Texts for Sermon are:
Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12 and Colossians 1: 1-13
The word “Epiphany” is a strange sounding word which comes from Greek and means appearance or revelation. It’s used to speak of either an appearance of a divine being, or of the revelation of the basic nature of something or some essential truth. That is how it gets its association with light. Something is suddenly illuminated and made clear. Something comes to light, becomes apparent to all who look. The Christian celebration of Epiphany then, is the celebration of the revelation of God’s nature and purpose in the appearance of Christ.
The story of the visit of the magi is traditionally associated with Epiphany, because it speaks of the truth about who Jesus is and will become. And it does it in a rather provocative way by using the Magi.
2. What is the Nature of the Coming to Light-The Epiphany?
God is not on about dividing us all up into insiders and outsiders
The first is the extension of the image of God drawing the gentiles to himself, and that God is not on about dividing us all up into insiders and outsiders, clean and unclean, acceptable and unacceptable.
We might think that this is yesterday’s news with regard to the gentiles, but we just keep coming up against it again and again because it is part of our fundamental human condition to think in such divisive categories.
No sooner have we let go of one old antagonism, but our darkness mutates and turns us against some other group.
If it’s not gentiles it’s black people, or it’s Asians, or it’s women, or it’s queue-jumping refugees, or it’s homosexuals, or it’s Muslims.
Again and again we divide ourselves up into us and them and “us” is okay so long as we protect ourselves against “them” because “they” are a threat to everything we hold dear and the source of all that is corrupt and degenerate.
But God will have none of it and when the first people to recognise Jesus for who he really is are pagan astrologers from the vicinity of Iraq, you know that God is not going to respect any of our categories of who does and doesn’t belong.
Wherever the darkness of our prejudice and divisiveness settles, the light of God’s love bursts forth and we have to both welcome it and embrace it, or go scuttling off for more darkness to hide ourselves in.
The humility and vulnerability of God.
The second way in which new things are being brought to light constantly is the never-ending surprise of the humility and vulnerability of the ways and means by which God operates.
We keep wanting and expecting God to act in big powerful ways that no opposition on earth can resist.
We want a God who deals with evil with an iron fist (so long as its not our evil), and who wipes away the oppressors and deals out justice for all.
This, of course, links back to my previous point, because in this desire we are again dividing the world up into goodies — us — and baddies — them — and expecting God to endorse our divisions and anoint us as the iron fist of justice.
The Magi themselves were no doubt expecting to see a vision of power and wealth and influence.
Where did they go first seeking the newborn messiah?
The Palace…why not that’s where rulers are born.
That’s where God would appear, surely?
But God upturned their expectations, and brought a surprising truth to light.
God continually does it again and again.
We expect an avenging warrior God, but we get a vulnerable refugee baby.
We expect surroundings of wealth and influence, but we get simplicity and homelessness.
We expect the religiously orthodox to recognise and honour his arrival, but instead we see only outsiders and despised nobodies.
We expect a mighty triumph, but instead we get a crucified victim.
This epiphany goes on and on.
We are continually surprised and even disturbed as God’s ways and means are brought to light.
Over and over we look for one thing, even cry out and plead for it, but we get another. In Jesus, hunted at birth and humiliated at death, God’s ways and means are shockingly brought to light.
Love and mercy and consolation seemed like a welcome idea when God was dealing with “us”, but when God is dealing with “them”, we wanted a God of judgement and vengeance and righteous anger.
But as the light comes and makes known to us the God who is, we are called to respond very differently. That is a challenge that is as real today as it ever was.
As we are drawn to the light and kneel before this epiphany of God’s vulnerable love and grace, we are called to arise and shine; to shine forth this revelation in our own lives.
3. But what is our epiphany to be? How do we live out our epiphany?
Our epiphany is found in our ongoing journey to find and experience God love and grace in our lives. It is open to all.
We all stand on the same ground.
It is a journey that is free of race, gender, wealth and social standing.
And now, the challenge to us is to continuously work out our spirituality to see that light more clearly in our lives and be bearers of that light.
In Colossians Chapter 1: 9-10 we have three good starting points.
“We ask God that you may receive from him full insight into his will, all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that your manner of life may be worthy of the Lord and entirely pleasing to him. We pray that you may bear fruit in active goodness of every kind and grow in the knowledge of God. In his glorious might may he give you ample strength to meet with fortitude and patience what ever comes, and to give joyful thanks to the Father who has made you fit to share the heritage of God’s people in the realm of light.”
Three feature of a fruitful life…
We want our lives to be meaningful and to have purpose. We also desire to have some impact for good on others and our world. We want our lives to be fruitful.
Fruitfulness, however, is very differently understood by different people.
Some see a life given to prayer as a fruitful life.
Others see a life given to social activism and to caring for the poor as a fruitful life.
Some see it in terms of healing.
Others see it in terms of a successful and important secular career.
Some see it in terms of virtue, others in terms of productivity. Clearly we will measure fruitfulness differently depending on the values we hold.
So what will our epiphany be?
Henri Nouwen gives us an unexpected answer when he probes beyond these differences to ask the question: What constitutes a fruitful life?
Surprisingly he tells us that the three aspects of a fruitful life are as set out in Colossians are:
We often think of the fruitful life springing from strength,power,and overflow. But we soon learn that we often have more to give when we are open, vulnerable and aware of our own limitations.
Our ultimate dependency rests on our loving God.
Life is a fragile thing…Colossians says… “In his glorious might may he give you ample strength to meet with fortitude and patience what ever comes …
And continues… “and to give joyful thanks to the Father who has made you fit to share the heritage of God’s people in the realm of light.”
So fruitfulness, moreover, is enhanced when our lives are characterised by thankfulness, appreciation, and gratitude.
This allows us to appropriate the good that comes our way. So much that could nurture us is carelessly thrown away because we don’t appreciate and appropriate the many little blessings we receive.
Instead we are often unthankful; we grumble and are so focused on future expectations that we don’t see the daily good that so unexpectedly comes our way.
Care for our spiritual being
Finally fruitfulness is sustained by care.
We need to watch over the seeds of hope.
We need to care for what we are and have.
We need to feed the nourishing sources of our lives. We need to nurture our being rather than doing. As Ross Kingham writes “to embrace being is to engage in a gentle releasing from our minds and hearts of our obsessions, our lack of freedoms, in the context of a quiet reliance on the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
The nourishing sources of our lives need to be constantly tapped, lest we find ourselves in a position where much is expected of us while we have little to give.
How do you see yourself looking at what the wise men saw and see it all in a new light that can transform your new year?
Let us pray together:
“We ask God that we may receive from him full insight into his will, all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that your manner of life may be worthy of the Lord and entirely pleasing to him. We pray that we may bear fruit in active goodness of every kind and grow in the knowledge of God. In his glorious might may he give us ample strength to meet with fortitude and patience what ever comes, and we to give joyful thanks to the Father who has made us fit to share the heritage of God’s people in the realm of light.”
Most appreciative for use of material drawn from sources listed below:
Charles Ringma- Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen, NavPress, 2000.Reflection 88.
Nathan Nettleton – Coming to Light, A sermon on Matthew 2: 1-12 6 January 2004, © LaughingBird.net
Nathan Nettleton – Brought to Light,A sermon on Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12 & Matthew 2:1-12 , 6 January 2011 © LaughingBird.net