Yr A ~ Epiphany ~ Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12
There’s a lot going on today. We had a baptism, communion is next, it’s the first Sunday of the year so there’s New Year’s stuff swirling, I’m getting on a plane this afternoon for Atlanta for a two week course, we’ve just emerged from Christmas, school starts back up tomorrow, regular church activities start back up, annual reports are being asked for – it’s hard to catch your breath. And it’s not just us here at Faith who experience this. It feels like everyone is running at a thousand miles an hour.
My point is that I’m worried that we get so caught up in the busyness of church that we lose focus on what we’re supposed to be all about. We’re so invested in doing churchy stuff that we can lose sight of the why. So Epiphany Sunday is a great gift to us.
An epiphany is a sudden burst of “light” that brings insight, inspiration, clarity, and understanding. It’s a moment of great revelation. If you have an epiphany you see things in a whole new way, literally in a whole new light. Epiphanies usually come with a smack on the forehead, and wide open eyes, and an audible gasp or an interjection! (anybody remember the cartoon???)
Our denomination needs to have an epiphany! Our church needs to have an epiphany! Each and every one of us does too. The epiphany we need is the same one Isaiah spoke of around 2500 years ago, that Matthew’s gospel spoke of with the story of the Wise Guys, that Paul wrote about to the Ephesians in the 0050’s, and that innumerable mystics, poets, priests, and preachers have been on about ever since.
Here’s the epiphany: there’s a Sacred Light that warms, energizes, renews and fuels us – most people don’t, won’t, or can’t see it – and for those who can see it their job is to help others see it.
Maybe that doesn’t strike you as such a grand epiphany? But it is! Having that holy, sacred light “dawn” on you is life-changing! It always has been. When God’s light dawns, darkness evaporates and lives change. It was true for Isaiah, the Magi, Paul, and it’s true for us.
In the sixth century before Jesus these words were attributed to the prophet Isaiah:
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2)
Arise! Shine! Awaken! Glow! God’s light has dawned. You’re engulfed in it. The world’s in the dark and the people are kind of thick about it, but God’s light is shining around you, on you, and in you. Bask in it! And let it shine through you!
Listen to how that light affected the Magi. Matthew 2:9-10 “(The Magi) set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”
They saw the star – God’s guiding light – at its rising. Arise! Shine! Awaken! Glow! For your light has come! And it moved them from where they were and inspired them to make a spiritual journey, and at the heart of that journey they found that light incarnated in Jesus. And what was their response? They were overwhelmed with joy!
So, with Isaiah’s epiphanic call to arise and shine ringing through the centuries and Jesus’ life and times emanating still more light into the spiritual world you’d think we’d never lose sight of it, right? Well, apparently not, because Ephesians 3 is about Paul explaining it again.
In Ephesians 3:3 Paul speaks of his own epiphany saying “… the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” Mystery and revelation – two words we need to embrace more fully!
Paul goes on, (Ephesians 3:5) “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
So this mystery has been revealed by the Spirit to tuned-in spiritual people, but as Paul said, “this mystery was not made known to humankind.” Now, I don’t think he means it was kept from anyone. God’s light shines. It can do no other. That humankind couldn’t or wouldn’t see it is another matter. The only reason humankind hasn’t embraced the Sacred Mystery of the Presence of God is because we’ve been too distracted by all the noisy junk we do.
And that’s exactly where you and I come in! Paul said, (Ephesians 3:8-10) “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to people the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; (and here’s the big part) so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to everyone, everywhere, even to the heavens.”
Arise! Shine! Awaken! Glow! Follow the star! Embrace the mystery! Share the wisdom of your epiphany!
Have you noticed what you don’t get in all this? Answers! Light does not shine on the answers; God’s light illuminates the mystery. God’s light doesn’t bring solutions it brings inspiration – a new set of eyes and understandings that open up the depth and richness of God’s Sacred Presence permeating the universe, and our world, and our experiences. God’s light brings you out of the darkness and into the mist, or into the mystic.
This is language that is pretty alien to our traditional, mainline church experience. We’ve always been about finding rational explanations for things, and focusing on putting our faith into action. That’s not wrong at all, but it makes a huge assumption that I don’t think we can make. Focusing on discipleship assumes that a person is already a disciple. Even our 3 Cs of Communion, Compassion, and Connection are built on an assumption that a person is already a person of faith but is looking for guidance.
It’s the same reason that the word evangelism is alien to us – we’ve assumed that everyone around knows the Christian story and is just shopping for a brand of church to practice it in. That is not the case! I just heard that the latest census numbers show almost 25% of Canadians declare themselves to be of no religion. It’s the fastest growing group!
We cannot assume that “they” know anything about our faith journeys. And we cannot assume that “we” are all really experiencing life-transforming personal encounters with the Sacred.
The Presence of God is a Sacred Mystery that’s engaged not by effort but by yielding, opening, surrendering. Epiphanies come not when you go and get them but when you let down your guard and allow them to dawn on you.
So I’m going to make this a focal point for us this whole year. It’s my New Year’s resolution for Faith United – that together we will go on a magical mystery tour this year. Arise! Shine! Awaken! Glow! Follow the star! Open yourself to a new revelation of God’s light in your life. It’s risky and scary and feels kind of out of control, and that’s exactly how it must be. Embrace the mystery!
The great epiphany for us today is that we really do live in God’s world, and if we’re really on an ever-deepening transformational spiritual journey like we claim then we’re on a magical mystery tour.
So like the songs says, roll up. Step right this way. The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away…