Isaiah 60: 1-6
Ephesians 3: 1-12
Matthew 2: 1-12
I am John McCulloch the minister of St Andrew’s Jerusalem and Tiberias, and it is great to be with you today. Welcome, wherever you are joining us from.
This week the Church enters the season of epiphany.
Epiphany means a sudden revelation, a manifestation, an appearance.
In our gospel passage from Matthew 2: 1-12 we read of how the 3 wise men followed the star to Bethlehem, leading them to the Christ child in the manger. Traditionally, epiphany represents the manifestation of Christ to the whole world, to the Gentiles, not only to God’s chosen people, because the Magi, the three kings came from afar, from outside the land of ancient Israel. And thus the message of epiphany is that God intends to unite divided humanity into one people, breaking down the walls of hatred and division, reminding us that God’s incarnation into human flesh dignifies the human condition and reminds us that we are made in the divine image.
But in the gospel story you will note that not everyone rejoiced and welcomed the birth of Christ. In verse 7 onwards we read:
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
In the gospel story there are two conflicting forces at work. On the one hand the magi journey from afar to worship Christ and bring him gifts. But King Herod, the megalomaniac ruthless leader wants Jesus killed, along with every Jewish first born boy. It has echoes of course to the story of Moses, whose mother hid him in a basket on the river as the Egyptians were killing first born male jewish children by drowning them in the Nile.
But these conflicting forces are not just confined to the magi and Herod, but all throughout history there are those who seek destruction and violence, and those who seek peace and transformative love. In our own hearts and minds, there is also a battle between the part of our wills that lead us away from Christ and down the path of destruction, but also, by God’s grace, a yearning to follow in his footsteps and seek renewal and forgiveness.
Our epistle reading from Ephesians 3: 1-12 speaks of Gods redemptive revelation in Jesus Christ, available for all who put their trust in him. The gospel of Christ for the whole of humanity, not confined or limited to one particular people’s group, but for all. In the opening verses of chapter 3 we read:
3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— 2 if indeed you have heard of the [a]dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, 7 of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.
Theologian Luis Rivera, commenting on Ephesians 3 says:
The church of Jesus Christ finds its identity and mission in proclaiming to the world the gospel of peace. The vocation to share the good news in speech and life constitutes an essential part of its apostolic nature and mission. The church becomes church by God’s epiphany in Christ, and it remains church by embodying and communicating for the whole world through words and deeds and in the power of the spirit the mystery of the gospel of peace.
The gospel message of salvation breaks down all walls of division. It is cosmic good news, for God’s people hail from the four corners of the human race.
It reminds us that all are made in the image of God, but that image has been marred because of sin.
The true epiphany, the real moment of revelation is when we as human beings become aware of our need for God.
Theologian James McTryre puts it this way:
The comprehension of Christ’s entry into our lives is a moment of purest epiphany. We become wise men and women, not when we find the baby Jesus, but when we realise the crucified Jesus has found us. An epiphany is a relief, a release from the struggle with anxieties and interpersonal wars. Paradoxically, an epiphany is not a triumph, but a surrender.
At the beginning of this new year, may we cease from our striving, but accept the one who draws us to himself, accept the one who welcomes us home.
For God so loved the world, that he sent his son for our salvation, and for the renewal of our world.
Go into this new year with the love of Christ shed abroad on your hearts.
And the blessing of God the father, god the son and god the Holy Spirit, be with you, and remain with you, now and forevermore.