Isaiah 60:1-7, Matthew 2:1-12
January 1, 2012
Wow, it’s 2012! Do the 20’s still seem strange to any of you? Most of us have still lived most of our lives in the 19’s! (Anybody still start with “19” when they’re writing checks?) By the way, I’ve decided to start saying “Twenty.” It seemed awkward to me to do that when we were in the “0’s.” I preferred to say “Two-thousand, Seven,” rather than “Twenty-0-seven.” That was like someone saying the lived in the “Twenty-hundred block.” But Twenty-Twelve sounds more natural to me.
So, we start a new year. And at this point, it’s almost 12 hours old now. So, how’s it going so far? When I lived in Kansas, I used to call my sister at about 12:15 Eastern Time and ask her how the New Year was going so far. I wanted to have a 45 minute “heads up.” I wanted to be able to brace myself if it was a lousy year that was heading my way!
I pray for all of you that 2012 is a good year. Maybe last year was difficult for you. Maybe during 2011 you had some health concerns. Maybe some of you lost loved ones this past year. Maybe it was a tough year financially. If so, I hope this next year is better. And if it was a good one, I pray that continues for you in the New Year.
I also pray for our congregation. I pray that 2012 will be a good year for us. We’ve been trying to turn around our deficit, and I hope this is the year we do it! I hope we can get closer to doing what I’ve been saying for years now, that we may “Get past the worries, and get on to the glory.” In fact, I hope that glory grows in us even if we are still working on “getting past the worries.” (I don’t know… Maybe it even works better that way.)
At any rate, as we start a New Year, we approach that celebration in the Church which is called Epiphany. Epiphany always falls on January 6th. But the day of the week varies, depending on where Christmas falls in the week. This year Epiphany is on Thursday, so we will think about it 4 days early. This year, (that is, this next year!) Christmas falls on a Tuesday. So next year is one of those unusual years when Epiphany actually falls on a Sunday. (Anybody confused yet?)
I hope you remember the definition of the word “Epiphany.” An epiphany is “a sudden realization.” It is an “Aha moment.” We can have an epiphany about many things. Let me give you an example. When my daughter was about 2 years old, I taught her a joke. The joke was, “What do you call a mushroom who buys all the drinks?” The answer, “A fungi to be with.” (Get it?) Well, some in my family said, “You shouldn’t teach her a joke like that. She’s too young to understand it!” But I said, “Look, she’s having a ball! She’s laughing, and other people are laughing, and someday she’s going to tell it and realize why it’s so funny. And then she’ll really laugh.
To this day, Jenny can still remember the day, years later, when she suddenly realized what that joke meant and why it was funny. She was somewhere around 10 years old, and she’d been telling it for years. She said, “I realized what it meant, and I laughed so hard I could hardly tell people why I was laughing!” That’s an epiphany! It is a sudden realization of something!
Well, today we talk about “Epiphany” as proper name. Epiphany is a yearly celebration of the Church. And it’s all about the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. And that is a sudden realization, too! In fact, this is one of the most awkward and almost shocking scenes in the whole Bible! As I reminded you last week, (last year!) the Jewish people had come to be very exclusionary in their faith. They were very proud of the fact that they were “the chosen people,” and those who were not among the chosen, those who were Gentiles, were out!
But that’s not what God wanted! Throughout the Old Testament the scriptures pointed to Israel as being the “Light to the nations” of God’s love. In our passage for today, Isaiah said, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” That’s what God wanted! But Israel had not fulfilled that role. And perhaps for that reason alone, God chose that time to send his son. He needed to get back to his desire of being the God of all nations! And this was how to do it.
So here in this scene, the Messiah had arrived, he who had been foretold for centuries in the writings of the Hebrew people. And to him came these visitors from the East, people from a different nation, religion, and culture. And they worshipped him. Scholars said this scene may have taken place upwards of a year later – long after the shepherds had come and gone! That’s why Herod told the soldiers to find all male children two years old or younger.
We take that scene almost for granted, don’t we? We’re used to it! It’s not all that shocking to us. Well I guarantee you it was for them! And it was for the readers of this Gospel, too! Because remember, Matthew was writing to the Jewish people. He was attempting to convince them that Jesus was their Messiah! And here, right in Chapter 2, he tells them about Gentiles coming to worship that Messiah!
Was that a good way to start convincing them? Maybe not. But it was certainly the picture definition of “Epiphany.” This was a great “Aha moment” about Jesus! “Aha! God does love the whole world!” Later, Jesus would echo that sentiment in his ministry. In John’s Gospel he uttered those famous words, “For God so loved… you people?” No, “For God so loved the world.” But that was not a message that went over very well in his ministry. The people’s “exclusivity” came back to haunt Jesus time and again. But I want you to see the Epiphany even in that. His teaching that God did love the whole world was the fulfillment of this Epiphany, this “sudden realization,” that we remember today. And eventually the world would “get it!”
So, as we think of Epiphany, as we think of how the world realized that God’s plan was for everyone, not just the Jews, I want us today to think about our own personal Epiphanies. Because I believe there actually is an Epiphany for each one of us. All of us, throughout our lives have heard the story of Jesus. But one day, either gradually or all of a sudden, it made sense. All of a sudden we realized it was for us, and we wanted it! I want you to think about that time in your life. How long ago was that? Where were you? How did it come about?
I want you to be thinking about that this week. Because next week, is the Sunday designated “The Baptism of our Lord.” That’s a time we remember the story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry where he was baptized by John in the Jordan. And in recent years I’ve been using that celebration as a time of “Rededication.” I’ve been asking you, on that second Sunday of the year, to renew your Baptism vows. We’re going to do that again. But this year I want us to do so thinking of that time in our lives when we had our own personal Epiphany about Jesus. And I hope that ties all of this together. as we look back, and as we look ahead.
So as we end this service today, at the start of a New Year, may we start the year knowing that God loves us – all of us! Let us know that he has come into this world and into our lives. And may we realize again – or maybe for the first time – the importance of that.
Happy New Year!
Eternal God, we are amazed by your love for us and we thank you for your Grace in our lives. At the beginning of a year, help us to remember the beginnings of our faith. Help us to look to the coming year with hope, joy, and peace. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.