Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Voice

January 26, 2020
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois

Matthew 4:12-23

Did you ever watch the TV show “Wild Kingdom” or some other nature show? The BBC show “Planet Earth” or the new one, “Seven Worlds, One Planet,” offer us a view into a world that we rarely see. Along with the amazing wonders of creation, the creatures of every description, and the fascinating glimpse into the natural world, we see the behavior of animals. Sometimes frightening, sometimes heart-rending, or thrilling, or awe-inspiring, the behavior of animals can sometimes give us insight into the behavior of the human animal.

One episode of a nature show from some time ago told about the elephant seals of Argentina.[1] The show focused on a mother and her seal pup, who had just been born. Soon after birthing her baby, the mother, now famished, abandoned the pup on the shore so she could go feed in the rich waters off the coast. After feeding, she returned to a different part of the beach and began to call for her baby. Other mothers had done the same, and all had returned at a similar time. Would they ever find one another?

The mother called to her pup and listened for the response. Following each other’s voices and scents, soon the mother and pup were reunited. From the moment of birth, the sound and scent of the pup are imprinted in the mother’s memory, and the sound and scent of the mother are imprinted in the pup’s memory.

Rodger Nishioka, a professor at Columbia, recalls that after watching that show, his father turned to him and said, “You know, that’s how it is with God. We are imprinted with a memory of God, and God is imprinted with a memory of us, and even if it takes a lifetime, we will find each other.” God knows us, and seeks for us, even through all the other noises around us. And whether we realize it or not, we know God, and seek for that voice, that scent, that pull toward the one who loves us most.

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea.” Being a fisherman was a common and respectable vocation for a resident of Galilee. Their ancestors had undoubtedly fished those same waters for generations, and they surely expected to as well. But Jesus walked by, called out, and “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” They dropped everything, walked away from all they had known, as if they had been waiting for just this moment to appear. “Follow me” was spoken by the voice imprinted in them, in their memories, in their hearts, and they found what they may not even have known they were looking for.

It wasn’t so easy for me. My calling was more complicated, and took a lot more time. There were a lot of other elephant seals on the beach, and the voice and the scent of the One calling to me were not so easy to discern. Maybe it’s that way for a lot of people. There sure are a lot of other voices. Everywhere we turn there is another voice offering us better, bigger, faster, more. “The world’s thinnest HDTV. The best picture ever!” “The Super-Duty truck – built stronger, tougher, better.” “We make every aspect of rolling over your 401k as simple as possible. Make the smart choice.” “The ultimate, collectible, special edition – available for a limited time!” The volume keeps getting louder and louder, and we begin to start listening to the voices.

“Maybe if I buy a bigger TV, I’ll be happier.” “One more promotion and I’ll finally get to do what I want.”  If I wear right jeans, maybe she’ll notice me.” We start to listen, and we begin to follow those voices.  They are very seductive, and they sound so sincere. And then we really lose our way, because those voices confuse us. They don’t come from a place of love and community. Some of them even claim to be the voice of God, and we chase after them, and we don’t know how to tell anymore if the voice comes from God.

That’s where the end of the reading from Matthew is important. We get a clue about how to discern whether the voice we hear is truly coming from God. When they left their nets and followed, the fishermen watched what he did. “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” This person who had called to them did and said what they knew from scripture that God was about. The person who spoke with the voice of God was consistent in what he said and did with what they knew of God in their hearts.

How do we know the voice that we hear is really the voice of God? How can we know that the voices that seek to lead us to our destruction are not the voice of God? We start with what we know to be true about God, that God loves us. From Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”[2] “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.”[3] And from John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”[4]

We also know that God wants us to love others. From Matthew, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”[5] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”[6] And from John: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[7]

We also know what God wants us to do. From Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”[8] And from Matthew: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”[9]

The voice of God can be heard through all the din of other voices that call out to us. When we listen with our hearts, when we listen in truth, those other voices are diminished, or at least we can hear their discordance and dissonance and we can tune it out. When the mother seal calls out, we know her voice, we can distinguish her call from all the others and seek out the one who loves us most. We are able to discern which voices are consistent with God who created us, loves us, and wants us to love, who redeems us and sustains us, and who knows us best. Just as Simon and Andrew, James and John, left their nets when they heard that voice, we too can follow the teacher who speaks with the voice of God.

[1] Story borrowed from Rodger Y. Nishioka, Pastoral Perspective on Matthew 4:12-23 in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Vol. 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 284, f.
[2] Jeremiah 29:11. The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
[3] Jeremiah 31:3.
[4] John 3:16.
[5] Matthew 22:37-39.
[6] Matthew 5:43-45.
[7] John 13:34.
[8] Micah 6:8.
[9] Matthew 25:35-36.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

What Are You Looking For?

January 19, 2020
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois

John 1:29-42

“Hi, can I help you find something?” The common greeting from a retail employee, expressing welcome, helpfulness, kindness. “May I help you?” Another common question, also expressing helpfulness and kindness. “What are you looking for?” Maybe it’s that hard-to-find pair of pants that actually fit, or the next best gadget that will solve all your problems. Take the question out of its context and it becomes just one more mundane response meant to make the sale.

“What are you looking for,” in this context, however, is an existential question. We are all looking for something in life. Some meaning, some purpose, something that drives us, energizes us, makes us happy. In our day-to-day lives we have hopes and dreams. We want to achieve our goals, feel good as much as possible, and maximize our quality of life. We want to be happy. And we can find some happiness, most of the time, if we work hard, are frugal with our money and time, and take care of the people and things that matter to us.

We often get stuck, however, on some external object that doesn’t really meet our needs. Maybe we think that the next job, a promotion, or a new romantic partner will be the thing that brings us happiness. Maybe it’s an actual object, like a new car, or a bigger TV. Now, getting a great job or meeting the right person can make you happy. But we often find that the job turns out to be more stressful than we thought, or the amazing person turns out to have a shadow side. The shiny new object is great, until we become accustomed to it, and then it blends into the background like everything else.

Is this the American way? We focus on external achievements and material things, neglecting our internal needs, our spiritual well-being. We focus on competing and winning, rather than supporting and collaborating with each other, taking time for ourselves to wonder, dream, and pray. We each have a hunger for something more, but what we find often leaves us still empty.

Andrew, the disciple of John the Baptizer, was looking for something more. He was a fisherman. He, and his brother, Simon, had learned the trade from their father, and were probably decent fishermen. But they wanted more. There’s no corporate ladder to climb when you’re a fisherman. If you wanted a fancier boat, you had to make it yourself. And even finding the right partner is tough when everyone in the village already knows everyone else’s shadow side. Simon and Andrew longed for more meaning and purpose, something greater to be a part of.

They had heard of this wild person baptizing people and went to hear what he had to say. They learned about repentance, about preparing for what was to come. John wasn’t the answer to their search, however, as he himself pointed out. “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” There were rumors of someone who would come to bring glory back to Israel, the Messiah. Now that was something worth looking for. Maybe that was what John had been talking about.

Then, Jesus walked by. “Look,” John exclaimed, “here is the Lamb of God!” John didn’t hold them back, and they followed Jesus. It was in that moment that the question, THE question, came. “What are you looking for?” They didn’t really answer, perhaps not knowing what to say. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Teacher, we want to be taught by you. We want to follow you. We want you to show us what we’re looking for. “Come and see,” he said.

What did they see? A minister named Melissa Sevier imagines the scene this way:
Do they see him interacting with family? Hosting the Sabbath meal? Praying over the food? Singing a psalm? Laughing at a joke? Telling stories? Do they see him sharing leftovers with the poor? Talking to unclean people on the way home? Talking about what to do about a widowed neighbor or a depressed friend? Do they hear some of his teaching, or is just seeing how he lives on a random day life-changing enough?
Whatever they experience, it is interesting or moving enough for them to tell some others about it, and to give them the same invitation to come and see.[1]
They would see. And they did find something, perhaps more than they were looking for. They found a teacher. But this teacher wouldn’t teach them how to build a fancier boat or make it big in carpentry. This teacher would teach them how to find the love of God planted deep inside themselves and bring it to life in others. They found a guide. But this guide wouldn’t teach them which roads to Jerusalem were the safest or quickest. This guide would show them how to walk the hard road, the road that would eventually lead to the cross, but to walk with hope in their hearts, compassion in their touch, and love in every encounter.

They found the Messiah. But this messiah would not lead them in glorious battle to retake Israel from the Romans and put a king like David back on the throne. This messiah would lead them in glorious battle against disease, distress, hopelessness, emptiness, and heartlessness. This messiah would lead them, not to find a destination, but to see the Kingdom of God wherever they went, and to proclaim the presence of God in the midst of the journey.

They found the Lamb of God. This ruler would not become a king or conqueror, but would choose instead to sacrifice himself in order to save others. This leader would show them how to be servants, to put the needs of others ahead of their own. This master would not seek power and control, but rather to take away the sin of the world.

They found the Son of God. In this person, Jesus, they found the one who understood them better than they understood themselves. They found the one who would challenge them, test them, make them grow and change in ways they could hardly imagine. Simon would become a different person, taking a new name, Cephas, or Peter. They found a teacher who would make them into teachers, a healer who would make them into healers, a brother who would welcome them into the household of God.

All of that is yet to come, of course. This was only the beginning. What were they looking for? What did they find? A teacher, a master, and so much more. What are you looking for? A sense of purpose, some meaning in life, a way to be set free? Come and see. Maybe you’ll find it on this journey of faith. Maybe you’ll find that what you’re looking for is something you already have, the seed of love, planted by God, waiting for you to give it away.  Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Death and New Life

January 12, 2020
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois

Matthew 3:13-17

I took some time off after Christmas to travel to Michigan to visit my in-laws. While I was gone, I missed out on a special event here, the baptism of Ayva Lynn Schmitt. I heard from some of you, and from Rev. Shanks, that it was a beautiful ceremony. Baptism is one of those events in the life of the church that is sure to bring tears of joy and fill us with love as we are reminded that God is with us, renewing us, washing us clean, and helping us to love one another.

“In officiating at a service of baptism, the pastor acts as a representative of the church universal.”[1] The whole Church of Jesus Christ, church with a capital “C”, celebrates the baptism, since we represent the Church in this particular place and time. It is “a sign and seal of our common discipleship. Through baptism, Christians are brought into union with Christ, with each other and with the church of every time and place.”[2] This is what we do as members of the family of Christ, blessing the new ones and promising our love and care. Even though the minister sprinkles the water, we merely act as representatives of God who takes the initiative in the sacrament.

It occurs to me that the minister also acts symbolically as the representative of John the Baptizer. After all, it was John baptizing Jesus that got this whole Christian baptism thing going. Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. Imagine, for a moment, as we prepare to baptize a baby in the front of the church, if I came through the door in a camel-hair robe with long hair and a beard, shouting “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” I probably wouldn’t be invited to lead any more baptisms!

Well, back to the symbolism. Part of what we signify in the ceremony of baptism is the death and resurrection of Christ. In some churches this is more apparent as the person is dunked completely under the water and brought back up. We just sprinkle, though it works just as well, since it is only symbolic of the real baptism performed by God.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome about the symbolism of baptism, saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”[3] Baptism symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ, and shows us that the life of resurrection is not only a spiritual life in heaven, but right here and now.

We don’t dwell on the aspect of death in the ceremony. After all, it is usually a baby that is being baptized and we are celebrating a new life. But the symbolism of death is there, reminding us that we are mortal, and reminding us also of the hope we have of new life despite the reality of death.

It is easier to dwell on new life. It is easier to find hope and joy in the new life of a baby than it is to find hope and joy as a person nears the end of their life. We just celebrated Christmas, and the baby Jesus; but Good Friday is not that far off, and it wasn’t that far off for Jesus when he was baptized by John. As a minister, I have celebrated a baptism in the morning, and spent the afternoon at the bedside of a dying person. The cycle of life sometimes swings from high to low and back more quickly than we would like.

How do I reconcile those two experiences? How do I celebrate birth and mourn death in the same day? It helps to not be afraid of death. I found inspiration about facing death in a story told by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying[4].

The story is about an African-American woman who was part of the maintenance crew in a hospital where Kübler-Ross was working. The woman made beds, cleaned rooms, and emptied bedpans. But the staff noticed something special about that woman. In the rooms where she was doing her work, patients seemed to do better. They were more content––more peaceful. Kübler-Ross asked the woman what she was doing that helped the patients. She said:
Well, I’ve been up the mountain and I’ve been down the mountain. I’ve lived in many valleys. The worst was when I went to a public clinic with my three-year-old daughter in my arms, and before we could see a doctor, she died of pneumonia. I could have become cynical and angry, but instead I decided to use my pain to help others. I’m no stranger to death, and that’s why I’m not afraid to talk and touch those that are dying. I try to give them hope.
Remembering that Baptism is new life and a reminder of the hope we have – even when we are swimming in death, moment by moment, can bring hope and peace.

Many of you may be familiar with another idea from the book On Death and Dying. In it, Kübler-Ross introduces what we know as the Five Stages of Grief:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
Understanding the journey represented by those five stages of grief has been enormously helpful to dying people, their families, their doctors, and their care givers. It helps us to understand that the emotions we feel are normal, expected. In understanding that there are stages to grief, we can be reassured that even though we feel these emotions strongly, in time they will diminish, and we will be able to move into a newness beyond the grief.

Another way of thinking about dying in Christ and rising with Christ means dying to the ways of the world which lead to death, and rising in The Way of Jesus which leads to life. We can allow the divisions between people brought on by hatred to die away, and we rise to a new vision where we see the image of God in every person. We can eliminate the sinful ways in which we divide ourselves into us and them: racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, patriarchy, ableism, ageism, tribalism, nationalism, and classism. We can rise to the way of looking at the world where each person matters, each person has value, every death is tragic, every act of violence hurts our family, and every act of kindness and compassion is a gift of the grace of God.

In our time we are seeing changes in which these divisive forces are losing their power. In the history of our own denomination we have healed divisions, uniting Congregational and Christian, Evangelical and Reformed, and becoming a United Church. We were early in the fight to end slavery, and continue to bring to life a world where racism is being overcome. We long ago drowned the idea that women were less worthy of leadership, and we celebrate women ordained into the Christian ministry. We sent away the bitter falsehood that any race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, economic status, or physical or mental condition could ever separate people from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The ways in which our society is changing, putting an end to the structures, ideologies, and powers that diminish people, are in a way causing those powers to die. And it has been pointed out to me that we are seeing the five stages of grief play out in society as a result of these changes. There are those who are in denial, holding on to old prejudices. There is plenty of anger, and even bargaining, rejecting change or seeking to go back to old ways of thinking when we imagine things were better.

I am confident, however, that there is new life to be found beyond the divisiveness of the world. Though there may be grief at the loss of a world neatly divided into us and them, there is joy and hope in rising to world where we are all siblings, all members of one family. It is wonderful and beautiful to hear the words of Jesus’ baptism knowing that we are included in that blessing. “These are my children, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Amen.

[1] Reprinted from Book of Worship © 1986 by permission of the United Church of Christ Office for Church Life and Leadership.
[2] Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No. 111 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982).
[3] Romans 6:3-4. The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
[4] Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1969).

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Celebrating Epiphany

January 5, 2020
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois

Matthew 2:1-12

This is the last Sunday we will light the advent candles, as this is the last Sunday of the Christmas season. According to the Gospel of John, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:3-5). The Epiphany, God’s appearance in the human form of Jesus, brings light into a darkened world, in a sense echoing the first act of creation when God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). It is fitting that we pay attention to light as we celebrate the visit of the Magi, who also paid special attention to the light.

Much of what we know about the Magi comes from traditions outside the Biblical narrative. The Gospel of Matthew is the only one of the four Canonical gospels to mention the Magi. It tells us that they came “from the East” seeking the child “born king of the Jews.” Matthew does not tell us how many they were, but the three gifts seem to imply three visitors. And we know that they were most likely astrologers, or star-watchers, because they “observed his star at its rising.”

The Magi[1] are usually referred to as the Three Wise Men or the Three Kings. The word magi is the plural form of the Latin word magus, borrowed from the Greek μάγος (magos), which was used in the original Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew. The Greek word magos is itself derived from an Old Persian term referring to the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars and gained a reputation for astrology, which was at that time a highly regarded occupation. The word is also the root of the English term magic. In the King James Version of the Bible, Erasmus translated the word as “wise men,” and that seems to have stuck.

In the Western church, tradition gives them the names Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar. Balthazar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India. These names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript composed in Alexandria around 500 CE.
The Magi, on entering the house and seeing Mary and Jesus, “knelt down and paid him homage.” This gesture indicated great respect, typically used when venerating a king. Inspired by these verses, kneeling and prostration were adopted in the early Church. While we don’t kneel as a regular part of our worship, kneeling has remained an important element of Christian worship in many churches.

Matthew tells of three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are gifts that would be given to a king. Gold is valuable as money, frankincense was used in religious ceremonies throughout the near East, and myrrh was commonly used as an anointing oil for rulers and for the dead. The three gifts have a spiritual meaning as well: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense as a symbol of deity, and myrrh as a symbol of death.

The visit of the Magi is the source of a number of celebrations around the world[2], particularly the tradition of gift-giving. Epiphany marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which I’m sure you’ve heard of in song. In some Latin countries, Epiphany, or “Three Kings Day” is the day where gifts are exchanged, rather than Christmas.

In many Eastern countries, Epiphany is celebrated by Orthodox Churches as a celebration of the baptism of Christ. In Amman, a parade takes place with thousands of Christians along the River Jordan. Once the parade is complete, there is a blessing of the water. A wooden cross is placed under the water three times, representing the baptism of Christ. On the way back to town the priests carry olive branches and sprinkle holy water on the crowd.

In Greece, a festival called “The Blessing of the Waters” is held every year. During the celebration, young men dive into the water to retrieve a cross that was thrown in by a priest after being blessed. The first man to find it is believed to have good luck for a year.

In Bulgaria, Epiphany is known as Bogoyavlenie “Manifestation of God.” On this day, a wooden cross is thrown by a priest into the sea, a river, or a lake and young men race to retrieve it. As the waters are often close to freezing, this is considered an honorable act and it is said that the swimmer who is the first to reach the cross will be blessed with good health.

A story from Russia tells of an old woman, Babushka, who met the Three Kings but at first declined to join them in their search for the baby Jesus. She later regretted her decision, packed up toys and trinkets for the baby and left on a journey to find the new king. She could never find him, and it is said that to this day she still searches with her bag of gifts.

In Argentina, tonight is known as Noche de Reyes “The Night of Kings.” Children leave their shoes by the door, along with grass and water for the camels. In the morning of January 6, they get a present.

In England tomorrow night is known as Twelfth Night and is a traditional time for masked parties and drinking wassail. The Yule log of Christmas is left burning until Epiphany, and the leftover charcoal is kept until the next Christmas to kindle the next year’s Yule log. Twelfth Night is a popular time for plays, as when Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first performed in 1601.

In Italy, according to the Roman author Macrobius, the word Epiphania was transformed into Befana. In popular folklore, Befana visits the children of parts of Italy on the eve of January 6 to fill their socks with candy and presents if they have been good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they have been bad.

In Romania and Moldova, Epiphany celebrations include winter horse races. Before the race, the riders line up with their horses to be blessed by the priest who sprinkles them with green branches that have been dipped into holy water. Winning the Epiphany race is a great honor for both horse and rider, while the post-race celebrations, winner or not, are highly festive.

In the United States, in Manitou Springs, Colorado, Epiphany is marked by the Great Fruitcake Toss. Fruitcakes are thrown by participants dressed as kings, fools, etc., and competitions are held for the farthest throw, the most creative throwing device, etc.

Have you ever heard of a “King’s Cake?”[3] It is a real cake that has a toy baby hidden inside, and it represents a symbolic search for the baby Jesus. In Spanish it is called Rosca de Reyes. I remember something similar that my grandmother would do, though it was totally unrelated to Epiphany. She would hide coins inside the birthday cake! It was a great joy to find the quarter, and a total bummer if it was your birthday and your big sister found the quarter.

But back to the King’s Cake. There is another, more subtle meaning to be found in this tradition. As Christians gather around the table to share a meal, it is a reminder that Christ is found where two or three are gathered. It can also remind us of that story in Luke 24 called the “Road to Emmaus.” “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31). As we celebrate Epiphany, we participate in the search of the Magi, and we find God in a surprisingly familiar place: the table.

Hospitality was a key aspect of near-Eastern culture, and there is a reciprocal nature to hospitality. Often when guests receive hospitality and food from a host, they will bless the household that welcomes them. A Polish Epiphany custom is to “chalk the door” with special markings. The markings might look like this: 20 †K † M † B † 20. The numbers correspond to the calendar year, in this case 2020. The crosses stand for Christ. The letters have a dual significance. K, M, and B are the initials of the traditional names of the Magi, Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They are also an abbreviation of the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat, which means “Christ bless this house.”

There is a liturgy of blessing, including the passage from Matthew which we just read, which is used when blessing the house:
Peace be with this house and all who dwell in it,
and peace to all who enter here.
In keeping the feast of Epiphany,
we celebrate the Magi’s search for the infant king,
the Christ child’s appearing to the world,
and the peace and hospitality shared
between the Magi and the Holy Family.

May this home in the coming year be a place where Christ is pleased to dwell.
May all our homes share the peace and hospitality of Christ
which is revealed in the fragile flesh of an infant.  Amen.

However you celebrate or remember the coming of the magi, may your home be blessed and your hospitality be genuine; may the gifts you receive be of great value; may you have good health, wisdom, and long life; and may you watch the stars with wonder and with hope.  Amen.

[3] The information about the “King’s Cake” and the “Blessing of the Magi” are from Amber and John Inscore Essick, “Distinctive Traditions of Epiphany” © 2011 Center for Christian Ethics, Baylor University.