You may find this to be a really strange sermon!
And you may wonder why I’m up here preaching again, only 13 days after preaching on Christmas Eve, and only 8 more days after preaching on Advent 3. Especially with a preaching rota of 6 that we have here at St. Mark’s. Well, sometimes things just happen, and with swapping Sundays with others, filling in for one Sunday, and the resetting of the rota at the start of the year—here I am!
We celebrate the Feast of Epiphany today, and it turns out to be right on the actual date, January 6th, not moved to the closest Sunday. Or with a midweek service because the 6th came on a Thursday. I think it is useful to think about Epiphany, and what it means and how it affects our lives.
The word epiphany goes back to: Middle English-epiphanie, from Anglo-French or from Late Latin-epiphania, and further back from Late Greek-epiphaneia—appearance or manifestation. The first known use of the actual word epiphany was in the 14th century.
First, a definition of epiphany, with a small “e”, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
--A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something, an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking, or an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
--A revealing scene or moment
I’m sure we have all had something or many things happen to us that we realize right away, or sometime later, were epiphanies. At the end of the Seahawks game just last night, I had first some short amount of depressed feelings, but then it came to me that I had a lot of enjoyment (and stress!) with this season of Seahawks football. I am fully aware that this was a way beyond expectations season for them, as most said they would win maybe 4 games, and instead they won 10 (and could have won 2 more!), they returned to the playoffs with a very young team, and they are looking great for next year.
Another epiphany, or series of them, has been our “adventures” with our place to live since we sold our house 15 months ago in order to downsize. We have gone from purchasing a lot, trying to put together deals to put first in a manufactured home, then a Hiline home, and finally figuring out that these plans were not working, and we should pursue something else. And that something else may be a move from our small apartment into a rental house that might just be an interim fit or maybe even a long term one—who knows! I have come to epiphanies several times through this process that maybe either these aren’t great ideas or plans, or that God is working to get us to the right plan, and it just takes a while to get there. Bonnie and I will see what the journey brings next.
A last quick example of an epiphany—I was in my room last night working on this sermon, and Bonnie was in hers, and suddenly I started hearing Led Zeppelin songs coming from there, one after the other. My epiphany—that she must like their music, which I had no idea before this.
Now, a definition of Epiphany, with a capital “E”:
--January 6th-observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ
In Christianity, the Epiphany refers to a realization that Christ is the Son of God. Western churches generally celebrate the Visit of the Magi as the revelation of the Incarnation of the infant Christ, and commemorate the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Traditionally, Eastern churches, following the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar, have celebrated Epiphany in conjunction with Christ's baptism by John the Baptist and celebrated it on January 19; however, other Eastern churches have adopted the Western Calendar and celebrate it on January 6. Some Protestant churches often celebrate Epiphany as a season, extending from the last day of Christmas until either Ash Wednesday, or the Feast of the Presentation on February 2. In more general terms, the phrase "religious epiphany" is used when a person realizes their faith, or when they are convinced that an event or happening was really caused by a deity or being of their faith.
At our Bible study this week, we looked at the Gospel reading from Luke, and came up with several questions:
1) How did the three wise men (Magi) somehow know about Jesus at all?
2) What is this business about a rising star, and that the Magi followed it?
3) This star somehow moved and led the Magi to where Jesus was?
4) A dream warned all three of the men at the same time about awful King Herod and so they left to get away from him?
5) What is myrrh?
I frankly have no answers to these questions, other than what myrrh is—"a natural gum or resin extracted from a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora. Myrrh resin has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense, and medicine. Myrrh mixed with wine can also be ingested.” (No, it’s not the sound a cat makes when it wants you to know it is around and wants attention.)
I did find something that may help a little with the other questions—these are thoughts from Bruce Epperly, a Cape Cod pastor, theologian, and author:
“Traveling from a far-off land, Persia, and a different religious tradition, Zoroastrianism, the Magi present the holy family and baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God’s star shines over the holy family’s home, but the revelation begins months earlier among the Zoroastrian religious elite and guides a specifically attentive group to worship the Holy Child. These foreign followers of divine light experience God’s light among the Jews and are, as a foreign people, also the recipients of divine revelation. For ages, these Magi and their predecessors may have been looking for testimony that their spiritual tradition was part of a larger revelation. They found that confirmation through a bright star and a baby’s birth. When their light comes, they “rise,” in the spirit of Isaiah, and journey toward Bethlehem.”
Dr. Mark D. Roberts, A Presbyterian pastor, earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard University. He provides a pretty great perspective of the theological essence of Epiphany as found in 2 Timothy 1:10: "And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News." If you were reading this verse in Greek, you'd find the word epiphaneia where we have "appearing." God has made "all of this" plain to us through the epiphany of Christ.
But what is "all of this"? We find an answer in the previous verse: "For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time-to show us his grace through Christ Jesus." The original language makes it clear that "all of this" is God's plan (or purpose) and grace. In other words, through Jesus, God not only reveals himself to us, but also reveals his plan to save us, a plan that centers in his grace. The gracious plan of God reflects and confirms his gracious character.
If we want to know God, we must turn our eyes to Jesus. In his words and deeds, and most of all in his sacrificial death, he reveals God to us. On this day of Epiphany, let us thank God for making himself known to us in such a marvelous way. And let us renew our commitment to sharing this good news with the world.” Amen!