Monday, 9 January 2017

Can't make it to church - 8 January 2017 (Epiphany)

Today we find ourselves challenged and sandwiched between two feasts (the party days of the Church) with Epiphany bd on the Friday just gone and the Baptism of Christ turning up tomorrow. Two really important feasts - Epiphany being Christmas for our Orthodox brothers and sisters as we celebrate the message of God's salvation for the world becoming known to the Gentiles (the non-Jews) and of course the baptism of Jesus with John the Baptist, the dove descending and the theophany (God turning up to affirm the Word made flesh that is Jesus); goodness me, talk about a bargain bucket!

For those who did Epiphany a couple of days back, and will do the baptism tomorrow, it's also the First Sunday of Epiphany - talk about choices, choices, choices! So I'm going to do a couple of 'can't makes': Epiphany today and the Baptism tomorrow - because we need to reflect on and understand both:

The Epiphany
So often in conversation with others the word 'epiphany' turns up, spoken or merely observed and unannounced, as 'the scales fall from people's eyes' and they have one of those 'I get it' moments. That's what an epiphany is; it is all about becoming aware of something, usually important, and often life changing. The word Epiphany is used as a label for the Magi (Wise men, the three kings) seeing the salvation of God with their own eyes as they find Jesus.

Now He isn't in a stable - that's old news by the time these guys from the East (that's what 'orient' means) arrive. We know this because when the three of them go back home by a different route so Herod doesn't get to go and 'worship' Jesus and the naughty old puppet king sends his men out to kill all the boys two and under (this is called 'the Holy Innocents'  we remember it in the 28th December).

Let's put the whole thing together and try to paint the full picture as simply as we can:

When Jesus was born, the witnesses to this were a bunch of smelly shepherds; they were Jews (the people hoping for the Messiah).

When the Magi turn up they, being Gentiles (non-Jewish) represent the non-Jewish world and so they represent the message, and reality, of God's salvation being made to those who were, as the Bible puts is, far off. And that's what Epiphany is about: It's about the good news of Jesus being made know to everyone.

Their turning up fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah 60: 'And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.'  Here we have a high level delegation from the world visiting the heavenly and it is good news indeed for us.

There's loads of symbolism in the gifts: Gold because He's a king: frankincense because He's a priest; myrrh because He's going to die (for the world) - But that can wait for another day - what is important today is that we realise that Jesus has come for us all: Jews and non-Jewish alike.

And that is surely worth an Hallelujah :-)

The Collect
O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may at last behold your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Matthew 2.1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

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