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Sermon: Epiphany; God revealed.
Preacher: Folake Makanjuola
Date: Sunday 8th January 2017
Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6, Ephesians 3: 1-12, Matthew 2: 1-12
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
Today we are celebrating the feast of Epiphany, the day that many Christians commemorate the revelation of God. This God who is beyond our human knowing has come to make Himself known to the world in human form, through the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ. The observance of Epiphany had its origins in the eastern Christian church, and included the birth of Jesus Christ; the visit of the Magi and all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. What this means for us is, in the next few Sundays before Lent, we shall be reading those scripture passages which declare the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, ie the baptism and the transfiguration. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ as we all know it, is incomplete without narrating the visit of the magi. This story has been told for many years, and now it is difficult to tell it without sounding repetitious. But, there is a twist to the story of this visit, which could be carefully teased out, and I hope by a long shot it doesn’t sound like I am ‘reinventing the wheel’ here.
Now, this morning, you have probably noticed the one thing that our readings have in common. They all speak of the revelation of God to people other than Christians, people who could be regarded as non-believers because of their own beliefs in things considered not to be of God, such as the worship of idols. The book of Isaiah speaks of the breaking forth of the light of God to people of all nations, in Ephesians we are informed that the ultimate purpose of God is to bring together the whole of creation and gather them unto Himself, without discrimination. Similarly, the Gospel of Matthew reminds us that Christ has come to remove every boundary in order to unite us with God. The implication here is quite significant and it is important to keep it in focus in order to have full understanding of the season we are entering.
The season of Epiphany is a reminder that the breaking forth of the light of God into the darkness of this world, is unconditional. This light is Jesus Christ, and He has come to reveal God the Father, to give salvation and life, not just to the remnant of Israel, or for those who have returned from exile, but for all people of all nations. God our creator, breaks into human lives as He wills, His glory may appear where we least expect it. He chose to reveal the birth of Christ to the magi, who by every description were pagans. Their faith and belief rested on the stars to interpret the times and what they considered to be extra ordinary cosmic events. Their practice of astrology was a highly regarded profession of science at the time.
Unlike you and I, they did not come looking for Jesus Christ by attending a church to listen to a sermon, and neither did they have to experience sacrament, things which are exclusive to us Christians. They came seeking Jesus Christ after studying what they believed in, the night skies. It is this tool of their profession, a single bright star, which God used, to guide them all the way to Bethlehem from their far away eastern country.
In bypassing all the pious religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees, and all of Herod’s wise men, God called on the magi despite their way of life and belief, and He brought them to bow down before the King of kings. There is a similar pattern of this type of calling in Ephesians, the Gentiles are being brought into the inheritance of salvation. Traditionally, Gentiles were those who worshiped other gods. They did not believe in the God of Israel, but through Christ, they have been called to faith in a new way, they are brought into a relationship with God through grace. This is the mystery of God which Paul talks about, the calling of unbelievers, which only proves one thing, that no one has exclusive right to be an heir of God’s grace. Not us so called believers, no one. It is only through the mercy of God that we are all called to the same faith.
The story of the magi calls us to radical responsibility toward all those who have been excluded from our Christian narrative. Jesus Christ invites us to partake in this mystery of God, to welcome those whom we might consider to be outsiders to our faith, and through our actions, show them the glory of God, which has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ. God’s ways are bigger than our understanding, bigger than the schemes of all the ‘Herods’ of this world, His ways are unfathomable. God is determined to do whatever it takes to redeem all people, He has a plan for the whole of creation. Jesus Christ has come for this reason, so that no one is beyond God’s embrace.
The magi, in their dreams, were instructed not to return to Herod who had planned to harm the new born child, they were to take another route back to their country. ‘Another route back home’, could symbolise the start of a new way of life after coming to know Christ. A turning away from the old way of doing things.
During this season of epiphany, let us also take another route, another look at our responses to this light of God among us, and ask ourselves, how can we bring this wonderful gift to others who need to feel welcomed? How well can we use our gifts to serve God in the diversity of our community? Jesus Christ is about to offer a very special and expensive gift on the cross, how can we express our love and appreciation of Him in an unreserved and unrestrained way? ‘Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of God is upon you’. This light of God, has come to give of Himself to us because of the love God has for us.
The three wise men of the east, they brought their best gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, we also will give the best of what we have to this God, this God, who chose to reveal Himself in a child, who left His Kingdom and gave over everything to come to experience humanity and all its failings and triumphs, its joy, and its sadness. Unconditionally, and in humble adoration, we will welcome this King of kings and make Him the centre of everything that we are and do.
I pray, therefore, that this brilliant light of God may shine brightly in our lives for all to see, ‘We whom the Spirit lights will give light to the world’. I pray that the love of God be evident in us and in our homes as we reach out to this hurting and dying world. And, may the glory of God rise upon us in this New Year, now, and every day of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.