Listen to the sermon here:
Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
Today is Epiphany Day. It is not only Epiphany Sunday; it is the very day of Epiphany – January 6. It is the twelfth day after Christmas. Some cultures know it as the “Burning of the Greens.” It is the basis for the song, “On The Twelfth Day Of Christmas.” But, to those of us who feel strong ties to the Lord Jesus Christ, it is much more. It is one of the times during the church year, when the focus is light. Isaiah says, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
Isaiah says it all. We are talking about light; light to all nations; kings shall pay attention and be drawn to this light. Isaiah seems to be addressing Jerusalem when he uses the word, “You.” Isaiah is declaring that Jerusalem will be rich because of the merchant trade which will be drawn to Jerusalem because of this “light.” Strangely, attached to this materialistic speech, Isaiah does declare that these kings from afar will proclaim the praise of the Lord.
The amazing or astonishing part of this speech is that it was long, approximately 700 years, before the “light,” in the form of a baby, appeared on earth. That is an exciting part of our faith. The Old Testament is full of predictions which came to fruition in the New Testament. To me, this is the Epiphany. The coming of the Light (capital L) and, at the same time, the coming of the Gentiles. Yes, these kings which in some sources are called “wise men,” signal early-on in the game that all people are recipients of this light. Do we need to be rich Gentiles or are all Gentiles welcome to bask in this light? Remembering that people who are not Jewish are called Gentiles, most of us today fall into the Gentile category.
So all people are welcome in the stable. All people are welcome in the temple. All people are welcome to confess and draw near. How will “all people” know? Let’s think.
These wise men told people about this baby who shall be “King of the Jews.” Remember these words spoken later in Jesus’ life before the cross? Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Do you remember Jesus’ answer? “You say that I am King of the Jews.” But here we have it in Matthew 2:2. From the New Revised Standard Version, “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 have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
There is some ambiguity about how old Jesus was when the kings, or wise men, found him and where Jesus was when they visited him. Our nativity scenes and our Christmas pageants would not seem complete without the wise men or kings arriving while the baby is lying there sublimely in that manger in the stable in Bethlehem. However, it may have been several years after the birth when the wise men made their visitation where the star stopped. No matter of the actual timing, the next event in this sequence is that Joseph hears from God that Herod, in his jealousy, is serious about finding Jesus to kill him. God instructs Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt for safety. It seems that the Holy Family did stay in Egypt where Joseph was able to develop business for his craft as carpenter.
Finally, Joseph received word from God, that it was time to return to the country of Judah because Herod had died. It seems that the Holy Family made their home next in Nazareth in the area called Galilee which Luke says is their point of origination.
The embracing message of this whole story is about the “Light” which appeared in the middle of the occupation of Judah by a foreign oppressor. This great, great birth could not be stopped by the occupation and oppresion. This plan of God could not be stopped by a tyrant ruler. This birth came as hope for the Israelites in Judah. This birth came as hope for the Gentiles living around this Holy Land and the Gentiles from a far distance toward the east. This birth came as hope for all future generations – for us; for us who live far to the west – across an ocean even.
How do we know this birth matters to us? Well, first of all, this story has not faded. This story has not died. This story is alive now even more so than in real time. Actually, now is real time for us. We do not need to wait. We are not like Isaiah and Micah. They could not appreciate the realization in their own lifetimes on earth. It is my hope that when their predictions actually happened they were privileged to know it from their dwelling place in heaven.
Then second, a part of the meaning of Epiphany is mission; the telling of the story. Telling the story can be words. Telling the story can be actions. Telling the story can be our demeanor. Are we perceived as having the love of Jesus in our hearts? Have we really opened our hearts to Jesus? We cannot be part of this on-going pageant if our hearts are carrying opposing stories.
The Apostle Paul is a model for us. Paul was a dedicated, learned, serious Jew. Paul was passionate to keep the Jewish faith pure. Paul was persecuting the followers of Jesus – Jews who were drawn to this charismatic person who was traveling from one end of the Promised Land to the other – from north to south, from east to west, even traveling through Samaria, home to a spurned, mixed breed of Israelites and people who were following other gods.
Paul was not a disciple or apostle while Jesus lived on earth. Paul had his turn with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul was headed toward Damascus to let the followers of Jesus there know that he had not lost his passion for keeping the faith of the temple pure. Paul was doing this in full belief that he was being faithful to God. What Paul did not realize was that this birth was planned by God. This radical Jesus, the Son person of God, was born to lead the Jewish people to a closer relationship with himself, this Jesus was to serve as the sacrifice once for all for all the Jewish people.
So after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, Jesus confronted Paul, not in person but by voice and by a bright light which blinded Paul. Paul was unburdened of his blindness with the aid of a man named Ananias. Now in our scripture passage from Paul’s letter to the people in Ephesus, called Ephesians, we hear Paul explaining, “… that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” “… 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; …”
While Paul was giving the message to the Gentiles, other apostles were spreading the message to fellow Jews in the hope that this salvation that Jesus brought would be accepted by these blood relatives of Jesus, our Savior. Somehow, a core group of the lineage of Jesus, could simply not let go of the traditions as their way to salvation. We, as believers in this new way to salvation, are not given permission to release hope in this direction. We are charged with sharing the story of Jesus with all people.
Some of us move in interfaith circles so that all religions can work together to accomplish some necessary servanthood in a particular town, or state, or even the world. Does God expect us to be attempting to convert each other? I think not. You may disagree. We are in interfaith situations to follow the dictate of almost all religions which is “treating each other as we want to be treated.” Our Christian directive can be found in Matthew 7:12, known as the Golden Rule. If we follow this commandment, we will call respect from within us for the persons who have not yet felt that Jesus is the way. We do not need to be confrontational or even sly. We can let our actions be our words. But, do our actions match our words? Are we truly loving or does “self” get in the way? It is so clear to me that we don’t need to have a strong mission to convert to achieve the goal of feeding the hungry and promoting peace.
It is so easy to confuse radical factions in religions with the core beliefs of the religion. Are Christians always loving? Research it. There are wars fought in the name of Christianity. Christians do not have the corner on love. I have been the recipient of kindness and help from people who really don’t set a foot inside a house of God. I even need to admit that I was the recipient of very needed help by people who are adamant about converting people to their way of thinking which is not my way of thinking. To this day, I regret that I did not adequately thank these people. But I have told that story over and over how these people helped me and about my lack of graciousness. Yes, those people were full of the love of Christ no matter if their belief about Christ seems twisted to me.
We need to seek the love element in other religions. People in all religions need to be converting the world to love – with love – no matter what our beliefs. This is the Epiphany – the spreading of love so that each person in this whole world feels love through our actions. Gone would be the shootings. Gone would be discrimination. Gone would be hate crimes.
If other people, no matter their religion, see the light of Christ shining from us, they may be drawn to this light. But if that light is not visible in us, nothing good will happen either to ourselves or to the people of the world.
Let us be passionate about sharing the light by spreading the wonder of love. This is Epiphany.