EPIPHANY Study & Meditation

     The word EPIPHANY means “manifestation” or “revelation”. The day known as THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD always falls on January 6 and recalls the visit of the magi to the young Jesus. Since the magi were Gentiles, not Jewish people, this day celebrates the manifestation or revelation of Christ to the world. Christ came to reveal God’s love for all people, that the dark and gloomy shadows of this world should give way to his own brilliant light. That day always concludes the twelve-day Christmas Season and begins the EPIPHANY Season.

The Season of EPIPHANY lasts from four to nine weeks and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Season of Lent. The length of the EPIPHANY Season varies according to the date of Easter. On the first Sunday after the Epiphany day each year, we celebrate the festival of THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD. And, on the last Sunday after the Epiphany day each year, we celebrate the festival of THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD.

During the Season of EPIPHANY, Jesus is revealed, made known to us and to the world, as the One who brings healing and forgiveness, teaches and proclaims the Kingdom of God, calls people to become disciples and follow him. Christ is the Light of the world who brings salvation to every people. During this season we hear about his identity, his mission, and his power. During this season we might think about our own identity, mission, and empowerment – through Holy Baptism and our place in his community of faith – as we bear his name and his mission and his love to neighbors near and far.

What follows is a sermon preached by Pastor Neil when the day known as THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD happened to be a Sunday with the people of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church gathered for worship.

EPIPHANY DAY, 01-06-2019

About 2,000 years ago some Persian priests – scholarly people who diligently and excitedly studied the astrological secrets of the heavens through astronomy – noticed a rather peculiar star in the nighttime sky that piqued their interest. They saw that star as a sign of something special… as a signal of someone special… as an announcement that a powerful ruler was about to be born or had been recently born. This star announced the truth of a great event, they believed – a new king, a great king, someone who might affect the future and fate of nations. This star marked the place, they believed, where it would or did already happen. And these Persian priest-scholars, these magi, these “wise ones”, set out on a journey, full of wonder, fixated on that star and the truth to which it pointed…seeking and searching and led by their dreams and that star… bringing expensive gifts and exotic spices from the East. They wanted to find and see that mighty child… they wanted to honor and bless that special child, this newborn king, with their gifts and their humility and their respect.

In the Bible they are not numbered, they are not named, and they are not called kings. The Bible doesn’t say that they road on camels… that they wore turbans, crowns, elaborate capes and fancy slippers, with an entourage of servants and pack camels trailing behind them… or  how far and how long they traveled to get

there. That’s all Christmas tradition and Christmas pageant stuff. Tradition (and maybe the fact that three costly gifts are mentioned) has created this side story that there were three and that they were kings. Tradition has given them names (Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior) and assigned racial and cultural backgrounds to them – in some traditions they represent the three races of men descended from Noah’s sons – Semitic, Indo-European, and African. Other tradition has said that Melchior was the King of Arabia, Balthazar was the King of Persia, and Caspar or Gaspar was the King of India. And there are additional legends that create a whole “whatever happened to them later…”   that go far beyond what Matthew says in his gospel story [MATTHEW 2:1-12].

Foreign people, Gentiles (that is, non-Jewish people) followed a star on some sort of journey, expecting to find a king. They came and they saw the baby Jesus, whose birthday we have been celebrating for twelve days this past Christmas Season… but also perhaps over a lifetime and many seasons.

They came. They saw. One might wonder some if those magi were surprised when they arrived by what they saw… one might wonder if they were disappointed some… when they saw this humble baby proudly shown by working-class parents, Mary and Joseph… here in Bethlehem, a little town, one of the most humble regions in  Judah. Is he still in the feed trough? No palace? No expensive cradle? No servants and guards on call? No signs of kingly wealth and power?  Is this some sort of astronomical mistake, did the GPS unit in the star fail or misdirect?

I don’t think that the magi were all that surprised. I don’t believe that, when they started out on their journey, they expected to discover a king as wealthy and powerful as, for example, Israel’s King Solomon of centuries ago, who would attract the Queen of Sheba’s interest in coming to see all that bling and pizzazz. I believe that those magi expected a completely different shining at the end of their journey as they followed that star in the darkness – a different brightness than glitter and glamour.

There is no suggestion in the Bible that the king they saw was any different from the king they had imagined and hoped for and traveled to find. Matthew tells us that, when they got there, they knelt down, they humbled down, and they worshiped Jesus. Men of dignity and learning honoring a little child. I’m thinking that their training, but also their deep desire for something greater and better in life, enabled them to recognize just who this Jesus-Child was: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, THE FINAL ANSWER TO ALL DARKNESS, LOVE INCARNATE, THE MESSIAH, THE SAVIOR.

They came. They saw. They worshiped. They gifted. Then they left. They had been touched by love, touched by God, touched and transformed by this opportunity to see and worship Jesus. And, because they had been touched, they were transformed. So they didn’t report back to King Herod on exactly where they had found the newborn king of the Jews, the Messiah… they didn’t draw him a map, they didn’t offer to direct or even lead King Herod there. A dream had warned them. Even without the dream, I think they might have been perceptive and wise enough to sense, to see King Herod for the insanely jealous, paranoid old man that he was. (I mean, for example, can’t some people see President Donald Trump for what he is behind all the bluster and the lies, how jealous and paranoid he is?) HA! King Herod had said that he wanted to worship this new-born king… but that was “fake news”.  King Herod was so fearful of potential rivals that three of his own sons had already been murdered by “dear old dad” to eliminate them as political threats. This inspired the Roman Emperor of that time to remark that it was probably much “safer to be Herod’s swine than his son”. And so it would be that King Herod, outwitted by men wiser than he, would issue orders, would send out soldiers, would have all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem who were around two years and under executed. Whether that was hundreds of baby boys murdered, or just a dozen, or maybe one or two, we call that event “The Slaughter of the Innocents”, and the liturgical calendar Christian community that follows the liturgical annual calendar remembers that infanticide on December 28 each year. Innocent victims of a world where death and darkness, jealousy and greed, hate and violence always seem to have the upper hand.

Except – not always. And not forever. The star that guided the magi many years ago is gone… but the Light of the World continues to shine.

Epiphany Day – the coming of these foreign visitors, these magi, in today’s Gospel reading – celebrates how Jesus is revealed as a Light, a Savior, to more than just Israel. The Light of the World is that big, that bright! Many centuries before, the prophet Isaiah, in today’s First Reading [ISAIAH 60:1-6], understood and declared that foreign nations would come streaming to that great light… how rulers of the whole world would be drawn to it… that this light that has come to Israel is not for Israel alone… that God had always intended – as he had promised centuries ago to Abraham and Sarah – to bless all the people of the earth through that covenant with Abraham. The Light of the World is that big and that bright!  And the Christian missionary and writer St. Paul, would be a strong voice, as in today’s Second Reading [EPHESIANS 3:1-12] that the message of good news – the gospel – is for any and all people, including those who were so often considered outside of God’s covenant people Israel. The Light of the World is that big, that bright!

Many people in the world today are lost, stumbling around in darkness, searching through the shadowy things of this world for meaning, for life, for love. Many are battered, bruised, and broken. My brothers and sisters, we have a mission to the world. If light has dawned on us, we want to share it… if there is good news to tell, we can’t help but bear it. If Jesus is your Savior and the Lord of your daily life – your hope, your peace, your love, your joy – then shine where you live, where you work, where you go to school, where you travel. Welcome and invite… not by accident but on purpose… not to selected “desirables” but to each and to all! If you believe that Jesus is making all the difference in your life, then reach out and touch others with God’s love… make a difference in their life.

Don’t ignore or miss God’s revelation! May you see, accept, and bear the Light of Jesus Christ! And may the love of Christ that shines in you shine brightly in the world wherever you go!

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