Rev. Shepard Parsons has the honor of serving the First Church of Christ, Woodbridge, CT, as its pastor. He lives in New Haven and is blessed to be the husband of Karen Klein and the dad of Eli, Iris and Charis.
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-21 (NRSV)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“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.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.’ 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
Reflection: Spirit Among Us
One December 23rd afternoon the phone rang as I was leaving my office. It was the director of a local funeral home. He asked if I would conduct a service for a couple whose son had been killed two days before. The coroner would release his body shortly and the family could gather in two weeks. Would January 6th work for me? Sure.
I met with the mother and father of the young man who’s life we would be celebrating. He had been brutally murdered early on the morning of the 21st. The dad told me neither he nor his son believed in God and had little use for churches. Mom needed a way to say goodbye to her baby boy. The service was to be held at the funeral home. Neither thought anyone would show up, and the service was to be short. Since they asked me to officiate, I explained it would be my job to offer words of hope. Mom’s face relaxed a bit. Dad was impassive. I hadn’t a clue of what to do or say.
I can’t imagine what it is to lose a child. They said their grief was only heightened by the Christmas just past. All the decorations, the seasonal carols, the hope of family gatherings and the story of a newborn babe seemed to taunt them in their tragedy. All my go-to funeral texts — Romans 8, John 14, 1 Thessalonians, Psalm 139, etc.— seemed inadequate and hollow in the face of their catastrophe.
Epiphany arrived. Driving to the service I still hadn’t decided what scripture to read or what to say. It was then, God’s grace brought me up short once again. With her impeccable timing, and out of her mighty power and love, the Holy Spirit made a suggestion: read Matthew’s story of the Epiphany and what immediately follows. At the funeral home I was surprised to find standing-room-only in our small chapel. As is my practice, I followed the liturgy in our Book of Worship. When it came time in the service I read Matthew 2:1-21. As I did, the Spirit shared with us another story of horror and hope.
You know how it goes. Wise men from the East discerned a new king had been born in Judea. They made their way to Herod’s palace looking for the new king, only to find the old one. Their quest terrified Herod and all Jerusalem, for a contested throne could only mean civil war. When the wise men continued their search, Herod asked that they let him know where the toddler lived so he could honor him as well. They found the boy with his family in Bethlehem and lavished him with gifts due his royal standing. These travelers were the first gentiles to recognize God’s messiah, Jesus. An Epiphany! From there things went south. Wary of Herod, they left by another road and the family became refugees as they fled retaliation from the enraged king. In their wake, Herod’s death squads killed all the children two years and under in the little town of Bethlehem. The Spirit suggested this, too, was part of the Epiphany: that into the geopolitical world of Roman Judea, with all its murder, chaos, fear and oppression, God decided to move into their neighborhood and experience the world in which they lived. That morning the Holy Spirit reminded us that Jesus continues to come to us in love and compassion, living with us in our pain and suffering, liberating us to live the law of love whatever our circumstances.
The service continued with its prayers and commendation. I was about to share the benediction when dad asked if he could speak. He stood and turned to the small community gathered around him and his wife. He invited everyone to join them at home following the burial. Then he stood silent for a moment. He took a deep breath and opened his heart. “I arrived here this morning empty and afraid, knowing full well there is no such thing as God. But I have felt God’s presence and experienced God’s love, right here, right now. Thank you for being here today and sharing with us your hope.” With that, the Spirit changed the spirit in our little spot of the world.
I don’t recall experiencing anything like that before or since. It was the Feast of the Epiphany, God’s revelation to the gentiles. And dad shared with us his own epiphany: that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it, has not overcome it, and will never overcome it.
O Lord of Light, bless and be with all who live in darkness in such a manner that we may experience your presence. O Lord of Light, bless and be with us all so we may be your lights in the world. This we pray in the name of the one true light, Jesus Christ. Amen. Make it so.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving or suffering after a car bombing killed more than 70 in Somalia on Saturday.
- For those grieving after a tour helicopter crashed in Hawaii leaving 7 dead.
- For those suffering from mental illnesses.
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For a new year full of joy, health, love, and justice.
This Week in History:
December 31, 1879 (140 years ago) Thomas Edison demonstrates the incandescent light bulb, forty years after its original invention. Edison's light was smaller, more practical, and capable of burning for several hours using a small carbon filament. The fluorescent light, invented in 1901, failed to replace the incandescent bulb due mainly to its higher cost and dangerous environmental impact when discarded. LED lights, originally invented in 1907, became a popular replacement choice for incandescent bulbs beginning in 2002 when white LED bulbs became available for residential use. This is due to their superior life span and energy efficiency.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”