The Feast of the Epiphany

The Feast of Epiphany
January 6, 2019
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Lessons: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7,10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12.

From the Gospel according to Matthew: “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by anotherroad.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     My thanks to our Three Wise Men: John, Hank and Keith for adding a dramatic touch to today’s celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. And celebrate we should! For the Epiphany affirms that the little child born in a lowly manager is none other than the promised Messiah. We celebrate that, in and through this child, God has faithfully fulfilled God’s promise of redemption for all. We understand now what Paul spoke about in today’s reading from Ephesians: That which was a mystery to our forebears – those prophets and people of faith in past generations – now by God’s grace (and God’s grace alone) has been revealed. And it has been revealed to both Jew and Gentile alike: Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the promised Son of God, the Light of the entire World. He is the one who will lead us back into a right relationship with God and with each other. The Epiphany, this realization of the divine identity of the child at Bethlehem, is an incredible moment in human history. A moment Isaiah proclaimed would cause people of faith to shout, “Arise! Shine! For (our) light has come!” And that light has come not just for us but with a purpose: Isaiah said that the Christ’s light will shine so brightly in the hearts and minds of God’s people and become such a part of who we are and how we live, that entire nations and Kings “will come to the brightness of your dawn.” The arrival of the three Wise men, this Feast of the Epiphany, is a day of revelation for the mystery of the Incarnation is solved; the unfolding story of Christmas that began twelve days ago, is finally complete: God with us, Immanuel, is among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ.

     And so, it is customary on the Feast of the Epiphany to add the Three wise men to our manger scenes and together with them and with Mary and Joseph, and the Shepherds, sheep, oxen and more, kneel in adoration before him whom St. John described as the “Word made flesh and who dwelt among us.” Our manger scenes now take on an idyllic aura of peace and tranquility. And therein lies the dilemma of our celebrations these past twelve days. See, with all the merry-making, gift-giving, feasting, and rosy-cheeked Santas displayed on front lawns and in department stores, it is easy to forget that the first Christmas took place in the midst of darkness, fear and evil: the darkness of oppression by the Roman Empire that had overrun the country, and the evil fear-filled scheming of King Herod.

     History describes Herod as the “puppet king.” He ruled solely at the whim of Rome and his dynasty was tenuous at best. So, when Herod hears that a newking is born, he is afraid. Now, fear is an interesting emotion. It can drive us to action or inaction. Either we draw inward and avoid facing the world, or we get up and do something about it. And Herod did do something. Matthew says Herod was so afraid of losing his power that he sought to hunt down the infant Jesus. And when he couldn’t find him, he killed allthe male children and did so indiscriminately hoping that Jesus would be among the dead. Matthew reminds us that fear and the thirst for power is a volatile mix. How often throughout human history have countless innocent lives been lost because of someone’s unchecked fear or thirst for power?

And yet, it is into Herod’s kingdom, into the midst of this darkness, fear, and thirst for power that Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, this light of the world, appears on the scene. We sing about him as holy, innocent, tender and mild, but the reality is there was a bounty on his head. And still, the wise men came.That is amazing because they had stood in Herod’s presence. They had looked into his power-hungry eyes; they had felt his fear-laden glare and yet, nothingcould stop them from seeking and ultimately finding the Christ.

     In many ways, the Three Wise Men are an icon for us and the Church today. Our world is soaked in fear. Our world cries out with the blood of the innocent trampled by those who hoard more and more power, wealth, and influence. There is a darkness spewing from human hearts and minds that looms all around us, and fear, hatred, and suspicion seem to grow stronger each day. It is into these contemporary days that the example of those men of old spurs us to stand up and respond: Just as they were undeterred in their commitment to find Jesus, so we, too, must resolve to seek and find him. Why? Because our world is desperate for reconciliation and peace, desperate to climb out of darkness, desperate to find a new way to live. But we need to be careful when seeking the Christ because the Epiphany reveals that when we trulyfind him, God’s purposes, God’s way of life, will become our purpose and our way of life.

     See, there is a reason why the Epiphany concludes with these words, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” So it is with all who find the Christ. Encountering Jesus changes lives. Changes us so that we think and see and do things differently because everything from now on is bathed in the Light of Christ. And that light reveals God’s ways and values: it reveals a new way of living. It becomes for us anotherroad home, a path to reconciliation with God and neighbor, a light that we not only carry, but embody wherever we go. 

    Friends, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated for a reason: It urges each of us to make our own pilgrimage to find the Christ, to invite him intoour hearts and minds, invite him to transformus and fill us with loveof God, and show us that other road. 

 “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left … by another road.” On this Feast of the Epiphany, 2019, may God grant us the grace to seek Christ once more, and when we dofind him, offer not only our gifts to him, but our whole lives. Amen.