8th January 2017
The Lord will be your everlasting light and your God will be your glory. Isaiah 60.19
Invitation to Confession
The grace of God has dawned upon the world through our Saviour Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for us to purify a people as his own. Let us confess our sins.
Creator of the heavens,
who led the Magi by a star
to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us,
that we may find our journey's end
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Ist Reading Ephesians 3
God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Alleluia, alleluia. We have seen his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.
Gospel Matthew 2
The Magi visit the Messiah
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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.’
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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.5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
6 ‘“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.”’
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 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.’
9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Word Epiphany – to manifest or show
Epiphany as feast day celebrates revelation of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. In the western church, we celebrate the visit of the Magi. In the eastern church, today they commemorate the baptism of Christ, which we would normally celebrate today but which is moved to tomorrow.
Both are manifestations of Christ to the world. Magi were gentiles, to whom it had been revealed that the child Jesus would be born. The baptism of Jesus is a manifestation to the world that he is the Son of God.
Epiphany in popular culture means The Magi meet the Messiah. We are fascinated by the magic and mystery. Lead figures—astrologers from Orient (place of rising sun). Who or what are they—how do they fulfill ancient prophecy—what magic is strong enough to disturb Herod and all Jerusalem?
Symbols of Epiphany
3 Wise Men – Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar – 6th – 8th C origin – first religious figures to worship – 20XCXMXBX17
Christ bless this house
Star in the east – at its rising
Gold, frankincense and myrrh – Persian, Parthian or Arabian—gifts may have come from S Arabia.
· GOLD—precious metal, given to a King.
· FRANKINCENSE—gum or resin harvested from a tree—burnt to create fragrance used in worship—symbol of divinity—used for purification.
· MYRRH—also from Arabia—also obtained from a tree like incense—bitter herb used for embalming—symbolic of suffering, affliction and death.
Real interest of Epiphany—Magi, Baptism of Christ and all other revelations.
· Magi are gentiles—they recognize the Messiah from prophecy and signs in heavens—they realise who Christ is and his place in salvation—they interpret these signs to us as they did to Herod.
· They pay homage to Christ—their gifts are significant in their meaning
· Their origin in the place where light shines first points to Jesus the light of the world—and its association in the New Testament with salvation
· Their message is to all nations
Epiphany experience can be sudden or gradual.
· Sudden—Best known conversion experience was Saul—dramatic encounter—bright light and voice of Jesus. Paul emerges from blindness a convert to new faith.
· Gradual—John Newton, slave trader born 1725 wrote Amazing Grace—his conversion experience sounds sudden, but in fact it was gradual over a period of years:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
So, the conversion experience need not be at one fixed point in time, as some would have us believe.
Take disciples for example: at what point did they convert from Judaism to Christianity? After resurrection, they were still fearful and joyful in equal measure.
Church dates their conversion to Pentecost when disciples receive Holy Spirit. But this was in effect ‘done to them’ rather than being a choice freely made.
There are hints in stories: repent and baptised John the Baptist—follow me call of Jesus—And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit John 20:22
In early church—Christians were marked by difference. Their beliefs and practices no longer fitted in with synagogue or pagan temples. So they met in own homes, or in meeting rooms.
Conversion took many forms – but it was a leaving of one faith (or none) and an acceptance of another. Did not necessarily mean baptism—Constantine not baptised until on death bed.
Christianity is a faith of relationship with God through Jesus Christ—not a faith of action. God does not tick boxes. We are not judged by whether we can say the Creed.
Epiphany does mark a defining moment, however, whether this is at a point in time, or as we have seen, through a long period of slowly dawning realisation.
True conversion is not to a programme, a set of beliefs or a creed. True conversion is towards a person, namely Jesus Christ. It is a new encounter with Jesus – as Paul on the road to Damascus would testify.
That is the message of Epiphany, to all people, whether sudden or realised. In Matthew’s gospel the Magi in chapter 2 lead to the Great Commission at the end.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’