Epiphany! – Pastor Donna Doutt – January 6, 2019
Oh, how we pastor’s love it when the lectionary readings tie one into the other. Our weekly lectionary suggested readings consist of an Old Testament scripture, a Psalm, a Gospel reading (that’s Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and an Epistle lesson. Most often a lesson is preached on one of those four scriptures, but this week’s readings from the Old Testament and the Gospel, tie themselves together.
The last few times I preached, we talked about the prophets. Our prophet this week is Isaiah of Jerusalem. Isaiah has a vision that he steps into heaven. There he sees God surrounded by angels. God asks, “Whom should I send as a messenger to the people?” And Isaiah answers, “Here I am. Send me.”
But then, like many of the other prophets, Isaiah tells the Jewish people that invaders will overrun the nations of Israel and Judah. Most of the Jews lucky enough to survive the carnage will be held as captives in foreign lands.
God is carrying out the punishment written into his original contract with the Jews. He said he would bless them for obedience, but he would punish them for their persistent sin. We saw this over and over in Old Testament scriptures. Israel will no longer exist.But Isaiah’s message isn’t all doom and gloom. God will bring the Jewish survivors home to start anew, and He will send a messiah from King David’s family to set up a kingdom more wonderful that the Jews could ever imagine. He predicts:
“Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” “All those people returning…for the reunion, a rich harvest of exiles gathered in from the nations! And then streams of camel caravans as far as the eye can see,v young camels of nomads…,Pouring in from the south from Sheba,
loaded with gold and frankincense, preaching the praises of God.” (The Message)
Just four more verses ahead in Isaiah 60:10, we read, “Though I have destroyed you in my anger, I will now have mercy on you through my grace.” Praise God! The Jews have received another reprieve, one of many by our awesome Father God.
I have to wonder if Isaiah really understands the depth of this prophesy? He prophesies a king is coming, but did he know the king would be in the form of a baby? Many thought the messiah would be a warrior soldier. But an infant? Who knew?
Where else do we hear of many people coming together to praise and honor and bring gifts? Yes, we’re hearing this in our Isaiah scripture today, “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” But we’re also hearing it as we continue the narrative of the birth from the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew picks up where the Jewish Bible leaves off. He cites 57 total promises and prophesies that God will send a Messiah to fix Israel’s problems and bring peace and joy to the people.
Matthew and the other Gospels, all telling the same story from a different point of view, working hard to convince readers that Jesus is the Messiah. Why? Remember what I just said about Isaiah’s prophecies? The Jews were looking for a warrior, but they got a pacifist. They were anticipating a new kingdom of Israel, but they got a spiritual kingdom of God instead. And to their surprise, ultimately that kingdom of God was not reserved only for Jews but also the Gentiles as well. And that’s really where our epiphany story begins.
Our Isaiah scripture tells us about the multitudes coming and bringing gold and frankincense. Barbara Brown Taylor writes in “Feasting on the Word”, that today’s text from Matthew, “Offers a rare opportunity to rescue the magi from their fixed places in the annual Christmas pageant and restore them to their biblical roles as key witness to both the threat and promise of the Christ child.”
So let’s take a minute to look at these wise men, the magi, as we know them. After viewing our children’s video last week, one of the mothers from Faith on 68 asked, “How do we know there were really THREE wise men?” Well, truthfully…we don’t. Scholars suggest that the idea that there were three magi comes from the recording of the three gifts brought to the newborn king….gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This is how they worshipped him, by the giving of their gifts. Their precious gifts. Unlike our kid video last week, that showed the three wise men bringing toys, milk and diapers, which are important, but what is more important is that they were bringing gifts of value to honor the king.
And here’s the thing….as many times as you heard the story of the magi, did it ever occur to you that they were not Jews? As a person in the pew, I never gave it much thought. Well, they weren’t Jews. They were Iraqis who lived more than a thousand miles away. Of course they knew of the Jewish religion, but they were Gentiles themselves. It’s an “EPIPHANY!”
Psychology Today says,  “Today "epiphany" carries a range of meanings, including "an intuitive grasp of reality," "an illuminating discovery, realization, disclosure, or insight," or simply "a revealing scene or moment." A definition of an epiphany is "a moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes you in some way."
As Chuck explained earlier in our video we showed…this is the moment…the AHA! moment when Christ is revealed to the Gentiles, and those Gentiles are our three wise men who have followed the heavenly lights to this special place where the king is waiting to take on the world.
Kendra Hotz, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Rhodes College, writes about this revelation to the magi, that this epiphany…this moment of sudden revelation that changes us in some way, is “the moment when Christ is revealed to the Gentiles, is that Jesus Christ is the very love of God incarnate (God in human form), and that love cannot be confined to ethnic or national identity; it cannot be restricted by gender or claimed only by the powerful and privileged. Jesus Christ, as the new king of Israel, is in fact, Jesus Christ the sovereign ruler over all the earth.”
The journey of these magi to Bethlehem makes clear that God is welcoming everyone into His kingdom. And in case the world didn’t get it with this miraculous event and epiphany, we see it played out again with John the Baptist encounter with Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It is hard for me to imagine, but John did not even know that Jesus was the promised Messiah until he baptized Him. In John 1:29-34 we read, “On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining, this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God.” IT’S AN EPIPHANY!
How about the Transfiguration moment? In the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and Peter, the Transfiguration is an epiphany moment, one where human nature meets God. In these accounts, Jesus and three of his apostles, Peter, James, and John, go to pray. On the mountain, Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light. Then the prophets Moses and Elijah appear next to him and he speaks with them. Jesus is then called “Son” by a voice from above, just as it happened during the baptism of Jesus. Here we have Jesus exposed as the bridge between heaven and earth. IT’S AN EPIPHANY!
With each of these epiphanies, Jesus’ ministry in the world grew. As Isaiah predicted in his scripture, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” And so our magi too…after experiencing the presence of the new king, returned to their homes and took the news of the shining light with them, so too, should we.
Where were you when you had your epiphany? Isaiah saw the light. The magi saw the light. They were blessed to know our savior Jesus Christ, and recognize Him as the light of God.
Isaiah cries out, “Arise! Shine!” We are commanded to be the light of God to the world. Not only Jews or Gentiles, but all people everywhere.
This is the first Sunday in 2019. The year 2018 is now part of history. Lots of bad things happened in 2018, but lots of good things too. The things that happened last year can’t be changed. There are events that we wish would have turned out differently. There were times when our behavior left much to be desired. Things happened in the world that we could not have predicted. Things happened in our personal lives that we would never have guessed would happen at the beginning of last year.
So we look at this upcoming year and the same holds true. But whatever this year brings, the challenge for us is to look for the light of Christ shining in our lives. And that’s hardest to see when things don’t seem to be working out or going our way.
Look for the light of Christ, recognize it and be guided by it. Be prepared, like these magi, to give gifts of time and commitment to worship, your spiritual life, and this church.
In Jesus Christ, God‘s love means that all are invited to worship Him. Can you bring an epiphany into the life of another? Can your generosity of spirit and welcome and comfort bring an epiphany that your joy comes from knowing Christ as your savior? Can you “Arise and Shine” and bring the light of the world into someone else’s darkness?
My prayer for you as we end this time together and go out into the world this week is that it will be so.
Let us pray:
Our glorious Father, Grace us with hospitality to open our hearts and homes and the doors of this church to visitors and that we become your light to them.
 Stephen M. Miller, The Complete Guide to the Bible, (Barbour Publishing: Uhrichsville, OH), 301
 Kendra Holtz, Feasting on the Word Advent Companion, (John Knox Press: Louiseville, 2014), 198