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(somehow, the audio contains the sermon twice, back to back. weird.)

Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 2:41-52

I worked one summer at a hospital, where I was inside this giant building (a whole set of buildings, actually) all day. From near the office I used on the sixth floor, I could see down into a courtyard where the opposite wall was covered with ivy. I loved it because it was alive and natural. It was almost a kind of “chapel” for me, a reminder that there was something greater than this big sterile building. That ivy showed me that God was at work. Well, God was at work throughout the hospital, healing and loving, but this scene seemed to make God especially visible.

I’m wondering this Epiphany, just how is God visible in our world? Today is the traditional celebration of Christ’s revealing to all the world, not just to the religious insiders. Matthew’s story asks just how this can be. Because of the way I built our service today, you’ll have to remember way back for this story, but most of you know it: astrologers from Persia seek Jesus, bringing gifts that we remember with our own giving, and these foreigners are the first ones to worship the King of the Jews. Contrast their coming with the insiders’ responses. Herod, the puppet king, gets terribly upset, and all Jerusalem joins him. Unlike these foreign diviners, God’s own people seem to be afraid of God’s arrival. I think this is supposed to make me wonder how open I am to Christ’s presence. How do I welcome and recognize the Mystery among us? Do I truly see what’s right there?

That reading from Matthew was the traditional “Epiphany” story. We’re also reading an early story from Luke’s gospel, the only childhood story of Jesus in the Bible. This is basically unrelated to Matthew’s story – so don’t worry about the details that don’t line up – but the same Epiphany theme seems to come up. The question is, how do we find Jesus? If Luke’s story had visitors from east, they may have been in the Temple with Jesus. To be sure, the people closest to Jesus (his parents!) were unable to find him. Luke drops some hints here that we’ll all feel like that in just a few months (20 years of narrative time) when Jesus goes missing for three days. He seems to be saying that when Jesus goes missing, perhaps he’s right where belongs.

The question today is, where do we seek Jesus? Where do we look for God at work? Do we tend to look only with people who are headed our direction? Who are doing what we’re doing? Must people think about God in the ways we do? Or do we have the imagination to see God doing something far beyond us? Can we see Christ present in a young boy who listens deeply and asks good questions (and haven’t we all heard those amazing questions)? Are we open to hearing God speak through surprising voices?

Of course, many of us here are particularly open-minded and imaginative. Still, where would we especially be surprised to hear from God? Where are our blinders? Are we uncomfortable looking for a fresh word in traditional understandings of Christianity? Are we able to hear what God might be saying through the prophet of Islam? Are we willing to make sense of a God who would work through people who voted differently than we did? Can God speak through impassioned debate? Can we see a God who climbs the walls of a hospital, wrapped in ivy? In our busy work of running around and managing life, can we see a God who is active and busy and working right alongside us?

Finding God can be like coming upon a forest clearing in the dead of winter. There’s a break in the trees and an expanse of flat snow, and nothing is visibly going on. That is, until you notice the beaver lodge poking up to indicate that this is actually their frozen pond. There are tracks in snow from animals walking across the surface. Underneath, invisible, there are fish feeding, beavers and otters at work, and eagles and owls in the trees. Life is right there, hidden directly under our noses.

Isn’t that where God so often is? Directly under our noses, hidden under the surface, but just as present. God is there to be seen and imagined, and always full of surprises. Thanks be to such a marvelous God.