Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“There Are No Boundaries with the Love of God” (Matthew 2:1-11)
January 6, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Today is Epiphany, when we remember the journey of the Magi from the East, who traveled many miles all the way to Jerusalem in search of the newborn King of the Jews. They followed the star all the way to the place in Bethlehem where Jesus, the newborn Savior of the world lay. Matthew tells us that when the star stopped over this place that the Magi “were overwhelmed with joy” and “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” (Matthew 2:1-11). On Epiphany we are reminded that Jesus Christ the Son of God not only came to save Israelites but to save Gentiles too, that Jesus was sent to save the whole world, no exceptions. There are no boundaries with the love of God.
Every year around Epiphany I reread the powerful poem by T. S. Eliot, entitled “Journey of the Magi.” Eliot wrote this poem from the perspective of one of the Magi looking back many years later on their journey to see the newborn king:
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow…
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
(Collected Poems 1909-1962, 99).
Netflix recently released a concert film of the final US show of Taylor Swift’s recent record-breaking “Reputation Stadium Tour.” It was filmed at A.T. & T. Stadium in Arlington, Texas with over 100,000 fans in attendance, most of them standing for the entire concert. In the midst of the elaborately staged and choreographed performance she played a few of her older songs solo on her emerald green acoustic guitar, including her song “All Too Well”, a song about the pain of a heartbreak as she processed what T. S. Eliot referred to as “the worst time of the year” and the “hard time (she) had of it.” With over 100,000 “background singers” joining her she sang:
I walked through the door with you, the air was cold
But something about it felt like home somehow
And I left my scarf there at your sister’s house
And you still got it in your drawer even now…
And I know it’s long gone
And that magic’s not here anymore
And I might be okay but I’m not fine at all…
Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much
And maybe this thing was a masterpiece before you tore it all up
Running scared, I was there
I remember it all too well
You call me up again just to break me like a promise
So casually cruel in the name of being honest
I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here
‘Cause I remember it all, all, all too well
(From her 2012 album Red)
And I’m watching the concert and thinking, “Why are there over 100,000 people standing and singing this song together with her?” And you may be thinking, “What does a Taylor Swift concert have to do with Epiphany?” Well, my guess is that the over 100,000 people singing that night were doing so because each of them had experienced what all of us experience in our life, a broken heart, when externally we “might be okay” but internally we are “not fine at all,” heartbreaks we remember “all too well.”
And for those who have had their hearts broken, for those who have had others be “casually cruel in the name of being honest” only to leave them “a crumpled up piece of paper” January can often be what T. S. Eliot called “the worst time of the year…the very dead of winter”—or as Richard Duke of Gloucester stated in the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent” (I, i, 1).
But at Epiphany we remember that there are no boundaries with the love of God, that as Beatrice joyfully declared in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing—“There was a star danced, and under that was I born” (II, i, 351-352). During Epiphany we are reminded “there was a star danced” and under that was Jesus—the Son of God, the King of the Jews—born. And Jesus was born to save the whole world, Jew and Gentile, no exceptions, with the grace of God.
In today’s passage from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians the apostle writes about the personal “commission of God’s grace” he had received (Ephesians 3:2) and how the grace of God extends to everyone:
The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things (Ephesians 3:6-9).
Again, at the heart of what Paul here calls “the boundless riches of Christ” is the grace of God, the unconditional love of God for all of us—a love Paul describes a few verses later as “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).
There are no boundaries with the love of God. That is the message of Epiphany.
This is good news for those who have had a “hard time” of it, good news for those who have been left “a crumpled up piece of paper,” good news for those who have felt left out because of their background, or their political opinion, or their sexuality, or their skin color, or their social status or lack thereof, or left out for whatever reason—because the love of God leaves no one out.
In the final stanza of “Journey of the Magi” T. S. Eliot writes again from the perspective of one of the Magi who refers to Jesus, the newborn king, as “Birth” (capital B) and “Death” (capital D):
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
In today’s passage from Isaiah, the great Old Testament prophet foretold: “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6). The gifts the Magi brought to Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews, not only honored his birth, but also foreshadowed his death. Gold was a gift for royalty, frankincense a gift for divinity—but myrrh a gift for death and burial.
In today’s passage from Matthew the Magi referred to Jesus as the King of the Jews, “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” (Matthew 2:2). And over three decades later on the morning of Good Friday Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And shortly thereafter the Roman soldiers followed suit: “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (27:27-29). Later on the cross, above Jesus, a sign was affixed which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (27:37). And what did the soldiers offer Jesus as he was dying? “They offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it” (Mark 15:23). On the cross Jesus suffered “hard and bitter agony for us” until his final breath.
And when Nicodemus the Pharisee arrived to take Jesus’ body down from the cross, scripture tells us he “came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds” (John 19:39) to embalm the dead King of the Jews.
Jesus died for Jews, and Gentiles, and the whole world, including you, so that everyone—no exceptions—could experience the grace of God, “the boundless riches of Christ,” “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”
Back to T. S. Eliot for a moment…During World War II he wrote his Four Quartets, the fourth of which is entitled “Little Gidding”—which he concludes with what happens at the end of our journey:
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
(Collected Poems 1909-1962, 208-209).
The One whom the Magi saw at the end of their long journey is the same One you will see at the end of your long journey, the One who knows and loves you “all too well” and assures you that “all manner of thing shall be well”—because there are no boundaries with the love of God.