06 January 2016
The focus of Epiphany, as usual, is the visit of the Magi. The other readings, though, add some wonderful nuances and textures to this story, emphasising the inclusivity of Christ and the priority of God for justice and for defending the least. In a world where faith is often used to exclude and exploit, and with the tough conflicts and divisions across our planet, the Epiphany message is a timely word. Since this is the Year of Luke in the Lectionary (Year C) the themes of justice and inclusivity are particularly appropriate, offering the possibility of links between the shepherds (from the Christmas season) and the magi (this week). Either way, the scandalous truth that we must face in this celebration is that the light of God’s glory shines on all people and through all people – if we only have eyes to see it!
May our worship open our eyes to the light of God’s glory in Christ, and within and around us.
Isaiah 60:1-6: The light of God’s glory and God’s goodness shines on God’s people, and people from across the earth are drawn to bring gifts and worship God.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14: A prayer for God’s love of justice to fill God’s king, who will then defend the poor and rescue the oppressed. Then other kings will bow before him and bring gifts, and all nations will serve him.
Ephesians 3:1-12: In Christ both Jews & Gentiles enjoy the riches of God’s blessings and become, together, one body.
Matthew 2:1-12: Wise men from the East arrive, worship the Christ-Child and present him with fine gifts. Then, having been warned in a dream, they return to their home via a different route, ignoring Herod’s request that they inform him of where the child is staying.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Although the Epiphany readings are the same every year, and focus on the visit of the magi to the Christ Child, this year we add the particularly emphasis of Luke’s Gospel to this festival. There is not question that Luke’s passion for inclusivity resonates strongly with the Epiphany message. All of the readings stress two main themes. Firstly, there is the inclusivity of God’s saving work in the world. All of the readings speak of the diverse groups that are drawn into God’s grace and glory in one way or another (the nations, wealthy and poor, powerful and oppressed, Jew and Gentile). Secondly, there is the worship and the offering of gifts that accompanies the experience of being included. Only the epistle has no mention of people bringing gifts to Christ. It is significant that, at the start of his human life, the one who is God’s gift to the world, who brings God’s grace and salvation to humanity, first receives the worship and the gifts of humanity. It is also significant that the ones who bring those gifts are those who would have been excluded from the worship of God in the Temple – Gentile foreigners who were sorcerers (the literal Greek word). The message here is twofold: the incarnate Christ has come for all humanity, not just a particular national or religious group, and the glory of God, reflected in the incarnate God-child, teaches us that God’s glory is also reflected in all humanity. Although no Gospel has the shepherds (from Luke) and the magi (from Matthew) together, it is appropriate thematically, especially in this year of Luke, to hold the two visits together because the message is essentially the same – no one is excluded from the grace and glory of God.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
Defensiveness and otherness are two of the main characteristics of today’s political, social, economic and relational world. In the quest for self-development, human beings have increasingly seen their individual selves as distinct from and “other than” other people. Businesses work hard to “distinguish” themselves from their competitors and even nations work hard to identify themselves, drawing boundaries, naming enemies and allies, and putting huge investments into defending what is “uniquely theirs”. Epiphany, scandalously reveals that Christ crosses all of these boundaries, refusing to be defensive or self-protective, and refusing to draw lines of separation. This incarnate Messiah draws all creation together into one, and gives up his own safety, security and comfort in order to do it. The call of this inclusive Christ, though, is for us to respond by recognising God’s glory manifest in him, and then to offer our gifts – and ourselves – to become reflections of that glory through our inclusive love practiced across the globe. Where people invested in political parties, interest groups and lobbies, are unable to cross the lines that divide us, as Christ-followers, we can and must, in order to bring humanity together and help us all find the peace and justice we long for.
Every church community, and every person, longs for the light of God’s glory and blessing to shine on them. This longing often leads us into trying to earn God’s blessing through legalism, doctrinal purity or separation from those who are considered “unrighteous”. Too often faith becomes something exclusive, something to defend against others who see things differently. Epiphany reveals an alternative view of God’s glory – that in Christ’s incarnation God’s glory and blessing are already ours – not something to earn; and that the experience of God’s glory is found in connection and sharing with others, while protecting and defending the least. It is a good discipline to ask: “Who needs to be included in our community right now?” and “Who needs to be protected?” – two questions that necessarily call us to emulate Christ’s self-sacrifice in our own lives. Of course, all this begs the question of evangelism. What does it mean to bring others into the light of God’s grace or to reflect God’s glory to them? How do we allow our worship to shine, without it becoming oppressive, elitist, judgmental or just plain creepy to others? The answer, suggested by the readings, and by Christ’s example, is in self-sacrifice. When we are trying to “win souls” or “grow our church” or even “be obedient” the focus tends to be on us, and other people sense this and feel manipulated. But, when our focus is on serving, empowering, standing with, and loving those around us, with no particular expectation of their response, then they sense this too, and are drawn to the Christ they see in us – rather than to any particular doctrine, church or theological position. If Epiphany is about God’s glory filling the world, it must happen through our Christlike love and service, not through “Christian dominance” over people, other religions or society’s structures and systems.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
About The Light
Light And Glory
The Simple Logic of Light
Who Are You, Jesus?
What Child Is This?
We Three Kings
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Christ From Whom All Blessings Flow
Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken
Marvelous Light (Listen to preview here)
Shine Jesus Shine (Link to YouTube video)
Here I Am To Worship (Link to YouTube video)
How Great Is Our God (Link to New Song Cafe’ YouTube video)
Open Our Eyes, Lord (Link to YouTube video)
Open The Eyes Of My Heart, Lord (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy For The Breaking Of Bread