Epiphany, by Pastor Noel

January 6, 2019     Feast of the Epiphany


      Have you put Christmas back in its box yet?

      Every year folks bring out decorations for Christmas. There are Frostys, angels, Santas with reindeer, and lots and lots of lights (some with music!) Maybe, just maybe, there’s a crèche with the Holy Family.

      The day after Christmas Day all of that comes down, and the trees from indoors are out at the curb as trash.

      That’s it for Christmas!

      Unless you know that Christmas is not just the two months from Hallowe’en to December 25, or even the 12 days leading up to today.

      Christmas is God come to earth. When I say that it doesn’t sound like much—but it is so amazing that our minds can’t comprehend.

      So, we enjoy Christmas for a while and then pack it away where we don’t have to try and understand. That way we can keep Jesus a cute baby in a stable.

      Jesus didn’t stay a baby. He grew up and lived God’s justice—mercy, forgiveness, welcoming, sharing, loving. 

      As Howard Thurman tell us,

      “When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,

      To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”

      It may be time to pack away Christmas ornaments, but not time to walk away from what Christmas means.

      We put Christmas in a box and store it away. We trivialize or misinterpret its meaning. So we do with Epiphany.

      In fact, if you don’t go to church you probably never even hear of Epiphany.

      The word itself has been toned down to mean an “aha” moment. That time when something suddenly becomes clear. Epiphany is much more than an “aha” moment.

      Matthew is the only gospel writer to give us this story.

      For Matthew, Jesus is the new Moses, so Matthew uses lots of imagery to tell us this. His Jewish audience would have understood how Matthew’s story fulfilled Scripture.

      The wise men or kings, the gifts, the camels, all can be found in Isaiah 60. Even the star is hinted at, “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”

      Isaiah says that this new light will draw everyone to it, even kings. Isaiah says they will come on camels, and they will bring gifts, “gold and frankincense.”

      So that takes care of two of the gifts. But what about the myrrh?

      Isaiah says that kings will come from Sheba, and that’s where we get the third gift. Do you remember hearing about the Queen of Sheba? If you listened to WGBH in the mornings, years ago, you heard Robert J. Leurtsema. He introduced his show with Handel’s “The entrance of the Queen of Sheba.”

      She made a visit to Solomon when he was king. She brought “a very great quantity of spices.” Myrrh was the most common spice then, so we get our third gift.

      And, she rode in on camels.

      Matthew doesn’t give us the camels, but his audience would have pictured them, just as we can’t picture Santa without a sleigh and reindeer.

      Our story of Epiphany is part of a much older story.

      This story is not just an “aha” moment when the wise men discover and recognize Jesus.

      Like Luke’s story of angels giving the good news to shepherds, Matthew is telling us more than we may hear.

      Shepherds were outlaws in Jesus’ time. They were not the ones you’d expect to be visited by angels with glad tidings from God. But then, King David was a shepherd.

      Wise Men from the East were not Jewish. They were not ones you’d expect to hear and recognize the good news.

      Luke and Matthew are telling us that God’s good news is for all people, anywhere and everywhere. The king in Matthew’s story is probably the one you’d expect to hear God’s message. But when he heard it, he was moved to kill.

      So we, too, are often led to find God’s good news in places and with people that are unexpected. Not necessarily like us.

      They are connected to the good news because they are the ones working for God’s justice. The ones finding the lost, healing the broken, feeding the hungry, releasing the captives…bringing peace.
This was God’s plan for Israel, for all God’s people.

      And, in case we don’t make the connection, Matthew goes on to connect Jesus with Moses.  

      In the story following this one, that we don’t read in church, Matthew gives us the “slaughter of the innocents.”

      Herod gets angry when the visitors from the East go home without telling him where they found the baby king.

      He determines where Scripture says this baby would be born. Then he orders the killing of all the baby boys under age 2 in that village.

      This is a reminder that Moses was born in Egypt in a time when the Pharaoh gave the same order. 

      And, in case his audience hasn’t caught on yet, Matthew tells us that Joseph has a dream that warns him of Herod’s plan. He and Mary and the baby are to escape to Egypt.

      There was another Joseph who had dreams and was in Egypt. Joseph of the coat of many colors. The one whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery and he ended up working for Pharaoh. Interpreting dreams.

      Joseph who later saved his father Israel when there was a famine. Just as Jesus has come to save the country Israel.

      This story we call “Epiphany” is Matthew’s Christmas story.

      It tells us that while we are singing about Jesus bringing salvation, we also are involved in salvation.

      We are Matthew’s wise men, and Luke’s angels and shepherds. We are the ones to proclaim the good news.

      We are the ones to help the lost find their way. The ones to heal broken lives and hearts.      

      We are the ones to be feeding the hungry—and working for a better world where hunger is a memory.

      We are the ones to lead people to freedom and safety.

      We are the ones to make this a world of peace.

      I commend to your reading Rob’s article in the newsletter that just went out. He writes of how the Presiding Bishop calls us “The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.” He calls us to walk The Way of Love.

      The earliest Christians were called people of “The Way.” The Way was following Jesus in a faithful journey with God.

      This is not always easy. It may be not as much fun as decorating a Christmas tree, or bringing the wise men to the crèche. It is far more rewarding.

      The journey is a life of living the good news of God’s love for all people. It is bringing the story of salvation for us all. It is reaching out however we can to bring hope and mercy, love, peace, joy.

      It is the work of Christmas, Epiphany, and every day.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details