Posts Tagged ‘epiphany’

Epiphany

January 1, 2017

There may be nothing left to say about this Gospel Lesson.

There is a king – Herod – afraid that his kingdom will come crashing down around him.  There is a kingdom – Judea – full of people who are afraid of this king, and not eager to attract his attention.

There are the real rulers – the Romans – who take the king’s part,

but care little for the local insecurities.  And there are these strangers – magi – who wander into town with alarming news.

A king has come, they tell anyone who will listen – and we need to find this king and pay our respects – this to Herod, who is pretty sure that he is the king (and more sure that he is not ready to give up the job) –

but you’ve heard all this before!

This is just as familiar as the Christmas story, yet somehow less exciting – this is the let-down festival, the time between – Epiphany, it is called, and you couldn’t care less.  And why should you?

What difference does it make to us that these hapless travellers,

following signs in the sky, come to the seat of power in Jerusalem and declare – to the current regional dictator –  that his time is up, and a King is born?  What difference that they are so persistent in their search – so genuine in their gratitude and so willing in their worship ?

Think of the stories that have evolved around this tiny fragment of the story of Christ – what difference does it really make in our approach to our faith?

Well, it makes all the difference in the world, actually.

In this little corner of the Gospel according to St Matthew,

a pattern is set for our continuing encounters with the power and presence of God.  Here, the manner and substance of the Incarnation are given life – God is shown to be already present, yet ignored by the nearest of neighbours.  Here, evangelism finds its purest form – not the fanatical raving of a charismatic white-guy, alone on a stage with a wireless microphone and an inflated sense of drama – but in the sharing of a story so unbelievable that it just might be true.

Beyond the fantastical stories of Jesus birth – most of which were given their final form after Christ was safely Risen and Ascended –

this is the first hint that there is a new power in town –

Here, “Epiphany” Happens!

An epiphany is a realization that an event or an idea (or, in this case, an individual) has special significance; Holy significance.  And these star-chasers are completely convinced – outsiders though they may be – that the event of THIS BIRTH has cosmic implications; Holy implications.  Our tradition has turned these mysterious visitors into kings themselves – we give them credibility in the form of royalty after the fact – super stars of the star-gazing set – but the real honours are all God-given.

They were touched by a vision, and followed it.  They saw and believed and offered worship.  They vanish from the story as quickly as they came, but we continue to tell the story because of them.

Our ideas of “evangelism” start with these outsiders, full of visions and dreams – who dared to tell a king that they sought someone higher.

Our experience of the holy comes, not because someone of privilege gave us access, but because someone, in faith, took a difficult journey

and discovered the truth of an Ancient promise.  Our epiphany happens when we explore the ordinary corners of Scripture

and find a story that speaks to us and opens us to the possibility

that God can indeed be known even in our ordinary circumstances,

or through such “human” means as this child we will call Christ.

So here, on the wrong side of our favourite holiday, we have a choice to make.  We can follow our worst instincts and wait for the better parts of the story to return and refresh us (at Easter, and especially next Christmas) – and we can grow tired and cynical,

and hoard our time, energy and talent  waiting for something meaningful to find us – and we can resist real change in our ideas and attitudes, because such things cause uncertainty in our otherwise-well-ordered universe…or we can follow the example of these exotic strangers from Matthew’s gospel, and consider that God continues to work wonders among us.

We might become curious about the signs God has given us – we may decide to engage the world through our faith, rather than placing our faith in the world.  We can choose to speak the truth (in love) to those in power (at our peril, of course) about the nature of real power such as we find revealed in God through Christ. We should seek signs of God’s grace, and offer gifts and worship in unlikely places,

and we can let these encounters change us in ways we cannot imagine.  AmenEpiphany

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Epiphany, 2016.

January 3, 2016

First:  Why is everyone asking the same question?  The Wise men (of indeterminate number, but bearing three significant gifts) have read the signs of some great cosmic event.  The follow the signs to the seat of power in Judea, and ask the only question that matters to them – ‘Where is he?  Where is the one born king of the Jews?  We know that this thing has happened – we can see the signs – we need only one more bit of information, so that we can honour him.’  The question they ask of Herod is appropriate, really.  They’re not from around here – can’t be expected to know all the details, the local gossip – the birthing customs of Jewish royalty.  It is a sensible question when posed by the Magi.  The same question becomes sinister in Herod’s mouth.

He leaves the meeting – he calls the experts – the scribes, the priests – and asks the same question: Where is he?  But Herod’s question has a different motive; his desire is to keep this potential rival…potential.  He’s a clever operator, is Herod – knows how to get information – how to keep up appearances.  Find him for me.  Send me word so I, too can worship him…

No one believes that Herod wants to fall down at the feet of his replacement.  The Eastern visitors ignore his request and return home by another way, so they weren’t fooled.  Herod knows a threat when he hears one, and the news that an ancient prophecy has been fulfilled is, in this case, a threat.  So why is he asking the question?

Someone with ambitions to power should know where the threats to that power may come from, don’t you think?  A man in Herod’s position should be better informed – certainly, he should have paid closer attention to his early religious training…because Herod was a Jew.  Not a very observant Jew, but most scholars believe that he identified himself as Jewish.  King of the Jews was HIS title – bestowed on him by the Roman Senate after his successful campaign to conquer Jerusalem as a leader of the Roman force.  So any suggestion that there was a new king on the way…Herod should have put the pieces together.

In a time when people of every culture – and nearly every level of society; the rich and poor; those with education and those without; lawyers, farmers, midwives and politicians – EVERYONE knew that heavenly events or any alterations in the natural order of things were signs from the gods.

The world worked at a level of divine mystery – and that mystery was tangible.  Omens, rituals, wive’s tales, proverbs – all these tried to explain the inexplicable workings of the universe.  The Magi had read the heavens, and concluded that change was in the air.  They were so sure, they sought an audience with the ‘King of Judea’, to ask where the next king had been born.  That takes more than nerve – it takes a degree of religious certainty.  Not that these men had any stake in the religious politics of the Jewish people, but their faith assured them that this birth had happened, and they wanted to mark the specialness of the event with worship.  The signs were there to be read; so how did Herod miss the signs?

There may be a simple explanation, but the answer to that question doesn’t concern me.  I read this passage from Matthew’s gospel as a follower of Jesus, and Herod’s motives don’t really matter.  The cultural background of the wise men matters even less.  I am led to wonder if we are, in our own time and place, as ignorant as Herod, for we too have, for the most part, missed the signs.

No new stars, not the last time I checked.  No virgin birth, nor shepherds reporting a heavenly visitation, but we are missing the signs of God-with-us every day.  Christians we may be, but not very observant.  For we hear that ‘Christ is born’, or that ‘Christ is Risen’, and we acknowledge this news as historical event or deeply rooted religious mythology, or something beyond our comprehension – or perhaps all three – but we don’t always make best use of that news.  We have a history with the story of Christ’s birth and death and resurrection, but we are guilty of treating that story as part of our cultural entitlement.  We find ourselves deeply rooted in the ‘Christian story’, but we’ve lost touch with the sense of wonder that brought complete strangers – foreigners with different belief systems – to the feet of the king of kings.

The word epiphany, when not describing the several weeks of the Christian year between Christmas and Lent, can describe a sudden clear burst of understanding (“I’ve had an epiphany!”).  It is that moment when one suddenly sees a thing as it really is, and in our case it describes the moment when folks from beyond the Jewish tradition recognized a work of God in their midst.  So, is that was Christmas has done for us?  Have we been led, once more, to a moment of clear understanding – a recognition that God is among us?

The signs are all there – we’ve listened to the prophets, waited on the angels, marvelled at the shepherd’s news and perhaps even worshipped at the manger.  So what happens next?  Herod’s reaction was predictable – perhaps he had been paying attention after all – because the coming of Messiah meant liberation for the people whom Herod ruled by fear and force.  And that is the King whom we greet; the light in the darkness, the redeemer long promised – Jesus brings freedom from every sort of tyranny, and liberation for all who are oppressed. A very different political landscape.

Herod knew it, and despaired.  The Magi recognized it, and defied the orders of ‘the king’.  Can we accept that Jesus would also change the way we view the world?  He will, by his life, death and resurrection reveal to us where the real power is.  He can restore in us a sense of wonder at the workings of the natural world.  He insists that justice, mercy and love are the keys to the kingdom that he represents – a kingdom with its foundation in God, with boundaries that span the universe.

Praise God that we haven’t missed all the signs – we are gathered; we have worshipped; we have welcomed our new-born King. Christ comes as both a representative of that kingdom, and it’s one true authority – so say our creeds.  And we are charged with sharing our knowledge of this great event – this great work of God – that confronts us in the infant King.  You see, recognition – epiphany – is only the first step.  More important is how we react to the truth we have discovered.  God is with us – the signs are all around us – The world is crying for change,  and in Christ, God brings the promise of renewal – redemption – radical change.  So the real question is this:  Are we ready?

Amen.

Worship works

January 3, 2015

Each of the four gospels offer a different perspective of important moments in Jesus’ life. Together they help us paint a more comprehensive picture of who Jesus was and why his story is so important. Luke spends more time than the others on Jesus childhood. In this gospel, we have two examples – found no where else- that point to Jesus as a very remarkable young person. One is the familiar story of a return to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve – separated from his parents, only to be discovered “in his father’s house”, where he confounded, not only his parents, but the teachers and leaders in the temple. The other instance greets us this morning – Jesus presented (according to the tradition of Moses) as the first male child of the marriage; dedicated to God, redeemed with the proper sacrifice. This otherwise ordinary occurrence draws the attention of two separate but similar people.
Simeon and Anna are related only by their devotion to God. Luke’s gospel presents them as elderly, expectant, and faithful to a fault. Anna has spent the majority of her considerable widowhood in an attitude of ‘fasting and prayer’, and Simeon is described as “righteous and devout”, a man guided by the Spirit of God. Together they represent all that is good and hopeful and positive about the long-suffering people of God. For all they are advanced in years, their hope is fresh, their devotion is honest, and their hearts are open to the mystery that is God’s intervention. So their chance encounter with Jesus, Mary and Joseph leaves quite an impression.
It is a chance encounter – it would not have been unusual for couples to present their male children in this manner, according to the law. There may have been a particular day or time for such a sacrifice – and as habitual worshippers, Simeon and Anna would have seen countless infants come and go. What is it about Jesus that stirs Simeon to speak? What changes that Anna cannot contain her praise? The Spirit led them, says the gospel, and we are left to consider what that might mean, both for them and especially for us.
It is significant that these particular moments of revelation are given to people whose lives were dedicated to one thing. Worship is the activity that unites Simeon and Anna; Worship is what allows them to discern the power of God in a powerless child. Worship is the path to an encounter with God, no matter what your friends may tell you.  You know the ones I mean – those ‘spiritual but not religious’ folks who choose to worship on the golf course or at the beach (etc, etc). these voices are no longer in the minority. their opinions have influenced our approach to things that used to seem simple (and unassailable). Even as the Christmas season fades from view, it is difficult to dismiss the feeling that there are still some conflicted opinions regarding how we might capture (or how to best describe) “the true meaning of Christmas”…
A season of peace and goodwill? Certainly! An opportunity to remember the love of God made flesh? Absolutely! And how best might we honour that meaning, and avail ourselves of that love? here is where the opinions differ. Convinced as we are by the “spiritual but not religious” argument, we hang our hopes on family gatherings with extravagant meals and lavish gifts. We try to make new traditions meaningful, and look for ways to tell the Christmas story in new ways. Worship becomes an afterthought.
Yes, I know – we had a wide range of ‘services’ between December 21st and Dec 31st. People attended church (for a wide variety of reasons, to be sure) but is there worship in all of this? I am, I confess, chastised by this morning’s gospel lesson. The example of Anna and Simeon – two people who worship in the firm belief that they will see God at work; that they will be guided by the spirit to see remarkable things. Their hope is unquenchable
It is always my intent to provide an atmosphere that encourages that sort of hope. I fail more often than I succeed, – and at Christmas, most often – for at Christmas, our collective expectation defeats our best intentions. But now we find ourselves in a new liturgical season, and so I claim a fresh start. Epiphany is a time for the redemption of our expectations and the rebirth of our hope. For in this season, the secret of God’s great gift is left loose upon the wider world. Wise men, and prophet women and patient, old holy men – all these are given a gift that they did not expect. Simeon and Anna (and the magi, in their turn) teach us the wisdom of persistent, expectant worship. Those who long to see God will see God. Those who look forward to the consolation of Israel (indeed, of all God’s people) will not be disappointed. Not because their worship makes them worthy, or somehow more deserving, but because worship (as a habit) prepares the senses to recognize a work of God when he happens along in his mothers arms.
It is this spirit, I think, that gave the authors of the Westminster Catechism the justification for their first (and greatest) question; What is our chief and highest purpose?  The answer, of course, is to glorify God, and enjoy God forever. And it is through our worship that we pursue this purpose – in season and out – that one day we too might catch a glimpse of God who is constantly revealing new hope to us and new life for us. Thanks be to God, that as we celebrate God’s revelation to the world in Jesus, our hope is renewed and the promise of new life is once again made fresh and real for us. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

Epiphany, 2013 – “Tell me the old, old, OLD, story…”

January 5, 2013

There may be nothing left to say about this Gospel Lesson.

There is a king – Herod –

afraid that his kingdom will come crashing down around him.

There is a kingdom – Judea – full of people who are afraid of this king,

and not eager to attract his attention.

There are the real rulers – the Romans –

who take the king’s part,

but care little for the local insecurities.

And there are these strangers – magi –

who wander into town with alarming news.

A king has come, they tell anyone who will listen –

And we need to find this king and pay our respects –

this to Herod, who is pretty sure that he is the king

(and more sure that he is not ready to give up the job) –

but you’ve heard all this before!

This is just as familiar as the Christmas story, yet somehow less exciting –

this is the let-down festival, the time between –

Epiphany, it is called, and you couldn’t care less.

And why should you?

What difference does it make to us that these hapless travellers,

following signs in the sky, come to the seat of power in Jerusalem and declare –

to the current regional dictator –  that his time is up, and a King is born?

What difference that they are so persistent in their search –

so genuine in their gratitude and so willing in their worship ?

We are determined to expose the mythical elements of the story –

there were three gifts, but how many givers?

Think of the stories that have evolved around this tiny fragment of the story of Christ –

what difference does it really make in our approach to our faith?

Well, it makes all the difference in the world, actually.

In this little corner of the Gospel according to St Matthew,

a pattern is set for our continuing encounters with the power and presence of God

Here, the manner and substance of the Incarnation are given life –

God is shown to be already present, yet ignored by the nearest of neighbours.

Here, evangelism finds its purest form –

not the fanatical raving of a charismatic white-guy

alone on a stage with a wireless microphone and an inflated sense of drama –

but the sharing of a story so unbelievable that it just might be true.

Beyond the fantastical stories of Jesus birth –

most of which were given their final form after Christ was safely Risen and Ascended –

this is the first hint that there is a new power in town –

Here, “Epiphany” Happens!

An epiphany is a realization that an event or an idea

(or, in this case, an individual)

has special significance; Holy significance.

And these star-chasers are completely convinced –

foreigners though they may be –

that the event of THIS BIRTH has cosmic implications; Holy implications.

Our tradition has turned these mysterious visitors into kings themselves –

we give them credibility in the form of royalty after the fact – super stars of the star-gazing set –

but the real honours are all God-given.

They were touched by a vision, and followed it.

They saw and believed and offered worship.

They vanish from the story as quickly as they came,

But we continue to tell the story because of them.

Our ideas of “evangelism” start with these outsiders, full of visions and dreams

Who dared to tell the king they sought someone higher.

Our experience of the holy comes, not because someone of privilege gave us access,

but because someone, in faith, took a difficult journey

and discovered the truth of an Ancient promise.

Our epiphany happens when we explore the ordinary corners of Scripture

And find a story that speaks to us and opens us to the possibility

that God can indeed be known even in our ordinary circumstances,

or through such “human” means as this child we will call Christ.

So here, on the wrong side of our favourite holiday,

we have a choice to make.

We can follow our worst instincts

and wait for the better parts of the story to return and refresh us

(at Easter, and especially next Christmas) –

and we can grow tired and cynical,

and hoard our time, energy and talent  waiting for something meaningful to find us –

and we can resist real change in our ideas and attitudes,

because such things cause uncertainty in our otherwise-well-ordered universe…

…or we can follow the example of these exotic strangers from Matthew’s gospel,

and consider that God continues to work wonders among us.

We might become curious about the signs God has given us –

we may decide to engage the world through our faith,

rather than placing our faith in the world.

We can choose to speak the truth (in love) to those in power (at our peril, of course)

about the nature of real power such as we find revealed in God through Christ.

We should seek signs of God’s grace, and offer gifts and worship in unlikely places,

and we can let these encounters change us in ways we cannot imagine.  Amen