Summary: A sermon for the Sunday of Epiphany, encouraging us to develop in ourselves the capacity to experience our own epiphanies of faith
Matthew 2:1-12 Experiencing Epiphany
It isn’t very often that, here in (this part of) the UK, we get a ‘White Christmas’. In fact, last year (2008) we had a White Easter! But the last time I remember that we had ‘significant’ snowfall was at this time in 2004 – even then it missed Christmas itself! Yes, I remember thick snow covering the ground that year (when I was still minister of a ‘Parish’ in NW England).
For those people like me, still somewhat a ‘child’ at heart, we often think how nice it would be to have snow falling on Christmas Day! How nice it is to go outside, all wrapped-up for warmth, to build a snowman, throw snowballs, and perhaps to toboggan down the hill in the park! No matter if the car is completely frozen-up in the morning and it takes ages to warm-up enough to drive! No matter that it is so cold that (perhaps like you!) part of me feels it might be wiser to join many of God’s creatures and hibernate until it gets warmer!
I still remember the snow back in 2004, and watching the news as the newsreader said that this was the heaviest snowfall many parts of the country had had for more tan twenty years! And it occurred to me then that, for most of the people (certainly for the kids) throwing snowballs outside in the street and making snowmen in the park, had never seen snow like it before – if at all. Their experience of snow had, up until now, been limited to seeing it on TV and on the Christmas cards they had given and received a few days before. Now they were seeing, and touching, and trying to walk on, this cold white stuff for the first time. A completely new experience for them in their lives.
This new experience is a very good example of what ‘epiphany’ means – Epiphany being the Christian festival (really falling on January 6 – the twelfth and last night of Christmas) marking the visit of the mysterious Magi as they encounter Jesus. Literally ‘epiphany’ means something like ‘appearance’, ’realisation’, or ‘awakening’. It speaks about what may be a sudden realisation of a truth or reality – making a new discovery about life. It’s like when a cartoon character is trying to think of something and then, suddenly, a light-bulb illuminates above their head when they succeed!
Let’s look at the story of the Magi to see why it is called ‘Epiphany’.
First of all, we know about the long journey they embarked upon from the distant East, perhaps from Africa and / or Asia. Like children who had only ever seen snow in pictures and on TV, the Magi knew about the birth of a New King by their seeing a New Star in the skies, but they had not yet experienced first-hand the wonder, joy and celebration of meeting him. Like the arrival of the first snow in our land from the viewpoint of the young, so the Magi knew that the arrival – the birth – of this New King was SPECIAL – so special that they knew they had to go and see, and experience, it for themselves. Like children who had not seen or experienced snow before, the Magi wanted to know personally the new experience of being close to the new-born King.
So, the Magi travelled the long and difficult journey from the East, following the star that promised them such great reward for their struggles. Especially as they met with King Herod, they met with the cunning and trickery of a man who was worried about the threat news of the birth of a New King posed to his own power and authority. A man who would stop at nothing to preserve his status as king.
But, for the Magi, their long journey was nearly complete. They had not found the Baby in the beauty and luxury of a royal palace, as they had expected, but they followed the star to where it seemed to rest – over a humble dwelling, amongst domestic animals, lying in a rough-hewn manger. They had brought gifts for the infant-King: they knew that his coming was a cause of great joy and celebration to the world, so they gave him gold. They knew that he would live a life in close relationship with God in prayer (which he would encourage all people to nurture) so they gave him Frankincense. They knew also that he would endure the excruciating pain of a brutal human death, so they gave him Myrrh. Then they went on their way, returning home by another route that avoided Herod’s palace, as they had been told to in a dream.
So, why do we call the visit of the Magi, this event in the ongoing story of Jesus birth, ‘Epiphany’?