The Epiphany, the voice of God remains among us, in sign and scripture, whispering into hearts Come act and follow
Christmas has been celebrated… But the message of Christmas changes something forever. Today as we celebrate Epiphany, which literally translated means ‘from the voice of God’. From the voice: ‘Epiphany’. It is a season when we remember how God has revealed himself through the ages, and most of all now in the person of Christ. It’s a very short season - a few weeks. And amongst other things today is a day this season us a day when we ask ‘What is the voice of God saying to us today?’
Throughout the ages God had spoken, through the patriarchs, through the prophets, in the lives of the saints; in stillness and in calm; in confusion and in despair, through ordinary and remarkable events, and in individual lives, Through history and now God reveals himself. Again and again, the people had cried to God; 'Show yourself’. And through history, and in the fullness of time, God did. And here is the revelation, against all expectations, contrary to all human concepts of power and strength - revealed in a vulnerable child. Here is the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy: 'Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." in a child in a stable. But more remarkable still is that his light still shines and the voice of God still speaks in the Risen Christ, present now, when we discern his Word amidst the clamour of opinion and prejudice, of human motives and desire, of violence and of politics. The Epiphany, the voice of God is still amongst us, speaking through the scriptures, speaking though events, speaking through people, whispering in our very hearts and beings, waiting to be heard, waiting for our response, but never forcing himself upon us.
We are all familiar with the story of the Wise men. It's generally believed that the figures referred to were from Persia, members of a priestly caste who studied astronomy. Scholars examining the scriptures and the astronomy of the time, suggest that they could have visited the infant Jesus anything up to two years after his birth, which in fact would correspond with the detail of Herod deciding to murder all the male children in Bethlehem under the age of 2 years old. Whatever the historical facts, the wise men were people of profound learning and insight. But their wisdom lies in the fact that the not only discerned hidden truths but were willing make a long and arduous journey to verify them. Their journey is both a physical one and a spiritual one. It is a symbol of the journey of understanding that we are all invited to make and and embark upon. Just as the incarnation itself is is a symbol of the universality of Jesus purpose - revealed to the humble, the wise, and the foreigner, before even it is revealed to the Jewish people. Jesus is not to be owned, controlled, or boxed up in human categories of origin or purpose - he is shown to be for all people for all time. Have we begun the long arduous journey of discovery to find Jesus?
But even the Wise Men sought the Messiah first in the corridors of power, and it only dawned on them after they had visited Jesus that to reveal this mystery to Herod would cause considerable danger to the child. Even they weren't sure where to look. And even they were surprised at where they eventually found him. Their journey, like our own spiritual journey should be, was indeed a search, a journey into the unexpected. Even their wisdom and their astronomy could not predict how God was to act in the world. Even to them, he remained a God of surprises, a God who in coming amongst us, became dependent upon humanity to be fed, clothed and sustained. A God who needs us to enable his work to be done, a God who comes amongst us in humility and reveals his love to the humble and oppressed as well as the powerful, the suffering as well as the strong, a God who challenges all human expectations of power and action in the world.
So this is the God who is revealed to us: the ‘voice of God’ revealed to us at Epiphany. So how does this challenge us to reflect on where we see God revealed today? What does this say to us about our attitude to the other, about our attitude to the thousands fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty that have often been fueled by the actions and policies (maybe) of our own governments?
Traditionally, the Epiphany season recalls two other events that show God's revelation in Christ - so in the coming two Sundays we will also hear about the Baptism of Jesus, and the changing of water into wine at Cana. Both these stories reveal powerful truths. First that Jesus, himself receiving the baptism of forgiveness and of cleansing, points the way to the cleansing and transformation that we are called to make in our lives. And secondly, that in the ordinary stuff of life, symbolised in water, that ordinary stuff of life is transformed into a sign of the kingdom, symbolised in the wine.
We ordinary people of life are to be transformed into people of the kingdom. You and I are called to be transformed. The three gifts of the wise men are a symbol of the gifts we all bring. Whatever wealth we possess, symbolised in gold, is to be used in God's service and for the good of all humanity. As individuals, as communities, as churches, as nations, do we? Do we use our gifts fo the good of all humanity? Billions of pounds of worth of arms deals? In fact 24 of the 27 nation’s that our arms deals are done go to the world’s worst human rights record nations. For the good of all humanity? Our wealth is to be used for the good of all humanity.
The second gift is incense ... used for millenia as a symbol of prayer and fragrant offering to God by people and cultures all over the world for centuries, for millennia. It is a reminder of the most important commandment of all 'You shall love the Lord your God - we say it every week but there’s powerful little phrases 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and all your soul. And you shall love your neighbour as yourself." Powerful stuff. Loving the other can be the only response to the Love of God who is the creator of All. But it is a challenge that takes effort and a journey.
And finally, in myrrh lies the symbol of healing, and anointing in death. Jesus is the supreme healer who achieves the conquest of all suffering and even death itself. As we open ourselves to his healing in outlives so we are to act as agents of his healing in the world.
So each of these gifts remind us our response and our responsibility as we leave the excitement of Christmas behind. That we may be transformed in the likeness of Christ, bringing our wealth in his service, through prayer and service, being a light to the other, and like myrrh, being an
instrument of healing and life in the world.
At Epiphany we follow the Wise Men in their long and difficult journey, a discover the truth of God's revelation -how he revealed himself in the world. And we follow them too, on their journey back to their, and our, daily lives. But like them hopefully, we are changed by this wonderful encounter. We are challenged by this awesome mystery of which we are called to be a part. And from now on our journey must take the difficult path that Jesus treads, even though he faces ridicule, opposition and suffering for doing so.
Epiphany ‘the voice of God’ reminds us that the light of the world is still present. It shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never extinguished it and never will. That light is Christ and he invites each of us to discover him and then to follow him. So the journey of Christmas is not over, does not end here. It is only the beginning. And he needs us to shine his light in a searching, and a floundering world. The challenge for us here to discern is what does that mean for us here, today, and in the year to come. And that’s some of what we will be doing in the parish in January 26th and in the months to come as we discover what it means to be followers of Christ and to follow - to listen out for that ‘epiphany’ the voice of God speaking through us now today, and in the world around us.