Based in Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
Some of you who read the title to the sermon today may have gotten a feeling of dread or outright terror that the preacher was going to hold forth on the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation! Revelation is a set of scripture that contains a lot of dream imagery, end-of-times chaos and a winner-take-all battle between Good and Evil complete with destruction and a terrifying Beast. Let me set your minds at ease…what we are talking about today is a synonym for the liturgical season that begins today, Epiphany. Epiphany, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is (1) an appearance or manifestation of a divine being; (2) a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; (3) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking; or (4) an illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure – a revelation in other words.
In the Christian sense of the word, we are most often referring to how God chose to first reveal God’s-self in Jesus to the Gentiles – in this case to the Gentile Wise Kings from a far-off land. Up until this time in our scriptures, God had only revealed God’s-self to the Patriarchs, Prophets, some Kings and to members of God’s chosen people, Israel. This revelation of God outside of this small band of believers signaled an expansion of the relationship with God through the ordinary miracle of the birth of a child. Each time that Jesus is born anew in a believer, or when a new and deeper insight or revelation comes to one who has believed, the Epiphany repeats itself and God is made real once again. Let us go to God now in praise and thanksgiving that God chose to reveal God’s-self to the world beyond Judaism…
Paul is writing to the believers in the city of Ephesus which was located on the western coast of what is modern day Turkey. In the scriptures before our reading for today, Paul has reminded the Gentile members of the Body of Christ that before Jesus came they were all, “…strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world….” With the realization that God had become incarnate in Jesus, and through the evangelism that Paul had been engaged in to the Gentile world, Paul lets them know that Jesus, “…abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that He might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, (i.e., Jewish and Gentile) thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it….” In today’s reading Paul mentions his own epiphany through Jesus and how that led to his ability to perceive and communicate the “mystery of Christ” to them. The grace that God gave Paul allowed him to share his epiphany with the Gentiles “…so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might be made known to the rulers and authorities…” Would that more of us were granted the grace to share God’s wisdom with those who lead!
The prophet Isaiah has an oracle that tells the people that God’s light is coming to Jerusalem so that, “…Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn….” Once again, Jerusalem will be the place of God’s favor and all of her former glory will be returned. The prophet is telling the people to lift up their eyes to witness the revelation of God which will return their sons and daughters from afar. God says through the prophet that though God’s wrath had struck them down, God’s favor will bring mercy to them once again. God says that Peace will be their overseer, Righteousness their taskmaster; their walls shall be called Salvation and their gates Praise. All the world will come to see what God is revealing to God’s chosen people.
Matthew relates the story of the Gentile wise kings who were scientists – astrologers. They had seen a bright star and that had revealed to them the coming of a king – the King of the Jews. Interestingly, the scientists, chief priests and scribes of Judaism were unaware of this celestial and God-inspired event. King Herod, who was only nominally Jewish being from the southern region of Idumea, inquired as to where the Messiah (the King of the Jews) was to be born. He was told in Bethlehem and then sought to learn from the foreign wise men just when this star had appeared. He asked them to find this “king” and send him word so that he could go and greet him. Instead, he was looking for a way to identify a rival and end that threat to his kingship. Luckily, the wise men had a revelatory dream and they left the country without returning to King Herod.
Epiphany…God’s ongoing self-revelation. It took my going to seminary and really studying the Bible to come to understand that the whole of the book is about how our spiritual ancestors, Adam and Eve, had a perfect relationship with God, lost it due to sin, and how we humans have been trying to get it back ever since. From the third chapter in the Bible onwards, God engages in a series of epiphanies or self-revelations, trying to rebuild the relationship that God had with humans before the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was consumed. God’s overwhelming desire to get back to right relationship with humans led God to reveal more of God’s-self over time to God’s chosen people. Think of the interactions with Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses – where God gave that Patriarch God’s name and let Moses see God’s backside, David and Solomon, Job, all the prophets, etc. In between each self-revelation, God seemed to go quiet and just work behind the scenes setting in motion the next opportunity for an epiphany.
Before the Incarnation, God had been silent for about 400 years. God had one final revelation in store for humanity, and in contradistinction to all the previous epiphanies, this one would be for all the world, Jews and Gentiles. This revelation would come first to the Gentiles from far away and not be apparent to the Jews for many decades. Even though God revealed God’s-self at the birth of Jesus, it took almost 30 years for Jesus to begin his ministry to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and another 20 or so after the Resurrection before Saul became Paul and brought the gospel to the Gentiles. This final revelation of God would reconnect God and humanity in a way that none of the previous epiphanies ever did.
The reason for that was that God chose to go global with this revelation. God chose to expand God’s reach to all nations and to bring people back to God through baptism in God’s triune names into the Body of the Christ – the Body of God made incarnate in the world. In this way, the final revelation of God fulfilled the promise made to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah, that they would give rise to a multitude of believers as numerous as the stars. This revelation, which began as the light of a star became the light of the world. This revelation is the fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah spoke, “…Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you….” On this Epiphany Sunday, let us open our eyes to see what the revelation of the Incarnation has done, is doing and how it is calling each of us into a new and deeper relationship. Thanks be to God, amen!