’s gone home already.

Thank God that nativity scene is still being completed long after Jesus has been born.

Thank God there are still signs and wonders so captivating, they might just lead us to heaven on earth.

Beholding Jesus doesn’t always come with angelic chorus and obvious signs. More often than not, it requires a long journey where what you’re following may not look like Jesus at all, but a sign compelling enough to keep you going on the journey. A sign that tells you that this isn’t just a wild goose chase, and it will somehow be worth it in the end. A star of wonder.

The magi aren’t there on Christmas Day, for the main event. Matthew’s gospel tells us very plainly that it was AFTER the birth of Jesus that the magi from the east came and sought him out. It takes them a little longer to get there. And they’re part of the story too. These strangers from a foreign land, following heavenly scriptures of a different kind, take a long, winding journey, and also get to behold Jesus.

No matter who we are or where we come from, God draws us close using signs we recognize and languages we speak, using what is meaningful to us to guide us toward Jesus – Jesus who has already been born, and who waits for our arrival.

The day the magi reach the manger concludes the Christmas season in the church calendar. We celebrate that day this coming Wednesday, on the feast known as the Epiphany. The birth of Jesus is an event; but seeking him is a season. Perhaps that’s why Christmas must be more than one day; so that we join with the magi, and find the signs and wonders and sustenance we need to take our own journey to Bethlehem.

Wendy and I stood on that block, staring at the cloudy sky, feeling quite defeated and disappointed, but not quite ready to throw in the towel yet. We had come to the place where the star was supposed to be. So we waited, holding onto hope that the clouds might part for us. A fever of optimism kept us in place. We stood there, keeping our eyes fixed on the night sky, and we started chatting, to pass the time — about our plans for Christmas, what our respective churches were doing, favorite Christmas cookie ideas, her son’s college applications… and suddenly, she gasped. “There it is!” The clouds had cleared. There it was.

You could see the smiles under our masks. Star of wonder, indeed. Passers-by noticed our excitement and the direction of our gaze, and stopped to join us in beholding the star. The adult in me smiled wide, but the child in me was jumping up and down and doing ceaseless somersaults. It was beautiful. It was magnificent. And in a few minutes, again, the clouds returned. But at that point, it didn’t matter. The sight of it was preserved in my mind. Even with the clouds, it was as if I could still see it shining in the sky.

We have spent the better part of the last year surrounded by tragedy and yet still stepping forward in faith, every day, holding onto hope that sometime soon the clouds will part and we will behold the glory and splendor of God-with-us. Even as the new year turns, we are still on the journey to Bethlehem. We know and trust that God is here, and still, we are waiting to catch a glimpse of that abiding love and hope that we so desperately need right now. So what is it that pulls you onto the road? What star of wonder draws you in? What sign has God given you to follow?

What makes you willing to wait for the clouds to pass – and hopeful that they will?

What makes a whole journey worth a glimpse of splendor?

It’s still Christmas. We’ve still got time to figure that out. There’s still further to go on the road that leads to Jesus.

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