Sunday, 7 January 2018

God’s marvellous plan–for the Gentiles and for us…

Wingrave – Epiphany – 7 January 2018

Ephesians 3:1—12

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.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia.

Christ was revealed in flesh, proclaimed among the nations

and believed in throughout the world.

All   Alleluia.

Gospel Matthew 2:1—12

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.

Sermon

Epiphany is a ‘manifestation.’ The Greek word literally means an ‘appearance.’ The feast day falls on 6th January, but is normally transferred to the first Sunday after New Year’s Day.

What is being manifested at Epiphany? It depends who you are. For Christians, God’s glory is revealed to all people in the birth of Jesus Christ, incarnate in the world.

Children focus on the story of the Kings and the significance of the gifts they bring. They seem to love the mystical exotic flavour. Pub quizzers polish up their answers to the questions: “How many magi were there?” and “What were their names?” For the church, Epiphany joins the other major festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost which together signify God’s revelation of salvation for all people through his Son.

Technically God’s self-revelation is known as a theophany—like the Transfiguration, the Annunciation to Mary, Moses and the burning bush, Mount Sinai, and of course Jesus himself. God’s presence extends from lowest to highest: from the uneducated shepherds in the fields, to the priestly caste of Zoroastrians, who paid close attention to the conjunction of the stars, had an international reputation for astrology, and were honoured by Herod.

God’s glory reaches all people regardless of faith. The Wise men from East—are different in faith and background—yet God reaches out to them, and through them to the world. Birth of Jesus—was inauspicious—in a manger in Bethlehem—yet this birth was revealed through the stars to men of great learning. Only those in the know could interpret the announcement. It was persuasive enough to overrule the degradation of the event, as far as the Magi were concerned.

Through unlikely and mysterious, almost magical means, God’s revelation grows and reaches out. Jesus touches untouchables—eats with sinners—heals the sick—mixes with those who suffered disabilities—brought dead back to life—and was lifted up on the cross. All this demonstrates that no one is beyond God’s embrace.

The Magi spent months studying the star charts, and followed their leading over a long and dangerous journey. Herod had access to the same knowledge through his own advisors—yet failed to see God’s presence and glory and was not brought within God’s embrace. He was threatened by it. He was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.

The lesson of the Magi might well be to reinforce the fact God moves in a mysterious way. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians did not boast of his decision to be baptized, or to become the foremost evangelist of all time, personally choosing to face danger in order to found and nurture fledgling churches around the Mediterranean. No, Paul boasted that it was God’s plan for his life, and he merely responded to the call through God’s grace. Paul rejoiced at the call, and ascribed to got whatever success he had as an evangelist and minister.

As he said in our reading from Ephesians:

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.

What is our response to Epiphany? Are we like Herod—blind to the signs—blinkered to our part in furthering the gospel—not heeding the likes of the Magi as unconventional, and the shepherds as unfit for our society?

Or can we do our part in fostering a new openness? Can we allow God’s embrace to expand once more in our day and time, despite falling attendance at church and an ageing congregation? Will we leave the work to others, and look for God’s glory only in comfortable areas we understand—like Herod, frightened and threatened by what we find?

A new revelation—a new year—a new resolution. Paul uses the language of service and submission to God’s call. May we this Epiphany heed and hear God’s call for us—and submit to his plan for our lives through grace. Amen