Tag 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

___________

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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The mystery of God is among us (Epiphany, Year A, on 5 January 2014)

Readings
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12

Tomorrow, 6 January, is the Day of the Epiphany, which is the day we remember that once upon a time, wise men came across huge distances to worship Jesus. Epiphany is a kind of mystery story. There’s a clue: the Star of Bethlehem. There’s a dodgy villain: Herod the Great (his name even sounds dodgy, like he’s a hypnotist in a cheap nightclub). There’s no chase—but there’s a long journey from the ‘mysterious East’. And there’s mystery. There’s mystery in bucket loads.

The star is mysterious. It doesn’t behave like normal stars; it rises like a normal star but then it eventually stops—just like that!—when it gets to the place Jesus is. How does a star behave like that?

Herod tries to be mysterious, but he’s pretty transparent really. He is ‘King Herod the Great’, and no one is going to take his place. When the wise men come to ask where the recently-born ‘King of the Jews’ is, he bristles. His homicidal impulses were never far from the surface—he killed his wife Mariamne and one of his sons—and they were fully charged now. It was kill or be killed, and Herod preferred to kill.

The wise men, now they are mysterious. They come from God-alone-knows. Matthew may have pictured three, but we don’t know. They may have been astrologers or sorcerers or even priests of the Zoroastrian religion, to which the late Freddie Mercury belonged. We just don’t know. What do we know about them?—we know they weren’t members of the chosen people, they were Gentiles like most of us, and in Matthew’s story of Jesus they were the first to drop everything to find this new king.

The new king is mysterious. The story tells us that the star wasn’t specific enough to tell the wise men where the new king was, not at first. So they did what most people would do; they reported to head office. They went to the capital, to Jerusalem, to the palace, to Herod himself.

They didn’t imagine that the king would be in li’l ol’ Bethlehem. They didn’t think his parents would be ordinary folk. They had costly gifts, gold, myrrh, frankincense; this newborn king may have been better off with extra blankets for the winter, or a K-Mart gift voucher.

There are mysteries wherever you look in the Epiphany story. Not mysteries that we can solve; these are mysteries we can only wonder at.

St Paul also wondered at the central mystery of the Epiphany over fifty years after Jesus was born, even though there is no sign that he even knew about the story of the wise men. He wrote (Ephesians 3.6) that the mystery was this:

the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

In Matthew’s story of Jesus, the magi are the first Gentiles to share in the good news of Jesus—but they are far from the last.

Paul’s mission was to Gentiles, to people who hadn’t grown up in the Faith of Israel, to those who thought differently and lived very differently.

The Church is meant to be a body of diversity. There are old, young, black, white, male, female, gay, straight—and all are one in Christ.

The greatest mystery of Epiphany is that when God comes ‘down to earth’, God doesn’t come only to special people, chosen people, good people. God comes to everyone without exception. God becomes our neighbour, everyone’s neighbour.

God calls us to be keepers and heralds of this mystery: God leaves no one out, God excludes no one. We can exclude other people by our own self-righteousness, or by our fear of them; but God has come to reconcile and include people who think and live differently from one another. God’s grace is beyond our reach or our understanding.

In 2014, this congregation is called to be a place of inclusion, where no one is left out because of who they are. God welcomes all who will come and calls us to do the same—that’s the Christian mystery, that’s the wonder of God; that is our mission. Amen.

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Inclusive, welcoming and forgiving—Feast of the Epiphany, Year C (6 January, 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 60.1–6
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12 

Fifty years ago, back in 1963, Rev. Dr Martin Luther King said this:

We must face the sad fact that at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, when we stand to sing…we stand in the most segregated hour in America.

In his gospel, Matthew tries to show us that God’s vision for his people is an inclusive one, which grows from Israel’s calling as the people of God.

It shows how the Gentiles are called to become a part of God’s chosen people. In other words, everyone—“Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Galatians 3.28), black or white, left or right, gay or straight—is now an equal member of the chosen people.

Paul bears witness to this truth. He speaks of his ‘understanding of the mystery of Christ’:

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.

Unlike Paul, but like all the other gospel writers, Matthew speaks of this “mystery of Christ” by telling a story. We call it the story of the Three Wise Men, but I’m not convinced there were three. Or that they were all that wise, when they fall as they do for Herod’s machinations. And it’s not at all important that they were men.

Let’s call them what Matthew called them: the magi. We get our word ‘magic’ from ‘magi’. Magi were considered to be sorcerers, astrologers, interpreters of dreams, potion makers. They seem to belong more on the set of a Harry Potter movie than in the pages of the Bible. But here they are.

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Come and worship

Sermon for the Epiphany of the Lord
 
Matthew 2.1-12
 
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend.  

‘Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.’

‘I see millions and millions of stars,’ Watson replied.

‘What does that tell you?’ asked Holmes.

Watson pondered for a minute.

Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions upon billions of planets. 

Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. 

Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have some good weather today. 

Horologically, I deduce that the time is about a quarter past three in the morning. 

Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. 
What does it tell you, Holmes?’

‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’ replied Holmes. ‘Someone has stolen our tent.’

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