Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany
7th Jan 2018
Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany 2017 (Year A)
"When they saw that the star had stoped they were overwhelmed with joy". Matthew 2.9.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, and this word is taken from the Greek epiphanos, which means ‘the showing of a sign’. The sign here is the manifestation of something startling, the appearance of God in the form of Jesus. The sign is the birth of the Messiah, the one which draws the three wise men to travel to see that which had been and promised by Isaiah and announced by the angel Gabriel; of the appearance of the Messiah as a baby, “wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger”. Of the impossible possibility of a child who is Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.
This sign then has its effect upon those who witness it. The sight of the child in the manger at Bethlehem is the one which changes the understanding of God’s identity and purpose for the world he has made for ever:
The heavenly babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swaddling bands
And in a manger laid.
All glory be to God on high
And to the earth be peace
Good will henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease.
We are not see the Story of the Three Wise Men then, as one which has been ‘tagged’ onto the Nativity for extra effect. It is has a crucial significance in the message of the coming of the Son of God. We continue to remember that the divine name given to Jesus is ‘God with Us’. His coming to birth has caused a rupture in what Eliot calls ‘the old dispensation’ . It has challenged the fixed separation of heaven and earth; and of the existence of God as all powerful and yet remote.
We returned to our places, these kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
TS Eliot The Journey of the Magi.
It suddenly begins to change lives and whole outlooks. The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians proclaims the new epiphany to include the gentiles (all people) who have, as he puts it ‘become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ’.
Like the wise men who have travelled from afar to see the Sign, we too trace that same journey in our own Christian lives. It is the journey we make in our hearts as we come to the place where we see and know Jesus and where we stop and stay. We may, out of the joy and the peace of his appearing, offer him the best gift we have to give, the gift of ourselves and of our lives; of the deepening of our witness and our time in the service of the Church. In this respect, the Methodist Church marks this time with an act of determined renewal in the life of faith, as it recites its own Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
To speak like this is to speak of this Feast of the Epiphany not only as a Feast of Signs and mystery but also of self-dedication. Epiphany occupies a time and a place in which the divine presence is revealed to us. Then we are called to respond wholeheartedly. Christ’s Epiphany is our epiphany too, a necessary reminder of the need for daily conversion and the continual and joyful re-kindling of faith. This is needed so much at a time when the refreshment that the Christian faith offers our world; its spiritual oxygenation, is needed now more than ever.