Epiphany – January 3, 2016

Reading 1:  Reading 2:  Reading 3:  Reading 4: 
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12


By Bruce Epperly

January 3, 2016

On Sunday, January 3rd, most Protestant congregations will be celebrating the Feast of Epiphany. Although the season of Epiphany officially begins on January 6, the celebration of the coming of the Magi, the 12th day of Christmas, grounds our faith in God’s generous revelation to all people, and should not be omitted from congregational worship and preaching. We all need an epiphany, a sense of illuminatiion and inspiration, to give meaning and wonder to our daily lives. Most especially in a time in which xenophobia, directed at Muslims, immigrants, and Syrian refugees, is rampant among Presidential candidates and much of the USA populace, we need to understand divine revelation as ubiquitous, crossing boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, economics, and religion.

The anchor passage for Sunday’s reading is, of course, the coming of the magi. The reading from Matthew 2:1-12 is rich in texture and insight. The passage initially focuses on the magi from the East, astrologers, spiritual leaders, most likely followers of Zoroaster. Disciples of the divine light, the magi are inspired by a bright star, signaling a momentous event in human history. They are foreigners, perhaps Persians who, despite their wealth and education, are religious outsiders. These seekers are banned from the inner sanctum of the Jerusalem Temple. Yet, they not only receive God’s wisdom, they also recognize it! Epiphanies are global, intended for everyone each in her or his way. Still, not everyone recognizes God’s presence in their daily lives. Our openness to divine revelation, however, enables God’s star to burn brightly, guiding our way through the complexities of life. The spiritual pilgrimage is a dynamic call and response in which following God’s star releases greater energy and light for the journey.

The second movement of the pilgrimage of the magi is the contrast in insight between the foreign magi and the entitled religious leaders of Jerusalem, who are the obvious recipients of divine revelation. Only the strangers recognize God’s revelation. The religious leaders appear to be oblivious to the coming God’s world-changing savior and healer. The revelation to foreigners reminds us that many people see God as the ultimate xenophobe, restricting truth and wisdom to a particular group, their own group, and condemning others to outer spiritual darkness. The revelation to the magi is an affirmation that God is generous in sharing good news. Grace is a circle that embraces everyone. Wherever healing and truth are present, God is its source.

The third movement of the pilgrimage of the magi is the contrast between the magi and the holy family. Revelation levels the spiritual and economic playing field. There are no spiritual outsiders. All of us regardless of status can experience the holy. Humble stables, and working class homes, are as likely to birth divinity as palatial dwelling places.

Fourth, the pilgrimage of the magi highlights God’s presence emerging from the unconscious as well as conscious mind.   The magi are warned by what appears to be a collective dream to journey homeward by another pathway, thus, saving the lives of Jesus and his family.

Finally, the magi return home by another road. The spiritual journey is not always direct. It is often circuitous. Our pathway takes us to places we would never have imagined. Divine inspiration is revealed in many ways, even in difficult situations that we would not have chosen. What appears to be negative at first may lead to great adventure and insight. As Romans 8 affirms, “in all things God works for good.”

Isaiah continues the theme of light. After decades of exile, a new world is emerging for the Jewish people. God’s light is dawning, and the people are challenged to “arise, shine, for your light has come.” We glow in God’s presence, enlivened and enlightened. Our sharing in divine possibility enables us to become lights in the world. Divine light inspires our own joyful radiance. The days of scarcity are over; new life and possibility are on the horizon and our calling is to shine, reflecting God’s glory, and to give light to other pilgrims.

The words of Psalm 72 state that the light of God is not neutral. God delivers the vulnerable and oppressed. God brings justice to the world, even if it means sacrifices by the select 1%.

The reading from Ephesians continues the boundary-breaking message of Epiphany. Salvation goes beyond Judaism to embrace the whole earth; the Gentiles share in God’s salvation. Grace is unhindered and unbounded. Those least likely, at first glance, to receive God’s revelation will find a spiritual home by God’s grace. Moreover, the author of Ephesians asserts: “that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Revelation has many faces and media. There are many pathways to truth and salvation, and grace is tailored to each person and community.

The season of Epiphany has an ethic and a spiritual orientation. The ethic of Epiphany is inclusion and generosity. While hospitality does not imply a specific ethic, it challenges us to welcome the stranger and find homes for refugees and immigrants. Vetting is necessary for our national security but our response should be graceful, not exclusionary. The spirituality of Epiphany is equally embracing. Our calling is to live a life of inspiration and openness. We are to arise and shine, and let God’s glory flow us. We are to embrace God’s glory in all its unexpected places and share God’s glory in every encounter.