- January 8, 2017
The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Epiphany Sermon – 10am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI
RCL Year A 1/7-8/2017
Scripture Text: Isaiah 60:1-6
Two of our services were cancelled because of a snowstorm, but this was able to be delivered at 10am.
The Epiphany that we celebrate every year on January 6th
is one of the high feasts of the church year.
That was Friday,
But here at Ascension we have been celebrating
It on the Sunday nearest to allow
Our Sunday School children
To be in a pageant on that day.
A snowstorm prevented that pageant,
But we are still considering this
Our celebration of Epiphany.
For me, on Friday evening,
The feast of the Epiphany,
A friend invited me to hear a talk by a man
Named Matt Kahn,
And it showed me that the Epiphany
That happened to the wise men
At Christ’s birth,
Is happening again
To other people
We might not think capable of hearing the Gospel.
Matt had an epiphany of Jesus,
A visitation of Jesus in dreams really,
When he was an 8-year-old Jewish boy,
Who had never been told about Jesus.
He went to a friend’s house,
And saw a picture on the wall,
And said to his friend
“who is that? That’s the guy I met in my dreams.”
His young friend said,
“No Matt, you can’t have seen Jesus in your dreams,
That encounter with Jesus
Changed his life,
And lead to series of spiritual awakenings
That he teaches from today,
As he shares his awakenings with people
Outside the context of the Christian church.
The Epiphany for the wise men,
Was similar to his,
Only it was the fact that they were NOT Jewish
That was different,
Since the newborn Jesus and his parents
The wise men were unlikely from a Jewish perspective,
To hear about or certainly worship
The Jewish messiah,
For they were practitioners
Of another religion.
You all know the story, of the wise men who came
to bring gifts to Jesus?
We see it every year in Christmas Crèche scenes,
Like this one here,
those three men dressed like kings
standing with Mary and Joseph
in the stable presenting gifts
of Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold.
But if that is all we know about the story,
then we’re missing the significance of it.
These men are not just important
because they round out the story of Christmas,
or because they complete the scene,
or because they make the first birthday party for Jesus complete with gifts.
That is like knowing the nativity story only in soundbytes,
Which is unfortunately
How most of our world learns stories these days.
These men are important because of
how they received the great Truth,
of God becoming one of us,
and what that shows us about how we
and others might receive it.
For one, besides the wise men
Not being three kings,
Or showing up the same night Jesus was born,
They were probably surprised by what they found.
The wise men probably were already surprised
when they found that the king of the region, Herod,
did not know that a child born to be king
and not just any king, but one important enough
that the stars would announce his birth
was in fact born in his kingdom.
The second surprise for these wise men,
was to find when they went to Bethlehem,
that the star was over this modest house,
the house of a carpenter and his young wife.
Wise men of the world would have taken this
not as a sign of God’s glory,
the wise of the world would have taken this
as a sign that they were mistaken.
They were bearing gifts fit for a king,
and would they present them to an infant
in a backwater town,
in the house of a poor carpenter from another place,
of another religion?
Other wise men of the world,
would find such a presentation foolish.
The world praises wealth and beauty,
education and stature,
majesty and material glory.
Faced with the discovery that the child born to be king,
that they had sought for so long,
was actually a poor boy
unknown to the royalty of this kingdom,
these wise men would have to become fools
by the standard of the world,
to continue and present their gifts.
Just like that 8-year-old Jewish boy Matt,
Found that his family and friends
Thought he was foolish to meet Jesus in his dreams.
But Matt was open enough to be changed by that encounter.
And the wisdom of these wise men
suddenly became much deeper
than the wisdom of the world.
They were changed.
These foreign men, of a different religion,
recognized the Truth that was laid before them,
and they were changed,
because they were open to it.
I submit to you that anyone
who encounters the true Christ,
foolish though the revelation may seem
to all those around,
anyone who has such an epiphany
finds themselves changed.
We see the physical manifestation of this change,
in the statement that these wise men
“left for their own country by another road.”
Sure they went that way, the story says,
because they were warned in a dream
not to return to Herod.
But even that indicates the change,
which could seem so subtle to some,
but probably seemed huge to them.
But they went by another road in a different way as well,
They went by another road because
They went as another people,
This new wisdom,
given the circumstances of this young child,
later would make a good deal of sense,
when they realized how this birth,
of a foreign King announced by the star,
and this new glory outside their own religious system,
challenged everything their world
was based on,
everything on which their own
self-achieved wisdom depended.
Their hearts were changed
and they went from those who were seeking,
to those who had been found.
From those who were wise,
to those who possessed a wisdom not their own.
They were the same men they had been before,
as He met them exactly as they came to him,
and yet they were changed,
not by force,
but by the degree to which they
allowed themselves to be open to this Epiphany.
I saw a sign recently, that said,
“Wise men still seek him.”
And maybe true wise men still do,
but it seems to me that many of those
who the world considers wise,
have rejected Him in favor
of more rational means of salvation,
and many of those who the world considers wise,
consider it foolish to believe
that this child born in Bethlehem
2000 years ago could be
the God of all creation.
Sometimes wise men and women today,
come to recognize that they must embrace a degree of foolishness, to come to faith in this God,
because believing in this story seems so foolish.
One of the early church fathers, Tertullian,
confronted by his contemporaries,
demanding a reason for his faith
in a fully human being who is also God incarnate,
wrote, “because it is absurd, I believe.”
And as I saw through Matt Kahn’s presentation,
Jesus is still giving people Epiphanies,
Whether or not they are part of his religion,
It strikes me that maybe Jesus is even doing that more today,
Than He has in the past,
Maybe because some of us are embarrassed to share,
When we’re confronted by
The way the world finds it foolish.
Or maybe Jesus is reaching outside our faith,
Because the time is growing short until Jesus’ return,
And his followers are not doing enough,
To share His story.
When we try to share the message
Outside one to one or individually as his church,
We find that so many people
don’t allow themselves the time,
the space to hear it.
So many of us are content to get our truth,
in soundbytes, in snippets of information.
And we also see many people
who’ve never really encountered Jesus,
but just assume that they’re Christian,
because they live in a supposedly Christian country,
and they feel they’re just like everyone else.
i.e. they’re Christian because they’re not Muslim,
or Jewish or Atheist.
They believe in a higher power,
and think if they know that Jesus
was an important religious teacher is enough.
Or maybe they’re part of another
Religion, and they assume like Matt Kahn’s
Friend and family that Jesus is only true for Christians.
For whatever reason many haven’t
Sought Jesus enough to allow themselves
To have an Epiphany,
to be confronted with a truth that is transformative;
they haven’t give the truth enough consideration,
to have their lives really changed for the better.
But the Epiphany to the wise men,
Is the same epiphany today.
God is come as one of us,
And now lives within us,
Available to everyone who chooses
To be open to Him.
We who have experienced,
The Light that is in our hearts,
Who know our hearts have been changed,
Have had this epiphany.
We have confronted the truth
and embraced this truth with our whole lives.
If you find yourself among that group,
This is a day to celebrate,
And share with others.
If you know the story,
But aren’t sure you have had the Epiphany,
Look within, for Jesus lives in your heart,
And is holding out his hand to
Guide you to His light,
So it can become your light as well.
All you have to do is say yes to Him.
Maybe you know some people
who might call themselves Christian,
but everything about them shows that they
haven’t had an Epiphany.
They may seem wise by the wisdom of the world,
but they’re missing out on that deeper wisdom.
They’re seeking the truth, but haven’t found it.
You have a special place,
To be an agent of Epiphany in their lives.
Imagine what the wise men did
When they returned home by another way,
And had the chance to share with others,
The epiphany they had.
They were in the same unique place
As we are here.
You have the unique ability
to invite people you know,
to consider the truth in a deeper way
than by mere soundbytes.
You can talk to them one on one,
In a way no soundbyte can reach them.
You can invite them to come to church here
and explore this truth for themselves,
and see how their own lives might be changed.
If you don’t invite them, how will they ever know?