Today we celebrate the Feast of The Epiphany. At last the kings, who have been making their weary way to reach the Christ child, have got there. At last their mission is fulfilled and the star that they have followed from lands far away has led them to the one whom they recognised as king of the Jews.
This Feast Day is special because the kings were not themselves Jewish. They came from distant lands, among those known to the Jews as Gentiles; the rest of the world really. The kings or wise men represent the rest of the world at this holy time of year when we have celebrated the birth of our Saviour. They prove to us that all the signs that led up to his birth were for all people who opened their eyes and saw, and opened their hearts to respond to the fact that God’s Son was born into the world. Those wise men represent all Gentiles – and that includes me and it includes you. And their journey is our journey too.
That it was a dangerous journey is made known to us by the reaction of Herod. As we know he did not want to pay homage to a new king but rather to destroy him, to wipe out the contender for his Title of King of the Jews before he had an opportunity to grow up and claim his kingdom for himself. Herod did not understand that the Kingdom was not that of Israel, but rather the Kingdom of God which is for the whole world and for all time.
They paid homage to the Christ child as they offered him gifts that represented his life and divinity and death; gifts for a king who would live and die for his people rather than gifts for a baby boy born to poor parents.
The Gold represents kingship. The Frankincense represents worship, worship offered to God through Christ. And the Myrrh is there to remind us of his death, for myrrh was used to anoint dead bodies before burial.
The kings and their story have been used over the years as symbols representing all people. They appear on Christmas cards, when we are fortunate enough to find cards with a Christian theme. Often they are portrayed as being of different colours and races, of different ages – for those kings have come to symbolise all the nations of the world, and to show us that Jesus was born for all people. Not just the young or the old but for all who recognise him as Lord and Saviour, as Son of the living God.
Having an Epiphany
The word Epiphany is finding a use in our everyday language of late. Perhaps it is because I am who I am that I hear the word spoken by all sorts of people in the media. It’s used to describe how individuals have responded to all sorts of life situations: from seeing their baby for the first time to hearing a pop song. People are describing times of epiphany, of revelation, of realisation that life will never be quite the same for them again.
We in the church use the word in a very special way to describe the time when God became man and dwelt among his people. To describe when this truth was shown to certain people – when, if you like, the God bit shone through the human bit of Jesus.
It was almost as if Heaven could not contain its joy and wonder at what God had done for his people. There were other times of Epiphany and we will hear of them as the weeks of the Epiphany Season unfold. Times of recognition and revelation, when those who had eyes to see and hearts to respond would recognise the Lord Jesus for who he was and is.
And the story goes on. There are plenty of accounts from the lives of the saints and from ordinary Christian people that recount how they too came to the realisation of who Jesus was and is. How that realisation changed their lives. I am sure that some of you could tell me of the time when you too first realised that the Christian story is a true story and one that is meant for you.
Faith in action
This can come in many and varied ways and of course. There will be those for whom it has always been true, part of their lives from their earliest days. Truth learnt at their mother’s knee, and to be honest I am a bit envious of those people for they have always had Jesus in their lives. It was quite a sudden experience for me because I was not born into a Christian family, but rather a militantly anti-Christian family. My father had lost any faith he may have had during the 2nd world war and my mother had died when I was a baby.
My father married again and I have 2 younger brothers but none of them is the least interested in questions of faith. So, I was left to my own devices and although I always did well in religious studies at School it was not until I met my future husband that I had any real experience of Christian faith in action.
His whole family were very involved in their local church and his younger brother was studying to be a priest. So, it was a fairly intense introduction for me! I remember sitting in church one Good Friday and really listening to the words, to the Gospel account of the crucifixion; the words of Jesus and the Sermon and suddenly realising that it was all true and what’s more it was all for me. All I had to do was respond.
Here I am
And I did. I was confirmed as soon as possible and have not looked back since. So, I suppose I had my own time of epiphany and I went on to teach in Sunday School, to be licensed as a Reader and to be ordained. And here I am.
I am no great shakes I can assure you. I am very human and I make many mistakes. But I do hold the hope in my heart that God will take me and my mistakes and will turn them to his glory. Because Jesus our Lord was not born into the world for people who were perfect – but for people like me, who make mistakes, have times of doubt and times of failure but who still love him and want to follow him.
There are so many people in our world and in our communities who like me in my younger days have not had the opportunities that we have every week of learning about what it is to be a Christian in the world. Maybe the only experiences that they have are negative, as they listen to the news and hear religion spoken of in negative ways. In my experience people who have a faith, who claim to follow a religion are people like me too; those for whom faith is a life-choice and a choice that gives them life.
Star of wonder
We the church need to give people opportunities to discover Jesus for themselves. Perhaps we can imagine a huge star of wonder hanging over us right now, or hanging over our churches, there for all to see and to respond to, guiding others to come and find Jesus. And then imagine the star lighting up our lives so that we attract others to join us. To become one with us as we find our way to Christ our Light.
We need to be attractive for Jesus, for He came into the world to save sinners just like us. May we help others to choose to follow Christ and to join us for we are his church wherever we are now. In this coming Season of Epiphany, may we all have our own times of recognition and realisation as Christ is made known to us anew. Amen