Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

It's Epiphany!

It’s Epiphany!

Today is Epiphany Sunday - a day for us to think about God’s direction to a group of scientists to travel and confirm the birth of the Christ child. The word ‘epiphany’, in the church sense, refers to an appearance of a deity to a worshipper. This day is significant because we recognize that God reveals the nature of Jesus, as the ‘king’, to a group of Gentiles. Throughout Jesus ministry we see this happen over and over. God is trying to teach us that Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah, did not come just for his own people, the Jews, but for everyone. And here, in the very beginning of the story of Jesus God is using these fellas from far away to reveal that Jesus is truly the coming King.
In the church, Epiphany Sunday is the Sunday that falls after the first of January but In many cultures, Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas - as in the famous song ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’. In many cultures, unlike us who put all our presents under the Christmas tree to open on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, they give presents each day from Dec 25 until Jan 6 - one present for each of the 12 days
of Christmas. But for us in the Western Church, Epiphany is the Sunday commemorated as the day to remember the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus - a visit which in reality has big implications in our understanding the purpose of the coming of God in Jesus
A couple of important points about this visit if you follow closely the biblical account of the story of the Wise Men: First - the Wise Men did not come to the stable to visit the baby Jesus as we portray in all of our nativity sets. We are clearly told that the Magi visit Jesus in a house. We are also told that they visited the ‘boy’ Jesus - the Greek word for a young boy not a baby. With all their sources and calculations, theologians figure the Wise Men show up to see Jesus about 2 years after he was born. The other technically we have to bust is that we don’t know how many wise men there are. There could be 2 or 20. The only reason we traditionally talk about 3 wise men is that there were 3 gifts. They also weren’t kings - but a combination of priest and scientist. They were proficient in the science of astrology (not the astrology as in our ‘signs’ we read each day to see what will happen) - they studied the stars for patterns and changes and movements
which they believed were the way in which gods revealed themselves to people. These Magi were also experts in studying other religions and tried to work out the prophecies in all the major religions of that time.
They lived in the area of Babylon and remember the Jews were held captive in Bablyon. While the Jews were captives, one of the things that happened was that the Jewish scribes assembled their writings into what we would know as the Old Testament. So the Magi had access to the Jewish writings and all the prophecies included in those writings. So when they see this new star appear in the sky and they remember the Jewish prophecies about a star announcing the arrival of the King of the Jews, they decided they needed to go to the land of the Jews - to Palestine - and check this out. Any king who rates a star should be investigated!
Accounts of events in the Bible are recorded not only to teach us the history of our faith; to help us see how God has worked in and through people, but also to teach us something about how we are live as God’s people.
The Magi represent for us God’s directive to be seekers and learners. They had apparently been searching the heavens for years for signs of something unique and significant occurring in their world. They were open to new wisdom and truth - more than this - they searched for it. They were not simply content to get along with that which they already knew. So, when they saw a new star in the heavens, they sensed in their hearts that it was a sign from a god.
Jesus later will tell us that if we seek, we will find, if we knock, the door shall be opened to us, if we ask, we will receive. But how often do we actually seek for wisdom? For new truth? For guidance? For more information about God and Christ and what is actually recorded in scripture?
Think of assembling all those new toys and tools that appeared this Christmas. How many people actually looked at the directions before beginning to assemble them? How many tried to put something together relying on the knowledge they already had - only to find that it was not good enough? In order to finally get whatever it was put together, you had to resort to the instructions!
The wise men gained their wisdom because they were seekers - they were looking for new things, new
insights, new signs. They read their manuals; they researched their documents; they searched the heavens for

signs and wonders. And so should we. We have a wealth of instruction in our scriptures and we are told by God we need to read and learn and study what is there. 2 Timothy 3:16 - “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” So like these Magi, we need to use the resource we have.
Once these Magi figured out that the prophecies led them to Jerusalem, they immediately began to pack to head off on what was going to be a very long and difficult journey. The journey would take a year and would go through treacherous and dangerous territory - which they knew about when they headed out on the journey. The wise men had faith that this journey was going to lead them to something important and didn't hesitate to begin the journey - even knowing the difficulties they would have to experience and the sacrifices they would have to make.
Faith by definition involves the idea of making a journey - of venturing forth - of risking one's very self in a new activity. The living God cannot be found by proxy. We can’t come to a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ through someone else. The magi had to travel from a foreign land. They did not know where the star would lead them, how long it would take, or what the end result would be for them. They only knew that it was important for them to follow that star to wherever it lead. It was a personal quest
and the result was an opportunity to visit the one who would be king of kings and Lord of Lords.
This may well be the most important truth for us in the Epiphany story. A story of faith with Jesus has to be a personal story, a personal quest, a journey of faith. It is not enough to know all kinds of facts about Jesus. One must encounter the wonder of God's grace and then make a personal decision to commit their lives to living with Christ. One must decide to learn the way Christ has taught us to live and then do so. No one else can do that for us. Faith is not inherited from someone else- nor can it come from simply knowing what others have said about it. Faith is like the difference between having read about how to make a cake and actually making one. One can know all there is to know
about cooking, one may well have memorized the recipe for the cake that he or she wants to make - but until one actually gets out the ingredients and mixes them together and puts the results in the oven and then has faith that when the timer on the oven dings, out will come a cake! . Faith is acting like the wise men - stepping out into
the unknown knowing that Jesus will be there no matter how long and hard the journey.
The wise men went off on their journey - knowing that the prophecy told them that the star would lead them to a king. They knew what a king was like - the same picture we would have of a king - crowns and royal robes; palaces and servants and wealth. Then they end up in Bethlehem at the home of a poor carpenter.There are no costly treasures in the house, no purple robes, no gold rings, nothing in fact to show that they are in the presence of person destined to be a great king. Only the star stood overhead to indicate that anything special at all was going on. And they accept this. Although all the
outward signs are telling them that they are in the wrong place, they accept that single sign - the Star, the sign of God that they have been following for so long.
So many of us have a hard time accepting what God has given in the form that he gives it. Because we are waiting for something spectacular from God - we look for great miracles, instant healings, signs and wonders. We may pray to God for a special blessing and miss what the blessing really is. We have this idea fixed in our minds that God does not appear to us in the ordinary aspects of our life. We do not
expect God to show up while we are at work, or doing dishes at the kitchen sink or just relaxing in front of the TV. The Magi found what they were looking for in a humble home in a small insignificant town. We have a hard time considering that God's answers to our questions can be found in a 3000 year old book, or from something that happens during an ordinary day, or a dream we have had during a long and troubled night that is in fact, a message from God.
The wisdom of the wise men is simply this
- they sought wisdom,
- they were willing to journey in faith to personally discover what God was doing,
- they accepted what they found - even though it clearly was not what they expected - and believed in it.
Simple stuff really - but wisdom normally is simple stuff.
Simple - but when used - as the wisemen used it, it leads us closer to God. Amen!