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Epipha-What? ~ Isaiah 60: 1-6, Matthew 2: 1-12

We have followed the light to this time and place. Ages prior to Jesus’ conception, prophecies foretold of the Messiah’s birth. When the time was right, angels informed the parents to be. When Mary visited Anna, John yet in her womb leapt at the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. Angels called the shepherds to attend the birth. And a star shone in the heavens to announce to all creation that the Savior of the Universe was made manifest.

The source of all life itself was born into the world in human form. The true source of love and light. And there were eyes that saw, minds that understood, and ears that heard.

And people came from other nations to pay Jesus homage.

Epiphany.

Arise, shine; for your light has come!

Today we celebrate Epiphany, the manifestation of the divine nature of the Christ, revealed to the whole world, as represented by the visitation of the Magi. The actual feast day is celebrated every January 6th, twelve days after Christmas.

The fact that this Holy day for all intents and purposes slips by each year with hardly any notice or reverence, on the spiritual radar says a lot about our theology and Christology. Epiphany should have no less, pomp and circumstance than the Holy Days of Christmas and Easter.

The three kings or Magi, better defined as astrologers or learned men, read the night skies and foretold to the leaders of their kingdoms the coming of a divine ruler. So their leaders sent them with offerings of honor and peace. The Magi were essentially emissaries from the major nations of the world.

What makes this so profound is that their response to what the star foretold
shatters all boundaries in this world! Jesus the Christ is shown to be the light for all creation, and not merely the light to the Jews.

Jesus is not the Messiah for a people, but for all peoples, for creation itself. This message is rooted deeply in the Hebrew Scriptures and tradition, and continues in ours. Yet how it has been lived out by the Jews and we as Christians is a whole other reality all together. Thus January 6th comes and goes year after year with hardly a shout of hallelujah on Epiphany.

There is no greater news or hope than the fact that Jesus came to restore creation and save all humanity. And I use save in its truest sense of salvation, restoring wholeness of body, mind and spirit, restoring right relationship with God and all creation.

The star that foretold the birth of Christ has traversed the skies for nearly two years at this point in our Gospel reading from Matthew. And the Magi arrive in Jerusalem, so close to their desired destination.

Being emissaries from other nations, they stop first at the capital of the land they have entered, in search of this divine ruler. When King Herod hears what they’ve read in the stars, and why they have come, he is frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.

Why aren’t they thrilled? Herod was nothing more than a pawn of the Roman Empire, and as long as he kept Jerusalem and Israel peaceful, he lived like a king, with all its material benefits. And he knew that the Roman Emperor, who saw himself as “the” divine ruler, wouldn’t take kindly to the birth of another sovereign. Especially one born to the lowly subjects of his territory around Jerusalem.

Herod checks with the chief priests as to the scriptures regarding the Messiah, and directs them to Bethlehem as the scriptures foretold. But not before ascertaining when the star first appeared. That way he could calculate the approximate age of this child and deal with him accordingly.

If the Magi had any doubt what the astrological signs foretold about the Christ,
they would never have been sent with such wealth, to pay homage to a sovereign child of all creation. Had Herod truly believed what the scriptures
foretold of the Messiah, he wouldn’t have been afraid and all of Jerusalem with him.

What was so threatening was that the light had come, and that light wasn’t shining only on the people Israel, it was shining for all the world to see. A light that thus spoke of universal salvation – justice, peace, grace, forgiveness, and love – for all, not just a select few.

Now that was frightening.

It threatened every world system that depended upon a few being wealthy and many being poor. On a few benefiting from the work and misfortune of the many. Those who had bought into the political aspect of power over, rather than mutuality and equality, didn’t want their cushy life threatened.

Jesus is a threat to all who want at the cost of others.

That’s why Epiphany is just as much a threat to such people today as it was 2000 years ago. Anyone who wants the world to be just like they are, who abuses the land and the poor, who believes that there are those whom God loves and favors, and then there are the rest of humanity. Such people as these do not want to listen to the message of Epiphany. Such people want the manifestation of the Christ to be selective.

“Surely the Christ didn’t come to save everybody. Someone has to be damned. Well, don’t they?”

I mean if that isn’t true, then how could we justify the crusades, ethnic cleansing, converting the heathens at any cost, the bombing of Iraq, the bombing of Gaza, slaughtering innocents for the greater good.

I mean if we take Epiphany to heart, then everyone would be loved equally by God. We would have to see “everyone” as a child of God. Justice, peace, grace, forgiveness and love, would have to be granted to all. Resources would have to available to all in need.

“Come on, surely that isn’t what God really intended. Jesus is the light of the Christian world; I mean the Jews gave up their rights, and the rest of the world… well, we know where they are going. What were those Magi thinking?”

For many, Jesus the Savior has degenerated into a detached, other worldly, monarch that will come and whisk away all the faithful from this corrupt and awful world leaving the rest behind. As though the source of all life could be or has ever been detached from any part of creation.

Arise, shine; for your light has come.

That light is indeed the light of Christ, the source and healer of all life. Not a light for a select group, but for all the world.

And just as the star shone for all those surrounded by darkness, we are to  reveal the light of the Christ, for all who do not know justice, peace, grace,
forgiveness and unconditional love.

We are to manifest the light of the Christ to all the world, and to recognize it when it is reflected back to us, wherever that might be in the world. For the light is within all humanity – all creation – and we are to call it forth.

Even though we and the people of Israel, continue to fall short of manifesting God’s reign, even now it unfolds round about us. In a world still mired in greed and selfishness, unconditional love remains a threatening and radical message.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we like the Magi must proclaim the profound and inclusive message of the Christ.

Ironically, we must start by proclaiming it back to all who call themselves Christians but choose to exclude and judge the world.

If you have ever doubted that you are saved, or that you are worthy of love, you needn’t doubt ever again.

The message of the Epiphany of the Christ is our hope and the hope of all the world. The light shines within you and before you.

Where will it lead, and will you follow?

Arise, shine; for your light has come.

Amen.

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