Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Jesus Christ. Epiphany means revelation, and we are entering into the season of the church year known as Epiphany, and Epiphany will lead us to the season of Lent, and Lent will prepare us for Easter, and Easter will prepare us for Pentecost, and after a long summer of the season of Pentecost or also known as Common Time, we begin the church calendar all over again with Advent, and then Christmas and again we come to Epiphany.
Epiphany means revelation, an encounter of the divine kind, kind of like running into a divine wall. It reminds me of a humorous time in my life, and I know Naomi will confirm, I was 20 years old at the time that I was so spiritual I was no earthly good. You’ve heard of that expression, right, that someone is so spiritual that they are just no earthly good? I’m the person this expression was coined after. Naomi and I were either engaged or in the process of becoming engaged, I really can’t remember, but Naomi would ask me why I wanted to marry her. My response was “I have no choice. It’s like running into a brick wall. God’s telling me to do this”. Now, that’s the stupidest thing a person can tell his fiancé. That’s not the most romantic thing you can tell the person you are going to marry. There was another expression I had when I started having second thoughts about our engagement. Naomi reminded me of this later. “I don’t know, it’s like I’m at the checkout counter of the drugstore and there’s this jar of candy and I just want to make sure I get the right piece of candy, because once you put it in your mouth you can’t put it back and get another one”. Now that was one of the most unromantic things to say too. I have no idea why she married me. The expression “so spiritual that you are no earthly good” was named after me. I’m the reason that phrase was coined.
I think sometimes revelations or epiphanies are okay, but they must be checked out. There is a scripture I like, and it goes like this: “To the Law and to the testimony. If it does not agree with this, it is because they have no light in them”. (Isaiah 8:20) In other words you may come into this church and say you have a prophetic ministry of the end times; and if you do, hopefully we will recognize that ministry and receive it. In the Episcopal Church we have a discernment process, and this is a Biblical concept that we are the Body of Christ, and we are all individual parts that are linked together, and if the community is linked together and does not recognize that ministry, maybe it’s not what The Holy Spirit has in mind at this time. It does not mean that you don’t have that ministry, but maybe currently it’s just not right. Or maybe you are just barking up the wrong tree. Maybe there’s another tree to bark up that you haven’t found yet.
I remember at the Welcome Church in Philadelphia one Sunday afternoon, there was a lady with a few followers that showed up for the Eucharist service in the park, and she had clericals on, a black clerical shirt and a collar. I just figured she was either Episcopal, Lutheran or some other faith group. I knew she wasn’t a Roman Catholic priest. So, after the service I asked her what faith tradition she was part of, and she said: “Oh, I’m self-ordained. I’m not part of any denomination or church group.” Well that gave me pause, as it should. What that means is that she has no one to be held accountable to; no-one she answers to, a very dangerous thing for her followers. There is no biblical or recognized Christian tradition that agrees with this method of ministry. You can’t just hang up your shingle on the street that says: “Bishop David”. I know it’s done, but not in this church.
Today we are talking about epiphanies and our gospel story is about the wise men that have an epiphany of Jesus, and they seek him out. They stop at Governor Herod, who had checked with his scholars…undoubtedly Jewish scholars that were loyal to Rome. So, Herod tells the wise men to be sure to come see him on their way back so that he too could go worship the newborn king. The wise men continue to Bethlehem and overwhelmed with joy they enter the house where Jesus, Joseph and Mary are, and they bow down, worship and lay gifts at Jesus feet. And, then being warned in a dream they did not go back by the way of “that Fox Herod” but returned home by a different route.
This is the Epiphany of Jesus Christ. Something special has happened. Not only does the world not want to recognize this Christ child, but certain powers do recognize and feel it is their mission, and out of fear, they focus on destroying God’s plan, this newborn Messiah, it’s fear for their own position, but also fear of the unknown.
During Epiphany we prepare our hearts for Lent. It’s a time to enjoy the awesomeness of Christ. It’s a time to enjoy the fact that Christ has come to live among us, to dwell among us. (John 1:14) Yes it does prepare us for Lent, and Lent prepares us for Easter. But, every time we come together on Sunday to worship, we celebrate the birth, the life, the death, the resurrection, Pentecost, the indwelling of the Spirit in the Church and the Hope of the Second Coming of Christ, the “Parousia”. That’s what the Eucharist table is all about.
In the Episcopal Church the primary focus of our service is the altar, not the sermon. It’s not that we don’t think the sermon is important. We do think it’s important, and I’m careful about what is said and who is speaking from this pulpit. When we leave the Eucharist table we are like pieces of the broken bread, and we are sent out to share that bread with those outside of this church building, the good news that Jesus Christ is born, Jesus Christ has died, but Christ will come again. It is an Epiphany about the living Word of God, not just black ink on white paper.
Christ is with us, Christ has come, and we have experienced that coming, Christ has died, and Christ will come again. The good news is that the spirit is with us, and the presence of Christ is in the church. We share the Epiphany of Christ. We are commissioned to go into all the world and preach the gospel, to go into the highways and byways with this Epiphany message, that Christ has come. Open your minds, open your hearts, open your spiritual eyes and allow the Spirit to transform you and give you an epiphany, the revelation that Christ is here among us and that we recognize Him in our midst. Alleluia!