Today is Epiphany Sunday.
My first year as a pastor, a solid thirteen and a half years ago, I was given the task of preaching on Epiphany Sunday.
And the week before I was supposed to preach, I distinctly remember asking my co-workers: “What in the world is Epiphany Sunday?”
My co-workers stared at 22 year old Kyle and probably thought “Who in the world did we hire?”
I now like to think of it as them having an opportunity to take a young naïve pastor and introduce him to the church calendar.
See, for most of us, after we’ve gone Boxing Day shopping and the Christmas tree is put away and the calendar turns to 2019, we promptly move on from little baby Jesus being born.
But if we follow the church calendar, oh no, we are still in the depths of Christmas. Because little baby Jesus was 12 days ago, and we need to keep celebrating.
And Epiphany Sunday is when we tell the story of the three wisemen showing up on the scene, bringing gifts to little baby Jesus.
Except that… The three wisemen actually showed up about two years after Jesus was born. So little baby Jesus is actually little toddler Jesus, in the middle of his terrible twos and probably saying NO to everything his parents say.
And our Bibles don’t even record how many of wisemen there were. We just think there were three because of the three gifts.
Gary Larson, with his Far Side Cartoon, thinks there may have been a 4th wiseman, but he wasn’t allowed in the door because he brought fruit cake.
And the Bible doesn’t even say that they were men, or wise.
If they were really wise they would’ve brought better gifts that frankinscense, gold and myrhh… like diapers, soothers, and a potty training book.
And because they had to stop to ask for directions, surely there must have been a woman amongst the lot of them, as we all know the stereotype that most men would rather be lost for days than stop and ask for directions.
Okay. Enough lame jokes.
Epiphany is another word for “Aha!” “Eurkea!” It’s a light bulb moment, where one says “Oh! Now I see what’s going on here!” It’s like when you finally understand what a derivative is in calculus.
Epiphany is where we remember the magi meeting toddler Jesus, and it’s called Epiphany Sunday because it’s a Sunday were some pretty big things are revealed.
It’s a word I use often when I preach.
Jesus reveals to us the nature of God. The cross and resurrection reveal what God’s love and victory look like. The parables of Jesus and The apocalyptic texts reveal the inner hearts of his listeners.
Reveal. Something is there, and it’s always been there, and it’s just that now we have the eyes to see it.
And for the next few months, we’re reading and preaching about Jesus as found in the gospel of Matthew, so there’s going to be a lot of revealing of who Jesus us.
The story of the magi reveals four things to me. There are probably more, so if I miss some, please do tell me, and then I’ll be sure to put you on the preaching schedule for Epiphany next year.
Epiphany #1 – The magi stopped to ask directions to toddler Jesus from King Herod. I’ll spare you the long history lesson with a short synopsis: King Herod was a Jewish puppet king set up by the Romans to rule the area. And he was a homicidal maniac. So much so, that when the magi didn’t return to tell him where toddler Jesus was, King Herod ordered the killing of all the baby boys age two and under. He figured that if he couldn’t the one little boy king to kill, he’d just kill all the little boys. Homicidal maniac.
And so the magi set up the scene where Joseph and Mary and Jesus flee to Egypt. They left their home for a different home, fleeing violence in one country for safety in another.
In today’s world, we call that a migrant. Or a refugee. Or an asylum seeker.
Jesus was a refugee.
Jesus was a migrant.
Jesus was an asylum seeker.
I’ve preached on this before here at church, so I won’t belabour the point, but to posture oneself as against refugees or against migrants coming to our country, you are literally setting yourself up to be against Jesus.
In a world where there are 68 million displaced people (the most we’ve ever had on the plantet), and in a world where borders are being more and more closed to refugees, Mary and Joseph fleeing with toddler Jesus to a new country is a pretty big deal. And the story still speaks to us today.
Jesus was a refugee. Jesus was a migrant. And we will keep telling this story every year on Epiphany Sunday.
And the good news? It is really, really easy to help refugee toddler Jesus. When you put money in the offering plate that we stick in front of you every Sunday, 7.5% of that is designated towards sponsoring a Syrian refugee family that we are currently waiting for. Our church, and our refugee committee, has made it really, really, really easy to help. That’s good news.
From now til Easter, we will be preaching through the gospel of Matthew. Matthew was the gospel written primarily to the Jewish community, and some of the stories, or quirky details he includes, make a bit more sense when we remember this.
For example, someone over Christmas asked me, “Kyle, why do we keep calling Jesus the Key of David, or the Son of David.” Well, Matthew was intentional about showing that Jesus was in the lineage of King David in an effort to “up the street cred” of Jesus. To modernize it, this is literally like people in Steinbach playing the Mennonite game of who’s grandparents or great-grandparents were mayor back in the day. “You should listen to me, because do you know who my grandpa was?!?” While we may roll our eyes a bit now about this, Jesus being in the lineage of King David was a really big deal to the Jewish community.
So, I’ll give you the next two epiphanies at once, because they’re related.
Epiphany #2 and #3 – Insiders can be outsiders, and outsiders can be insiders.
Insiders can actually be outsiders: King Herod was Jewish. A homicidal maniac, but Jewish nonetheless. And he missed it. He totally missed it. He knew the religion, he knew the stories, he knew his texts, he had access to priests and religious scholars, but he still missed Jesus. Herod belonging to his religious community did not stop him from missing God entirely.
And related, outsiders are now insiders: The magi were scholars from a different country, and a different religion, and a different economic class. They should have been among the last ones to come and pay homage to a toddler born in the lineage of King David. And yet, here they were. The outsiders are now insiders.
This is the beginning of the gospel writer of Matthew speaking about God’s love and God’s community being for everybody, not just the chosen, not just the select, not just the holy ones blessed by God. The good news of Jesus is for EVERYBODY.
And, if we put on our bible nerd hats on, (and I know a bunch of you got bible nerd hats for Christmas), we know that the gospel of Matthew was written in 80-90 CE, about 20-30 years after the Apostle Paul wrote his letters. And we know that the Apostle Paul spent a lot of time claiming that GOD’S LOVE WAS UNIVERSAL, how it’s for everyone.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
So in the middle of the early church debating questions about who’s out and who’s in and how that all works, Matthew shows up on the scene and drops this story on them.
You want to know who’s in? Foreigners from a different religion. And you want to know who’s out? Jewish king Herod.
I think these epiphanies are good news because
- It should cause us to be quite humble, and far less judgy. Because simply participating in a religion, in a church community, showing up and sitting in the same pew every Sunday, doesn’t mean that we won’t miss God either.
- And it’s also good news because it’s reminder that we should keep our eyes and hearts open to where God shows up, because God can show up in a whole variety of places, and to a whole variety of people. None of us have a monopoly on God. And that is good news indeed.
And finally, Epiphany #4 – Little toddler Jesus is NOT running around the halls of power.
Little toddler Jesus is not throwing his food at King Herod. Little toddler Jesus isn’t being raised to be Emperor. Little toddler Jesus is born OUTSIDE any sort of power structure or authority or government.
It’s almost as if God says, “I don’t trust that any king, queen, president, prime minster, or emperor would know what to do with Jesus. So we’re just going to bypass that entire system.”
Toddler Jesus bypassing the halls of power, the decision makers, the ones with power, the ones with access to wealth and armies and the ability to write legislation… Genius move there by God. Genius.
It’s genius because can you imagine if Jesus were born a Republican? Or a Democrat? Or a New Democrat? Or a Conservative? Or a Liberal? Or a Green? Or a Bloc Quebecois? Or whatever party Maxime Bernier is starting? Or if Jesus was born as a leader of the Romans, the Persians, or the British or the French or the Russians or God forbid our best friends the Americans? Or gasp… What is Jesus was born a Canadians? We wouldn’t use that for our own gain, would we?
I mean, like, can you imagine what kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers would do in the name of God is they thought God was on their side, and they had Jesus in their back pocket?
Can you imagine?
Oh, right. We can. Because we’ve been living with rulers claiming God’s on their side only since… forever.
And you know… If God’s on your side, you can’t really disagree with that, can you? You should need to get in line and follow.
This is actually one the reasons why, as a pastor, I have never directly said “God told me to say this.” Because then, shoot, if God told me, then none of you can disagree with me, and that’s not how we role both here at Grace, or as Anabaptists either. God’s will is discerned in community, but we’ll be hearing about that in February.
So Jesus avoiding the halls of earthly power is this great new idea that we should maybe keep reminding ourselves of.
Nobody has a monopoly on God. God will not be confined by our earthly structures and systems and government. God might even choose to work around them entirely. If we pay attention, God is present on all sides. And this is good news for all of us.
So, those are my 4 epiphanies.
My 4 ahas! Four of the things revealed by the story of magi.
Jesus was a refugee.
Insiders can be outsiders.
Outsiders can be insiders.
And God chose to avoid the halls of power.
And I would suggest that these 4 things are all good news for us today. And, I’m kind of looking forward to seeing what other good new will be revealed as we keep learning about and worshipping Jesus.