Year C, Christmas II (Epiphany) January 3, 2016 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Where is the child who has been born King of the Jews?”
Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy 10th day of Christmas. Do you all pay attention to the 12 days of Christmas? It is something to consider, one evening and a day doesn’t seem to cut it, not with the magnitude of the occasion. The 12 days are important in our household, we allow this festive, mid-winter feast to fill out the whole indicated time. It was a bit more challenging this year with a long Egan opening, but still it has been quite refreshing. We open our stockings on Christmas day, and maybe one other present before starting in on that culinarily simple but ethically complicated Beef Wellington we spoke of last week. Then each day after breakfast we open a present, something small, nothing overwhelming. On the heels of the Advent calendar and wreath lighting season, we have a month and a half of small, daily family religious rituals. It is lovely. We’ve been celebrating the Christmas season like this for the past four years, so the girls don’t really know any better how maddening or intolerable Christmas presents remaining under the tree five, seven, even twelve days after Christmas would be to many. But it is a lovely way to celebrate, to hold high the season of Christmas and ritually link the birth of the Christ Child with the Epiphany. It is also a great way to avoid the post holiday, post feast/over-doing-it blahs because it never gets too much. Well, besides that Beef Wellington.
So we are still in Christmas, and I don’t want to rush through it, but (remember the old saying that it is all hogwash before the but), but Wednesday is the Feast of the Epiphany, and this is one of the principal feasts of the Church year. Epiphany is an important feast and we Eugene/Springfield Episcopalians will again celebrate it together at St. Mary’s on Wednesday evening. But, (again with the but), but these services are not attended particularly well. So rather then unsuccessfully cajoling everyone to come to church for a Wednesday feast day, I figured we’d bring the Wednesday feast to church. So Merry Christmas! Happy 10th day! And Blessed Epiphany! All in one.
Epiphany. What does this word mean? ____ A moment of sudden revelation or insight. A manifestation of a divine being. And then the proper noun of course means the manifestation or revelation of Christ to the Gentiles as symbolized by the arrival of the Magi at the manger. Perfect. In our Scriptural narrative, there are actually three “epiphanies” as defined, that were associated with this feast in the very early church. Anyone who has read ahead in the lectionary for the next two weeks knows what they are. Anyone? The first is the Magi. Second? What do we remember on the Sunday after the epiphany? The Baptism of our Lord… “This is my son with whom I am well pleased” and the Holy Spirit descending “like a dove.” That is quite a manifestation, quite a revelation. And lastly? Think St. John’s gospel, chapter 2? The wedding at Cana. Jesus’ first miracle. Again, that is quite a coming out, quite a revelation. When Archbishop Cranmer constructed the first prayer book nearly 500 years ago, he made getting all of these readings in very easy… the Baptism was read at Morning Prayer, the Magi proclaimed at the Eucharist and the Wedding Feast for Evening Prayer. Ahhh simpler times when more of us would have had time for church three times a day. But we don’t, most of us, and church three weeks in a row is more then many of us can manage. So here we are, the Epiphany is upon us.
Epiphany is about revelations, manifestations… But these are not accidental occurrences, were they? No. There was a great deal of intention. The Magi, they were seeking Him. “Where is the child who has been born King of the Jews?” They made along search, they were following a star and they followed that star wherever it took them, even into Herod’s treacherous field of view.
In the Baptism, Jesus went out to the wilderness, he sought out John, and what did he seek in him? God? It is hard to tell in the text, but he was seeking something.
And the Wedding Feast? I don’t know if Jesus was seeking anything besides maybe fulfilling His social or familial obligations to attend a wedding, but His mother came to Him seeking his help on behalf of the wedding party.
Seeking… what are you seeking? Here we are in a brand new year. You might have gotten a new day planner in your stocking, or downloaded the app to your phone: what is in it? What are you seeking this year? What are you seeking in your neighbor, those you share your life with? What are you seeking in your life? What are you seeking in God? That is a lesson of Epiphany that we need to remember… God doesn’t come to those who just wait patiently for God to come to them. God doesn’t just come to us like Saul, and strike us down unexpected and unaware. No, a search of these Epiphany stories teach, it takes a lot of effort to seek out God, to search for an Epiphany. Sometimes that effort is exerted in active patience, in holy waiting, like the waiting taught in contemplative practices like centering prayer, but searching, seeking God, that is a principle duty we have as Christians, as evidenced by this emphasis in one of our principle feasts. What are you seeking?
The second primary lesson of the Epiphany is about gifts. It is what the Magi are most fondly remembered for: “…they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” In seeking God, we seek not only the benefits of finding God, but more so, we seek ways to praise God, to honor God, to lay the first fruits of our efforts before the most high. Gandhi lists religion without sacrifice as one of the deadliest sins, right there with wealth without work and pleasure without conscience.
The Magi gave things of great, clear value both wealth wise and symbolically. At the Baptism, Jesus gave Himself into the hands of John, and John had the high honor of offering Jesus to God in the waters of the Jordan (and God gave of God’s self in the form of a dove). At the wedding, Mary offered the gifts of her son, and her son, Jesus, gave nothing short of a miracle. When God is revealed, our impulse should be giving, offering.
What do you have to give? I’m not talking about time, talent and treasure, the typical stewardship message, though there are some who actively, spiritually give to God through their various gifts to the church. What do you have to give to God? I worked with someone years ago who gave God the gift of his sobriety each year. He committed to that each Epiphany. What a beautiful gift. Give your time to prayer. To service. Give your attention, your intention to God, and steer your life in the direction you feel God pulling you. Work less (or more), try harder (or try to relax). Spend less money, give more time and the possibilities go on and on and on. What does God need of you? That is the second half of the Epiphany question and it usually doesn’t take that much prayer and quiet to figure out. We know, intuitively, what God wants of us if we can just dispense with the social and cultural niceties that we are all subject to. How to actually give that… there is a lifetime of practice there.
What are you seeking? What do you have to give? Sounds like the things a commodity trader needs to think about before the trading day begins, and they do because their livelihoods depend on having answers to those questions. Our lives are not dependent on the answers to those Epiphany questions… but they just might be dependent on asking those questions. May the rest of your Christmas be merry and your Epiphany blessed. AMEN