Category Archives: Epiphany

The True Light enlightens everyone

Readings
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12

 

The secret of the divine purpose is in Christ, and it is an ‘open secret’ accessible to all believers. It is and remains a mystery in the sense that no human intelligence could have guessed what God planned to do; but it is now revealed to Paul and his group (see 3:3–6). Its content is that Gentiles as well as Jews are united in a common hope and blessedness, with all racial barriers broken down (2:11–22) and all specious claims to exclusivity exposed. — Ralph P Martin, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Interpretation Commentary

Do our churches embody the reconciliation and unity of often hostile groups—Caucasian and African American, Christian and Muslim, heterosexually identified and LGBTQ persons, the one percent and the working poor? Do they manifest the wisdom of God in its rich variety?… — Stephen B Boyd, Connections: Year A Vol.1, Advent through Epiphany

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What was the biggest struggle of the early Christian church? What was the thing that divided one group of Christians from another? 

Hint: it’s something we all take for granted today. Another hint: we heard it in our Ephesians reading.  

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The biggest struggle was this: most of the first leaders of the church, like those in the mother church in Jerusalem, taught that Gentiles should become Jews in order to follow Jesus. They should be circumcised and stop eating prawn cocktails and bacon sandwiches. The way to Christ was strictly through the covenant God had made with Israel. The Apostle Paul on the other hand taught differently. Paul taught that the covenant God had made with the Jewish people had become an open covenant in Christ. It was a new covenant, available to all who received it in faith. Gentiles were welcome as Gentiles. And this was really controversial. 

There’s no problem now, of course. As far as I know, I’m 100% Gentile. And I suppose many of you are. We don’t think at all about having to become a Jew if we’re going to be a Christian. 

Paul’s way, ‘his gospel’, encountered lots of opposition. But he won through and the church became a mixed body of Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s Gospel won so completely we’ve forgotten it wasn’t always this way. 

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Going another Way

In the west, today is the Day of the Epiphany. An epiphany is an unexpected experience of an enlightenment, a new and deeper understanding of life. When the ‘wise men’ or Magi visited Jesus, they had an epiphany, and became even wiser. 

In the eastern churches, Christmas begins today at sunset. Happy Christmas to brothers and sisters who are about to celebrate this sacred Day!

 

Reading
Matthew 2.1–12

It might have been just someone else’s story;
Some chosen people get a special king,
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In palaces, found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice. — Malcolm Guite, ‘The Magi’ in Sounding the Seasons: Seventy sonnets for the Christian Year

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We call them ‘wise men’, but my guess is that most of us would discount their wisdom today. It was the so-called wisdom of astrology, seeing signs in the heavens, trying to predict the future from the wanderings of planets through the constellations. Yet this time, it seemed to have worked.

We call them wise men, but the name the scriptures give them is ‘magi’. Magi is like our words magic and magician. I’m going to call them magi.

The magi weren’t what we think of as magicians; they were part of a Persian priestly group whose astrological wisdom brought them mostly respect, but also some mockery. 

We know the story, how they saw a star that they interpreted to foretell the birth of a new king in Judea. So they followed this strange new star to—well, not to little Bethlehem. Not at first. When they arrived in Judaea, they went to the logical place, the place you’d expect a new king to be born. They went to the big smoke. Jerusalem. 

And in the big smoke, they saw the big man himself. Herod.

Who else would know about a new king, right?

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Were they so wise?

Reading
Matthew 2.1–12

 

What are you doing, O Magi? Do you adore a little Babe, in a wretched hovel, wrapped in miserable rags? Can this Child be truly God? … Are you become foolish, O Wise Men … Yes, these Wise Men have become fools that they may be wise. — St Bernard of Clairvaux, from a sermon on the Epiphany

Today, we come to the bit about the three wise men.

Of course, that’s an unbiblical thing to say. We always think ‘three wise men’ because three gifts are mentioned.

I have another reason for not wanting to speak of three wise men.

I’m not sure they were all that wise.

Matthew doesn’t say they were wise, did you know that? Matthew’s word for them was magoi. That’s our word magi. So let’s call them magi.

We know that word magi, it’s where we get our words magic and magician from.

Nonbiblical sources reveal that magi were associated primarily with Persia, where they were members of a priestly class learned in astrology and other magical arts, including divination, dream interpretation, and the concoction of potions.

Magi were often lampooned as deceivers or fools, so Matthew may well mean to show God’s gracious revelation to Gentile ‘experts’ in nonsense.

So the magi follow a star which they believe heralds the birth of a new king. Where do you go to find a king? To the palace.

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