The Joy of the Epiphany

Isaiah 60: 1-6 – 1″Arise, shine, for your light has come,1and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.2See, 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 arm.  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.

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas – Epiphany.  In the song the 12th day of Christmas is the day you’re supposed to get 12 drummers drumming and the day we commonly remember the arrival of the three Wise Men in Bethlehem.

Matthew 2: 1 – 2 and 12 – The Visit of the Magi  After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east[b] 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 Christ[c] was to be born.5 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 be the shepherd of 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 make a careful search 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 in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.10When 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 and of incense and of myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

In Germany and a number of other countries, this is a big event. Children dress up as kings and travel from door to door–like we do on Halloween–only instead of collecting candy and treats for themselves, they collect for the poor, honoring the gifts the Magii brought to the Christ child. Some of our group are from Europe where those children go out in their costumes and actually celebrate the Epiphany. Very few of us in this USA and Canada even acknowledge the day, and I don’t think we realize what we are missing.

Well, the more you look into church history, the more you realize that we are missing a lot of things. In the early church, Epiphany was one of the biggest feast days–second only to Easter. The third great feast was Pentecost, another day that has drifted into religious backwaters – more about those festivities later this year.

Now Epiphany is, as some of you know and as I said above, the day the Wise Men came. And that is right–partially. The word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation.” So the Wise Men are celebrated on Epiphany because they represented the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles. But it used to be that Epiphany celebrated more than the Wise Men.

When Epiphany was a great church feast and still as it is recognized in many of the liturgical churches, it celebrated the revelation of Jesus in several ways – in his first miracle of changing water into wine at Cana – in the manifestation of His baptism where He was recognized as the Son of God, and, of course the Wise Mens visit. So, we have the Wise Men, Cana, and the Baptism lumped together to symbolize the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and this magnificent revelation was cause for great celebration.

That a baby was born in a manger was relatively unimportant, compared with the events that proved to the world who that baby was. Jesus and His power was confirmed by the signs He performed–like changing water into wine–by the voice of God and the dove at his baptism, and through the many heavenly signs that could be understood by the Gentiles. Those signs were God’s way of saying, “Hey, here He is. I have sent Him. Look here!” and Epiphany was the way the churches celebrated to acknowledge this and to let it be known that the world is now changed forever.

So why does it seem like there are never any eye opening events anymore, no more epiphanies? Well, I want to ask you one question. Are there no more epiphanies? Does God not reveal himself or create miracles anymore? If we think not, it may be that we are just no longer noticing or expecting it. We only think of God as doing these things way back when – during the days of the Old and New Testament – but not now – not in this 21st Century, two thousand years later. How sad.

As we all know, we can expect to get what we expect. We expect nothing and usually that is exactly what happens – nothing. The early church was full of excitement and expectation. These churches were ready and anticipated the second coming of Jesus at any time. The cried out for this and worshiped God waiting and wanting this to happen. They were focused on their faith and knew that persecution was right around the corner. They were ready and willing to die for their beliefs at any time.

Do you feel that sense of excitement? Most today have little or no excitement. We just go day to day in our human lives filled with work, boredom, and little else. Oh, we may, in some churches acknowledge that this day is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas; and we may discuss the three Wise Men and what and why they did what they did. Then it is time to come home and watch the Bowl game on television and our only epiphany may be when our team unexpectedly wins the game.

 

In the early church, the point of Epiphany was not to remember history but to be reminded that God appears miraculously to us in places and in ways that we don’t expect. If we keep remembering that God seems to thrive on unexpected appearances and if we keep expecting to see God everywhere we turn, we are not too likely to miss it when it happens again.

 

The wedding at Cana was crowded, but only a few were aware that Jesus had worked a miracle right there in front of their faces. They just were not paying attention, except to realize that there once again wine was available. They weren’t watching and missed an event that people have talked about for two thousand years. Bethlehem was so full of people that Mary and Joseph couldn’t even find a room to spend the night, yet very few realized the miracle that was happening right under their noses, – Just a few shepherds and some Wise Men.

 

If we want anything to “epiph” in our lives, we had better begin by expecting it and watching for it. Thursday evening in our Prayer Group we talked about the miracles in our lives that we often don’t even consider as anything special and sometimes don’t even realize til later. Every person in the group had a miracle, an epiphany to share. Some were large and magnificent eye openers but most were just a special daily event that was unexpected and brought wonderful results.

 

Think about a possible appointment or reservation you may have coming up this week. If we are not looking for it to happen, if we are not watching and preparing, it may pass us by or we may totally miss out on it by getting too sidetracked to be aware it is happening.  But, if we are vigilant and have made preparations for this event, totally prepared and ready for that door to open, we will be totally ready to meet the appointed time. Do we prepare for God to come? For that matter, have we even issued an invitation?

 

Do we embrace each day and ask God to show himself to us and those with whom we work and those we call friends and family? How many of us prepare for church on Sunday, fully expecting God to speak to us personally – in the liturgy, in the sermon, in the music. Do you really expect a personal encounter with God when you go to church or into our Bethel. Our Bethel is full of serenity, love, acceptance, and God over flows in each person and prayer and each piece of music played. He even frolics with the group when we lovingly have birthday parties and other celebrations. God is there.

 

Those of us who are expecting an epiphany, are open to an encounter with the deep spirituality of God, can tell you that those few who do expect such things find them.  If you are not expecting anything in your life to happen, something marvelous may pop up when you least expect it. You may not be available or too busy to take notice. If we don’t expect God to touch our hearts and are not open to it happening, not waiting at every turn and listening for every voice, and seeing in every word, we won’t have any idea of what is happening right in front of our eyes.

 

“If we’re looking, the signs of God’s presence are all around us, as much outside the church as inside. God is there in the trees and ocean and sky…in the deer and the geese and yes, the woodchucks. God is in the delivery room and the funeral home. God is in the face of the homeless man sleeping on the grate and in the face of the child who puts a dollar in his hat. God may just be sitting beside you in the pew or might call on the phone this afternoon.
We all meet God in different ways and at different times and places in our lives. The message of Epiphany is that the revelation of God is talking about more than a one-shot deal. It’s not that Jesus came once and that was that. No, there was Easter…that bright and glorious morning when God blew the lid off of everybody’s ideas about what God could and couldn’t be and do. Come Easter morning, all bets were off…the tomb was empty and God was on the loose. He appeared and disappeared out of rooms. He was now here on the beach having breakfast and now there walking with disciples who had no clue who they were talking to.” (Anne Robertson, Methodist Pastor)

 

The message of Epiphany is that God is not dead, dried out, and stuffed into your Bibles somewhere around the Psalms. God is alive and kicking and “epiphing here- there and everywhere waiting, waiting for us to see.

 

God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was with you this morning and is with you now. He was calling you in the wind and the calls of the eagles. He is in the Bethel waiting for us to worship Him and send prayers to Him.

 

If you want to experience a spiritual epiphany, your spirit must be willing and be open and loving. God is just waiting for that moment when your eyes are opened and you can see. Here is the place; there is the place. You just have to open your eyes and see that God is right here in our midst.

 

Open your eyes and heart and let God surprise you, “epiph” you, with all the wonders you can imagine. Expect it; wait for it with open arms.

 

Shhhh – – Listen! God is here. He will create a miracle, an epiphany for you. I know it is true. He has done it for me and He will do it for you. Be prepared. He is just waiting,

Amen

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