God for All
Based on Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12, Ephesians 3:1-12
Ever had the experience of struggling with something for a very long time and then suddenly, the answer just appears before you and it all becomes so very clear. You wonder why it was that you couldn’t solve the issue long before you did. You wonder, “Why did I have to go through all that when the answer was so obvious?” This is what many people would refer to as an “epiphany” – a sudden realization of something. In times gone by, the word “epiphany” was used primarily to denote a religious revelation – think Mary and the angel Gabriel, or Elizabeth’s reaction to Mary’s greeting.
The religious use of the term comes from the visitation of the Magi to the baby Jesus, and is traditionally celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas (always January 6th). Since this is January 6th, we are celebrating today the “Feast of the Magi” or “Epiphany Sunday”. It is certainly debated among Bible scholars and historians whether or not the Magi (Wise Men) really got to see Jesus as a baby, or whether they arrived about 2 years after his birth. The latter view comes from the translation which we have before us today where it states, “…upon entering the house…”; not the stable or manger as is typically depicted.
While folks have been debating that subtlety of Biblical translation, the important point about the visit of the Magi is neglected. This is the point where we will spend our time today – seeking our own epiphany from the scriptures we have before us. Before proceeding, won’t you join me in prayer…
We are near the end of the Book of Isaiah in Chapter 60 – often referred to as Third Isaiah. Our scripture reading for today has promises of renewal for Jerusalem and carries in verse 6 a foreshadowing of the visit of the Magi in our Matthew reading. Note that visitors to the renewed Jerusalem will bring with them “gold and frankincense”. The oracle contained in the next three chapters will remind Israel that she is blessed by God and will be redeemed from her exile once she has paid the consequence for her apostasy. All people of the world will be drawn to the light of Jerusalem and darkness will be driven away by the LORD.
The Letter to the Ephesians is written to help reconcile the Gentiles and Jews about the kingship of Jesus. From the earliest of days, there was tension between observant Jews and the new Jewish sect known as “The Way” which followed the teachings of Jesus and considered Him to be the long-awaited Messiah. Our reading for today boldly asserts that, “…the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel….” The writer, in the personage of the Apostle Paul, expounds on the mission of Paul to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul understood that the mission of Jesus was to be the good news to the whole world, not just to the Jews.
The Wise Men or Magi arrive in Jerusalem and after having a fateful meeting with Herod, they go to find Jesus in Bethlehem. It is important to note in this story that the Magi are not Jewish, but rather they are Gentile priests or astrologers from somewhere to the East of Palestine. The light of the star shines in the darkness and stops over the house where Jesus lives. Akin to what we read and heard in Isaiah, these Gentiles recognize the kingship of Jesus and leave him gifts of gold, frankincense…and also the embalming substance myrrh.
Up until this point in the Bible, the One God has created everything including Adam and Eve, and then put up with the humans’ ability to be sinful. God continues to be in relationship with Adam and Eve and eventually decides to wipe out everyone but Noah and his family and two of every creature. A while later, God chose Abram and Sarai to begin the process of providing multitudes of descendants to worship God. God saves the ancestors of Abraham from Pharaoh in Egypt and then gives them the Ten Commandments to live by while they wander around before getting to the “Promised Land”. The chosen people rebel against God however, and God must send them into Exile and redeem them once more.
It wasn’t until God realized that using people didn’t ever achieve God’s desired outcome that God decided to come down to earth in the form of Jesus. Note that this time, God was inclusive of persons outside the Jewish tribes. While we usually attribute the spread of Christianity to the missionary work begun by the Apostle Paul, it is clear from the very first moments that Jesus is to be the Messiah for everyone. One can see this in the many stories of Jesus interacting with those outside Judaism – the Syrophoenician woman, the “good” Samaritan story, the woman at the well. While Jesus sent his Disciples to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” first, it was clear that the overarching plan was to be more inclusive. His last words in the Gospel of Matthew has the Disciples going to all nations and baptizing them.
This is the epiphany of our story today. The revelation that God came down in the form of Jesus to offer salvation to all people. There were no barriers or pre-conditions, rather everyone was welcomed to the table of grace and redemption. The Gentile priests came from far away to bring precious gifts and to worship Him. The message of God through Jesus is one of forgiveness and redemption, of healing and hope, of equity and community. It is not limited by progressive or conservative theology or denominational biases and rules. It is available to all who freely choose to believe in Him and what he came to show us. The epiphany for us is that God really did love us, all of us humans, enough to come down to earth to live with us to show us the way, the truth and the eternal life. Like God’s-self, God’s love is unlimited and unconditional…God for all. That’s what we celebrate each and every time we share in Holy Communion – God for all of us for all time. Thanks be to God! Amen!