EPIPHANY2013 [Link to recording of sermon]
EPIPHANY 2013 – YEAR C – Text of sermon as prepared
Well I hope that you have celebrated Christmas fully – the whole twelve days!! 🙂 As I noted a few days ago, my weighing scales seemed to be measuring out the twelve days pretty accurately, if you count out time in additional pounds! 🙂 As we’re often told, we don’t know the actual date of Jesus’ birth, although if Jesus was born six months after his cousin John the Baptist then we can say with some certainty that Jesus was born in September. John’s father Zecchariah was on duty in the Temple at the time of the announcement of John’s birth and thus, knowing when his family would have been on duty as we do – Luke tells us Zechariah was of the order of Abijah – it’s merely a matter of adding 15 months which brings us to September!! So we were ALL late for Christmas!!
However many Christians are even later than we were. For Orthodox Christians, who make up about 1/3 of the world’s Christians celebrate Christmas today – the Feast of the Epiphany – so if you like a good reason for some more celebration – then conversion might be a good idea 🙂
Of course the reason that the Orthodox celebrate Christmas today is because it is today – the feast of the Epiphany – we remember the Revealing of Christ to ALL nations. The Magi, the Wise men from the East being foreigners – outsiders on the story of Jesus – who in some regards represent Us. We are so used to being Christians, we forget that we are latecomers to the story of God’s people. That as of old, it wasn’t our story.
Even that first Christmas story isn’t really ours – no matter how much we try and domesticate it in Nativity plays. We pay little or no attention to the fact that the events around the birth of Jesus are all Jewish. The gospel is first announced to the Jewish people – and then and only then to the Gentiles – that’s us. Not only is his birth announced in this order – the Shepherds coming to Bethlehem long before the Magi – Jesus himself says ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ and he sends out the twelve saying ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. and first to the Jews is the way that the Gospel is proclaimed. So on the day of Pentecost Jerusalem is full of Jewish people – yes from all over the known world, but all of them Jews. It is only following Peter’s conversion through a strange dream that the Gospel is then taken and announced to God fearing Gentiles in the household of Cornelius. And so Paul writes to the Ephesians – I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – AND – Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone See . . . !
Listen to the words of the prophet, Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. 7All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house – These are words of promise for the Jewish people – ‘You’ here, is not us 🙂
If we remember the parables that Jesus told of the Kingdom being like a great feast, then Epiphany is a reminder that we weren’t on the original guest list! We are latecomers. And so perhaps celebrating Christmas at This time is a good idea. Not only because we have become so accustomed to Christmas Our way the comfortable way we’ve always known it, it is easy to forget that this message is not about Our ways. It is about God’s way. This Christmas story is as always meant to disturb us, to shake us out of our familar ways and to place us in the midst of something far greater – and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things
And what is that mystery?? Well our reading comes in a little late as well – it’s not just Christmas that is late – Paul puts it like this in the verses before our reading So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
God’s secret plan – the mystery hidden for ages – is that he desires once more to have a place to dwell upon earth and as I said on Christmas day, reflecting on the words of John ‘The word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us, that place is in and amongst his people’ ‘With Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone’ With Christ Jesus himself as the foundation – The foundation – of everything . . . and as we know all too well here in New Zealand, mucking around with foundations brings buildings down – and so the house of Herod – the one who himself had tried to have himself made ‘King of the Jews’ by dictat – the house of Herod is shaken to its foundations ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ Such an innocent enquiry – and one that threatens everything – all that Herod had planned and built. But like any ruler always on the lookout for those who might usurp his power (partly why we can never expect grown up politics . . .) Herod announced himself ‘King of the Jews’ and ordered that his sons succeed him, but then had them executed!!1 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him
And so the Magi come to offer their gifts – Gold Frankincense and Myrrh – and knelt down and paid Him homage. Not paying homage to Herod – homage to the one who is the corner stone for the dwelling place of God
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another country . . . this is dangerous knowledge . . .
To know Him who is the cornerstone of the dwelling place of God is dangerous knowledge – as it remains today, at least where the church has retained the understanding that all knees must bow before him to pay homage . . . the understanding that actually We too are outsiders . . . that our obligations are not to the rulers and pricipalities of this age – but of those of the age to come
On an almost daily basis I receive from around the world news of the persecution of Christians – just this past week I read startling evidence that Christians are overwhelmingly persecuted for their faith over against all other faith groups. From our context here in New Zealand this must sound very odd – what after all is very threatening about being a Christian?? We don’t need to be warned in a dream not to tell folk about the one who has been born into the world to supplant all human rule and authority – we just don’t do it.
There is I think a very necessary strangeness in the visit of the Magi – those who come from the East. Whose focus is no human rule but one divinely revealed in the shining of a strange star. I think we too readily try to undo this story – try to make it make sense on our terms and when it doesn’t, then dismiss it – we fail to be troubled by it, in much the same way we have lost sight of the troubling idea that this Faith isn’t first of all ours – that we were only lately invited to become the people of God, and that the birth of Christ into the world really does challenge everything we are so accustomed to.
This is Not an easy story – and the life we are summoned to is not a life of ease. our reading from Paul stops at Verse 12. He continues I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory. This Glory that the angels announce – and that the Wise men behold will come about only through suffering and on our part, the chief part of that is the knowledge that in being insiders to to the mystery that has been revealed in Christ – we find ourselves outsiders in the world in which we ha learned to be so comfortable
In a sense I think that this is the great adjustment we need to make at this time. Most of us have grown up with church being a very ordinary part of things one way or another – certainly I did. But that is rapidly changing – once more we are coming into an age where to Know Christ is, as it is for so many of our brothers and sisters to be in possession of dangerous knowledge – But Life giving knowledge. In the early years of the church Christians met as they do nowadays in China and PAkistan, in Iran and many other places, behind closed doors. There as in the early days of the church, the wider world’s hostitlity was shut out as God’s people met in secret – to worship and adore – to lay their treasures before him . . . and the church grew like never before as it continues to in those places – so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Perhaps The great strangeness of Christian faith in this world today is that it is not primarily a set of ideas, an ideology, a way of life, it not about values. No it is about a person. We bleieve in Jesus Christ the only son of God eternally begotten of the father, God from God, Ligth from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father through whom all things were made. Our Faith is to Know ourselves to be His – in relationship with Him, the Babe of Bethelehem, the King of the Jews, the Son of God most High. It is Only in and through worship and adoration that we like the Magi begin to comprehend what we are called into, and how Graced we are that we who were once far off have been brought home.