I am an Epiphany!
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
January 6, 2019
Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Most of us know or have heard that our Jewish friends celebrate for 8 nights what they call a “Festival of Lights” named Hanukkah, but what you may not have known is that we Christians have a similar celebration that goes back to the traditions of the Middle Ages.
Today, January 6th is 12 days from Christmas or December 25th. I am sure most of us are aware of the Christmas Carol – The 12 Days of Christmas (which had a resurgence in the last few years, thanks to Straight No Chaser.) It seemed to be a nonsensical song for kids, but it too is directly related to these 12 days. Some believe the song has a hidden message that teaches children the Christian Faith. Either way, few people today celebrate these 12 days which the song speaks.
For most of us, Christmas is one day with lots and lots of prior build-up, and then as soon as it is over, we roll it back up into boxes and stick it in our attic until next December, when we do it all again.
In our day and age, the 12 Days of Christmas have become a time to finally rest after the exhaustion of Christmas. Mainly because our lives and schedules dictate so much during the holiday season. History shows that these 12 days were supposed to be a way for Christians to Celebrate and even “brake the cycle” of the secular world’s busyness.
Many Christians would take the 12 days of Christmas off from work. Many would even wait until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas Tree and would plan decorating events for each day. Many traditions were created during this time.
It was a time of celebration, a time of family and community, and it all was to focus on the incarnation of Jesus in our world. Some even believed it to be a time to center down and allow Christ to be revealed in us again each year. It was a brief season of revealing or manifestation.
It is no coincidence then that these 12 days would end with an “Epiphany.” If you grew up in a more liturgical church or you have friends who are Orthodox Christians (who consider this day their Christmas) you would know that today is an important day. After 12 days of celebrating, centering down, and reflecting, now it is time for an epiphany.
In ancient times, an epiphany was considered a manifestation of a god (or goddess). The god would finally be recognized, made manifest, or would reveal him or herself to ordinary people.
Early Christians used the word “epiphany” to describe the story that was just read about the visitation of the wise men. Jesus had been revealed to local shepherds, but to be made manifest to worldly men, star gazers, people most likely outside the Jewish faith was a true epiphany or revealing.
This is why, I believe the story of the wise men cannot be missed or trivialized. It is important in understanding why the message of Jesus is for everyone not just Christians.
Author and Biblical Commentator, Sea Raven, says that Matthew, the writer of our text this morning about the epiphany to the wise men, may have been a liturgist and worship leader in the Jewish Community. She says Matthew followed a format that honored the Jewish Sabbath and would be understandable for those knowing the stories about Jesus.
The Jewish people have a long tradition of retelling the great stories of the faith. What she says Matthew was doing was interpreting the birth of Jesus to be the new symbol of the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt. Matthew went as far as pointing out that Isaiah and Jeremiah both prophesied about the Messiah coming to liberate his people from bondage.
In technical jargon or in theological circles this retelling is called, “midrash.”
“Midrash means retelling a sacred story in a way that has special meaning for the current time, to fit a new occasion, and a different context, and from a different point of view.”
In this same tradition, I want us to think about “epiphany” in our current context. In our postmodern world today, epiphany has come to mean a revelation of a truth about one’s self.
Just maybe, like Matthew interpreted the epiphany for his day and age through the lens of Jesus, we too are being called to reflect, center down, and again reinterpret the epiphany in our context.
As Quakers, we believe the Light of Christ resides within us and thus we are the hands and feet of Christ being revealed to our world. We are the manifestation to our neighbors, communities, workplaces, and our own families.
Again, Sea Raven talks about Christ (or in Matthew’s story what she calls the “Divine Child”) being an archetype in our world.
As you know in our world today, archetypes get associated with great leaders both spiritual and political. She points out that this Divine Child archetype is very much prevalent in our world. We are always looking for a “messiah” or Divine Child to be born or be revealed to save us from our bondages.
Just listen to the news or politics, we will make just about anyone a “messiah” for our need to be saved. We are so obsessed with creating and projecting the “next messiah” we miss the fact that the Divine Child (or Christ) lives within us. Folks, we are the next epiphany – the next manifestation of God in our world. We are the incarnation of the gospel to our hurting world. Just maybe those Christians in the Middle Ages understood the need to reflect and center down on the incarnation of Christ for those 12 days so they could have a new epiphany in and through their own lives.
I love what Sea Raven says about this Christ or inner-Divine Child within each of us. She says,
“The Divine Child is the one who brings something new into the world. The Divine Child challenges the way things are. The Divine Child overturns the kind of injustice that results from the mindless indifference of social systems. The Divine Child overturns everything we think we know about what makes life safe and secure and predictable and under our control. The Divine Child puts us in touch with what we don’t want to be in touch with. The Divine Child is the wild part of ourselves that isn’t constrained by rules about what’s proper or possible or practical. That wildness is rooted in passionate, radical, inclusive, non-violent, self-defying justice.”
I don’t know about you, but I believe Sea Raven just described living in the Quaker Way. Imagine the difference we might make in our current world – in 2019 – if we were to live out, reveal, make manifest these “Divine Child” attributes and attitudes, today.
It all sounds great, but it isn’t easy – just as it wasn’t easy for Jesus.
Let’s be honest, the reality of this, is that when we live out this “Divine Child” within us, like Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, we find Herod coming after us – wanting to kill us.
Herod too is a metaphor. Herod is the people in our lives or sometimes our own ego saying that the predictable and normal are simply ok.
We are surrounded by “Herods,” and they want to kill creativity, suppress change, prevent life from flourishing and growing.
“Herod” is that voice inside of you saying you are not good enough, or you can’t do that, or you don’t have time. Herod is the voice of oppression and injustice.
So, it makes sense then at this time of the year, we take a personal inventory of ourselves. We write out New Year’s resolutions, we join gyms and go on diets and make changes to our bodies and minds. And when we make changes and work to live and manifest the Quaker Way in our life, I believe the world benefits.
For several years on New Year’s Day, I have posted the following words on Facebook attributed to St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Theresa of Avila. They speak to my condition as I reflect on this epiphany.
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
Now, let us take a moment to quiet our souls enter into Waiting Worship. In the bulletin you will find some queries to ponder in light of my message.
· How are we allowing the “Divine Child” to be revealed in and through us?
· Who are the “wise men” to whom we need to reveal our message?
· Who are the personal “Herods” we need to keep at bay?