Jan. 1 and 2, 2011, Year A, Epiphany Sunday: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7,10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12 , Matthew 2:1-12
(Listen to the sermon online by clicking here:
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; come let us adore Him. . .”
I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Happy New Year! Have you all spent the prescribed time contemplating the year past and have your resolutions ready to put into action? I hope the Christmas season has brought much joy into your lives and renewed faith, hope and love to your souls! We’re celebrating Feast of the Epiphany today, the culmination of the Christmas season and the beginning of an ongoing season of light in the Church calendar.
But before we leave Christmas let’s take a minute or so together in reflection – what was the most beautiful thing you experienced this Christmas? Maybe it was something you heard – like some beautiful music that struck a special chord in your heart . . . Or maybe something you saw in nature – a sunset on the gulf, – a sunrise in the mist – a star in the night sky Or maybe lights – candles at the Christmas eve mass or lights on the tree – or the sunlight drawing out the vibrant color of a flower . . . Maybe it was something you smelled . . . Christmas dinner cooking perhaps . . . or something you tasted . . . wine, cheese, eggnog, cookies. Perhaps you experienced something in your work . . . things suddenly coming together . . . or an unexpected new opportunity . . . Maybe there was a special moment of connection in a human relationship – a meaningful look into the eyes of someone you love – quiet moments together in silence – the sparkle in a child’s eye – a soft, unexpected snuggle with someone dear . . . Or maybe at some point you experienced an unexplained general sense of happiness and wellbeing rising up from within . . . Whatever that special experience was for you – hold it for a moment in your mind . . .
What does this beauty do to you? Does it fulfill you somehow, warm you inside, enliven you, strengthen you. It’s awesome because you didn’t make it happen . . . it just happened to you . . . pure gift. And what does this beauty draw out of you? Gratitude? A sense of wonder . . . peace … love?
This is how Christmas leads into Epiphany. If we think of Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ, we might think of Epiphany as the birth of Christianity, the Church – when all the kings and people of the earth come together to worship Jesus Christ – when the Kingdom of heaven is opened to ALL believers.
Epiphany is an unexpected, glorious unveiling of the presence and power of God – it’s God crossing the threshold into our time, our space – even becoming one of us – the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. In epiphany experiences we come very surely, but very mysteriously close to God – or, more to the point, He reveals Himelf very close to us.
Turning now to practical questions: Just how do epiphanies happen? How does God reveal himself? How does he break into the earthly sphere to capture our attention? How does the God of mystery communicate with us? For starters I would suggest these five channels of divine communication.
1) God reveals himself to us is through our intuition – divine internal nudging or urging. How often do you hear people talk about responding to their intuition – a hunch? The great Anglican theologian – now a saint in the Roman Catholic Church – John Henry Newman called it the voice of conscience – experienced in relationship with the Divine Other as a voice from outside ourselves – the voice of God whispered into the ear of our hearts.
2) God reveals himself to us is through Creation – through Nature. By extension He appeals to our creative natures – a reflection of His own Creative power in our human nature. He speaks to us through music, art, and poetry.
3) God reveals himself to us is through other people – in our relationships with others – in the actions of love and compassion which arise in us reflecting God’s love and compassion.
4) God reveals himself to us is in the sacraments – the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace – through cleansing and rebirth in baptism – through union and communion in the Eucharist. In the Eucharistic feast, the most holy of revelations, the giving of ourselves in adoration and praise can be our only response.
5) God reveals himself to us through Holy Scripture. In the gospel story, the magi were lead as far as Jerusalem by the star – but it was scripture – the words of the prophet recorded in scripture – that fined tuned the rest of their journey –pointed them on to Bethlehem. The bible is God’s direct and inspired Word, it speaks through our minds and imaginations to our hearts. As Christians we know the power of the written word – the Book of Common Prayer tells us that this book – the bible – contains everything necessary for our salvation.
We all have our own personal epiphany stories. Our personal epiphanies reveal Jesus Christ as our personal redeemer, our personal savior. He loves and cares for us and personally seeks us out. When we “find and are found by Him” our natural response is awe and wonder – and the gift of ourselves in continuous, ongoing adoration and praise. I hope you will share your stories with each other. It is in sharing that we celebrate, we remember, we relive our personal knowledge of our Lord. Retelling the story is how we bring God’s past action in our lives into the present.
I would like to tell you the story of how Jesus once spoke very directly and powerfully to me – leaving me with the sense that something very important and powerful was happening. I can see this better in retrospect. I remember vividly the sense of awe and wonder.
This epiphany moment came at a very difficult and confusing point in my life – as epiphanies often do. I had no focused commitment to God or the church, and I was facing the very definite probability that my husband Dave – the absolute center of my life – was going to die. I found myself completely unable to accept this – even as I saw him lying unresponsive in a hospital bed.
For some reason – some unexplainable reason – a friend appeared in the hospital room. He had driven down from Washington D.C. as soon as he heard Dave was in serious trouble. He sat with me for hours in the hospital – and after extended conversations – on his suggestion – I started reading the bible again. I hadn’t picked up a bible in years.
There was one particular passage that I kept coming back to – or it kept coming back to me. Even though I didn’t know at that point what was in it for me, I wrote these verses down on a piece of paper and started carrying them around with me in my pocket. I’d pull it the paper out and read it from time to time while I was sitting by Dave’s bed.
The days turned into weeks. Dave was not responding to the treatment. The internal chaos and pain for me kept growing – I felt like I was forced into a corner with no way to escape – I could not accept what the future held.
Squeezed tighter and tighter into that corner I pulled that piece of paper out of my pocket again – and this time the Word broke through my resistance:
Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Suddenly I knew Dave would die – and yet an incredible, unexplainable peace surrounded me, filled me – and I knew I would never be alone. Light filled the darkness – Jesus filled my heart. My life was changed – and my life still continues to unfold because of this epiphany experience. . .
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. (2 Cor. 5:17) Amen.