“Let light shine!”
Sunday 5 January 2020
The word “Epiphany” has a Greek origin where it means ‘reveal’ or ‘manifestation’. All well and good you might say, but what does manifestation mean? “Manifestation” is to do with being clearly seen or understood.
So, on the feast of the Epiphany, what clearly seen or understood entity are we talking about? The simple answer is Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. And by whom is Christ seen clearly? By Gentiles. Non-Jews.
The readings point to this notion of being clearly seen in various ways. In the first reading from Isaiah, the setting is the rebuilding of Jerusalem following the Exile in Babylon. The prophet uses the image of light to suggest that Jerusalem will be returned to its former glory. And it will be the Lord’s doing. The prophet tells the people to shine for their light has come. Not of their own doing, but of God’s doing.
“For darkness shall cover the earth,
And thick darkness the peoples;
But the Lord will arise upon you
And his glory will appear over you.”
The prophet encourages the people that all the nations will be drawn to Jerusalem again – drawn by the light which God will shower upon it.
And just as the light of God’s glory will attract the nations – the Gentiles, so the light of a star attracts the Magi, Gentiles from the East, to the child born king of the Jews. “And there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.”
These lections from the Bible remind us graphically that it is God who makes Christ visible to all peoples. This feast of Epiphany is an occasion for us to reflect upon the reality that despite the fact that Jesus was a Jew and the inheritor of a religious tradition that is intimately connected with the Jewish nation, he is Christ for all people.
And in the letter to the Ephesians, the writer draws the implications out for us: “that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
We can easily take for granted the fact that the gospel was spread beyond the members of the Jewish religion. A reading of the Acts of the Apostles will quickly acquaint us with the struggles that took place within the early followers of Jesus over whether and how the message of the gospel should be shared with the Gentiles.
Paul attests to the arguments that he had with the Jewish Christians over whether Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could become Christians. We should be aware that much of the hardship that Paul suffered in his mission to the Gentiles was as a direct result of the actions of Jews, both Christian and non-Christian, who objected to his way of preaching to the Gentiles.
We need to take account of the fact that the Gospel of Matthew was written down after Paul’s death when the matter had been sorted out somewhat. And so, Matthew uses the tradition of the arrival of the Magi to visit the child Jesus as a means of making it clear to his readers that Jesus is the Christ for all people, not just for Jews. He will conclude his gospel then with the great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
So for us, one of the implications of the feast of the Epiphany should be humble gratitude that God has revealed Christ to all people – otherwise, there is every chance that the gospel would never have spread in the way that it did to the world at large and who knows what the world would have been like then. A further implication for us though is that we are meant to be agents of God in helping to make Christ manifest in the world today.
In saying that, we should listen closely to the reading from Isaiah and from Matthews’ gospel where it is clear that it is God who does the manifesting, the shedding of glory. That is why I said that we are meant to be agents of God – not trying to take over the role of God in evangelisation.
And it seems to me that the way that we avoid this pitfall is by maintaining a close and intimate relation with God through reading the Scriptures, observing regular routines of prayer and sharing in the reception of the Sacrament regularly. The closer we come to God, the better we understand God’s mission, and the more appropriately we act with God to shine light on Christ for those we meet.
Epiphany is the great feast of gentiles – people like us. It calls forth from us responses of gratitude for the gospel we have received and commitment to working with God in the ongoing spreading of that gospel to people around us. For both, we need to turn often to God in prayer.
Let us pray the prayer of the “Call to Discipleship” from the prayer book.
Christ, whose insistent call
Disturbs our settled lives:
Give us discernment to hear your word,
Grace to relinquish our tasks,
And courage to follow empty-handed
Wherever you may lead,
So that the voice of your gospel
May reach the ends of the earth. Amen.
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen