Let us pray…
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Jesus - An epiphany is a theophany, a manifestation of the divine, an appearance of God that may be unexpected, unnerving and almost always unsettling. The wise men experienced what was an Epiphany when they found the baby Jesus (not in a manger as we often think, for the wise men come later - our text tells us that they entered a house) – When they found him they experienced a supernatural event which not only changed their lives but the entire world, when God was made incarnate as a human being - a helpless babe. The thing I want us to focus on though, is what is often overlooked in this story of the wise men, how they reached that house, so that they could experience this theophany - this manifestation of God in their midst, and as we look to the wise men’s journey to God we will find lessons for us to help us on our own journey.
Firstly, when this story is retold it is often overlooked that the wise men first go to Jerusalem, and not to Bethlehem. What is the significance of this you may wonder. Many would state that these men would of course go to Jerusalem as it was the capital, and where you would expect to find a King - and this is correct. What is also often portrayed however is that the wise men followed the star the whole way from their home in the East, that they were guided the whole way - our story doesn't bear witness to that though.
If our wise men were following the star for the whole journey, why did it lead them to Jerusalem? Why not directly to Bethlehem where their Epiphany awaited? No, the wise men were not following a star the whole way - our Gospel account tells us that they came to Jerusalem because they saw the star 'at its rising' . You see these men saw something, that to them indicated something special was happening - they then took a journey - on faith - to Jerusalem, because they believed that what they had seen indicated the coming of a King. Only when they had reached Jerusalem, and sought council from Herod, and the Jewish chief priests and scribes, were they provided with the knowledge to take them to where they needed to be. Then, only once they had that knowledge, were they guided by the star to the house in Bethlehem, where they had their Epiphany - their experience of the divine.
So let's recap - Step 1 The wise men see something, they are prompted by a sign, a calling of the star, and thinking there might be something to it they take a journey – on faith to Jerusalem.
Step 2: They don't find what they were looking for in Jerusalem, what a disappointment! Much like our own faith journey, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the wise men. But rather than wallow in self-pity over what seemed like a wasted journey, they seek more knowledge to enable them to continue on their journey of faith.
Step 3, their persistent faith, and willingness to follow their calling pays off and they are guided on their journey, to a place where they can experience the divine.
You see in order to find the divine you need faith, persistence, and a willingness to follow God’s call to revelation.
… But what does that mean for us – here and now? Well it means if you are someone who has not experienced the salvation on offer through Jesus, the three wise men tell you what you must do in order to have your own epiphany - take a leap of faith, seek knowledge and help when you need it, and be prepared to let God lead you to your very own epiphany, where you can experience your own divine moment in receiving the gift of forgiveness and salvation through Christ.
For those of us who have already placed our faith and hope in Christ, what do we learn - presumably we have had our own journey, to our own epiphany, so what now? Well firstly our journey is not over, and there are many many more chances for us to experience the presence of God in our midst - we too must continue our faith journey following the model of the wise men – being prepared to let God be our guide.
We as the people of God, have another important role though – and our reading from Isaiah points us to it.
Now when we look to our reading from the prophet Isaiah today, we as Christians have a tendency to just overlay Jesus into it. When we read Isaiah saying ‘arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’ we instinctively see Jesus. And it is a great explanation of the epiphany of Christ. However, is that the message of Isaiah? Was he pointing to the coming of the Messiah? Well… yes and no...
Chapters 60–62 of Isaiah portray Jerusalem as “a bereaved woman,”. In them, the prophet surprises his own listeners’ ears. Using the vocabulary of royalty, he applies it not to the house of David (as his contemporary Jewish listeners might expect) but to the city of Zion and Israel as a whole. In the first twenty-two verses of chapter 60 (from which today’s passage comes), the “prophet does not look forward to the arrival of a human Messiah to liberate the Israelites or a human king to govern them. Rather, God will rule the nation directly in the future, and the whole nation will enjoy royal status.”
For the prophet, God’s glory is completed in the glorification of God’s people. Their radiance is essential to any bright future of God’s own imagining. If they hope to sit on the sidelines while someone else shines instead of them, then they have missed their central role in God’s vision. They are not God, but God’s presence will be seen over them (v. 2 JPS). They are not kings, but kings shall walk by their shining radiance (v. 3 JPS).
Brothers and sisters we are Israel, we are adopted as God’s people when we place our faith in Christ. We are a royal priesthood. Christ is ‘the light that has come’ but we are to be stars rising which call people to seek the King, we are to be like the scribes and chief priests from our Gospel reading as we guide those who seek, and pass on our knowledge of the divine - and then we hand it over to God so that he might guide those who yearn for him the last steps on the journey - until they too experience their own epiphany.
As we recall the epiphany of Christ to the wise men today, let us take pause and reflect on our role as members of the body of Christ. Let us look to how we can display the radiance of the love of God in the world. Let us remember that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that through us God can make his presence known in the world.
Dear brothers and sisters as the prophet says ‘arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’