What Is Epiphany?
It's Epiphany Sunday – whatever that means. Epiphany is the Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. It is the demonstration of Christ coming for all peoples – the Jews and the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi.
An epiphany (little e) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe a scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries. The discovery was that of Christ the King of the Jews – the promised Messiah.
In many ways today Epiphany marks the going back to school from a Christmas break – though you can’t call it Christmas any longer - you have to call it winter or holiday break, and it marks the wonderful chore of taking down the Christmas decorations that took hours to put up and minutes to pull down.
Many of our decorations are based on the Gospel of Luke. There are Nativity sets, bulbs and lights; other than someone throwing in a few camels and wise men in our Christmas celebration most of the symbols comes from the Luke account, in fact not much comes from Matthew account other than the wise men. Luke includes:
The Angel Gabriel
Talks about Elizabeth and Zechariah – surprised birth
Manger is in Luke
Angel speaking to the shepherds and the angelic host
Shepherds went and worshiped Jesus
Matthew does tell us that Joseph took Mary to be his wife.
Mary and Joseph, some animals, angels are all from Luke
We put all of these Lukan decorations away today. Luke is over now, and we need to go to Matthew.
Matthew 2:1-14 (NIV)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6 "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,
I. What we have here is hard to accept; the Good News has enemies.
A. Exit the women of Luke, Elizabeth & Mary; in come the men of Matthew.
1. Exit the stable; now it's a king's palace.
2. Exit the shepherds; in with the wise men from the east.
3. Exit the angels; in comes Herod.
4. Primarily our music is from Luke.
5. So, it's time for Rachel to enter
6. Exit lullaby; enter the scream: "I heard a voice in Ramah. It was Rachel weeping for her children."
B. The gospel / the Good News had enemies then and it has enemies now.
1. Herod called in the seminary professors who knew the Law and the Scripture to inquire about the Messiah.
2. Being the politician that Herod was – he faked them out, pretending to want to worship the new King the Messiah, all while issuing death warrants against all the baby boys 2 years and younger.
3. There was a house-to-house search, the butt of swords crashing in doors, chariots on the streets, lamps out early, and mothers clutching babies behind cellar doors ("Shhh, shhh, shhh! Don't even breathe! It's a soldier!").
C. To read Matthew, the vultures circling over the shallow graves of children are hard to miss.
D. You find Joseph bolting up in bed: "Mary, Mary! Get ready! Wrap the child!" "What's the matter?" she says. "We've got to go!" "What do you mean?" "I had this dream," Joseph says. "They're coming for the boy. Get ready! We've got to go!" And off they go to Egypt, to hide from his enemies, among his enemies. What else was there to do?
E. It's hard to accept: Rachel crying, refusing to be consoled. "They've killed my children! They've killed my children!" Why? Because Jesus Christ our Lord is born! It's hard to accept. It's hard to accept that good news has such enemies.
II. It is even harder to accept that announcing the truth makes enemies.
A. But what's even more difficult to accept is that announcing the Good News creates antagonism / hatred and ill-will.
1. All these foreign scholars said is, "Where is he? All we want to do is worship Jesus." They weren’t breaking any rules – they simply came to worship the King.
2. They weren't revolutionaries. They didn't stop and paint posters that said, "Let's march around the city." All they said was, "We want to worship Jesus." But then trouble broke out.
B. The great revolutions have not been started by revolutionaries or antagonists, but by people who said, "All we want to do is love and worship." That is all the scholars wanted to do was worship Jesus. Jesus’ born of Mary began a revolution that changed the world.
1. Approximately 160,000 Christians are martyred every year – all they want to do is share love and faith.
Dr. Goiter spent most of his life in China. He was called an agricultural missionary. He was a gardener who loved God and people, and he went to China to do both. In central China he taught people how to raise different kinds of vegetables, how to feed the children better, how to raise a cow and have milk. He told stories about Jesus, and he translated some of them into Chinese. He was perfectly at home there. He adopted two Chinese girls that he found in a trash can. And when he did, they arrested him. "Why?" he asked. "You're dangerous!" they said. But this man couldn't kill a mouse! He was incapable of violence. Yet they said, "He's dangerous!" Well, he was. He was dangerous because he didn't know how to love just a few; he loved everyone around him. Loving people mixed with the Gospel got him in trouble.
C. When Jesus was six-weeks-old, they took him to the temple. Mary was nervous. It was the first time there with her first baby. She probably had a lot of questions:
1. "Where do I stand? What do they do?”
2. “Do I have to say anything, Joseph?" "No," he would reply, "you just stand there and hold the baby. They'll have this little ceremony, then you'll be purified, and the baby is dedicated. There's nothing to it."
3. "Well, I'm nervous," she would say. "What if he catches a cold? We haven't had him outside yet. He's only six weeks old. Why don't they have this at two years? I think it's too early." "Well, just stand there," he would say. "You'll be all right."
D. When Mary goes up to the temple, she encounters an old man named Simeon. He's as old as the hills—large eyes, saliva in his beard, shuffling about. In his heart God had said, You will not die until you see the consolation of Israel. So there he is each day, frightening all the mothers. Every time he sees a blue blanket, he runs over. When he sees Mary, he comes to her and says, "Let me hold him." Mary is scared: Old man—he'll drop my baby! But her fear that he would drop the baby does not match the fear created by his words: "Because of this child, a sword will pierce your heart." Even Luke has to stop singing long enough to say that good news creates pain, violence, and opposition.
III. It is hardest to accept the responsibility to stand up for the truth. If your life was in jeopardy by answering that you were a Christian – how would you answer?
A. Of the original 12 disciples only one died of old age, John. Judas hung himself the other 10 died a martyr’s death for their faith in Jesus Christ.
1. Legend has it that Peter was crucified upside down. Paul not one of the original 12 but extremely important in the spread of Good News was beheaded.
B. I believe we have a problem and it’s called complacency. Things get a little blurred – what is the truth? What should I be standing for? It didn’t happen for those who stood for the truth and still stand for the truth but it happens often enough to blur the Good News especially in our culture. It is easy to believe and we don’t have to make choices that can cost us our freedom and even our lives.
1. But across the globe there are people who lose their freedom and even their lives because they believe in Christ.
2. Examples from the Voice of Martyrs.
D. It is hard to stand for the truth. It is hard to just stand up and be counted.
I have had an opportunity of serving in 2 churches that had top legal people in it. In one I had a federal judge and in another I had a district attorney that eventually became a judge. I even did the district attorney’s wedding. Each of these men did a special youth group for me. We did a mock trial trying to prove whether one of the kids was really a Christian so that we might arrest him. Would a court of law find you guilty of being a Christian?
Today is Epiphany. What that means is, "For God so loved the world that God gave his only begotten Son." Someone stood up and announced that with great cheer and great joy, and Herod heard it and killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem. Would you die for your faith?
Please click here for slides to accompany the sermon.