The Festival of The Epiphany

January 7, 2018


And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 ESV)

There is an aphorism around that the destination isn’t important; not really – especially if it is death; what is important is the journey – make each day count – seize the day sort of thing.

I heard recently on a podcast the reference to the shepherds as people who go straight to the manger while the Wise Men go the ‘long way round’.

The Christmas Special Doctor Who – this isn’t exactly spoilers – as we know the 13th Doctor – Jodie Whittaker – will grace our screens – has as its plotline the paradox of the 1st and 12th Doctors wondering whether they will regenerate – and of course they both help each other – but I did notice that the last comment the 1st Doctor made as he is about to embark on the adventure as told by the long running Sci Fi TV show was about going ‘the long way round’.

In our world of speed and shortcuts, where fast and efficient is prized, going the ‘long way round’ is not the way to go.

We don’t know the actual time it took the Magi to arrive at the house in Bethlehem but they didn’t do it in a day – see the star, catch a flight, get a taxi. No, based on Herod’s response, it could have taken even as long as 2 years.

Today we focus on Jesus the toddler before becoming a refugee in Egypt and then growing up in Nazareth. Next Sunday we will focus on Jesus’ baptism at Jesus where God identified him as his Son and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He’s around 30 years old and he just hasn’t appeared as Gabriel appeared to Mary. No, he’s grown up here.

The Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama wrote a book about God close to us – about Jesus – entitled ‘The Three Mile an Hour God’ – the average walking speed.

For many of the religions of the world our bodies – our flesh – ourselves – are materially immaterial in the big scheme of things. What is important is spirit or enlightenment or deification. The flesh and blood of this world is a passing phase. In Christianity, however, the Incarnation – Immanuel – God with us as one of us – means that our days, each day, our lives, this life today in these bodies are important! … Important to God – because we are important to God – body, mind, soul, spirit – however you want to describe you. You are important to God.

The Magi worshipping Jesus gives us an indication that Jesus has come not just for one nationality but for all nationalities. We don’t know what the Magi thought of Jesus – could they talk about death and resurrection – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? No. Did they already know that this Jesus will redeem our bodies with his body and blood and become the antidote against death? Hardly. But they interpreted the cosmos and the psalmist did say that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) and whatever was happening was of cosmic significance and confirmed by Old Testament prophecies meant that they offered gifts fit for a King, a Priest, and strangely, someone who was linked to death – and this someone deserved worship.

Today we say that the Magi were correct in their behaviour. Yes, that’s what you do in the presence of God – worship him! All religions actually say that! But here’s an even greater mystery that with Jesus we worship him because he is among us as one who serves. He is present serving us. The toddler Jesus is here for a reason – so that you and I may live – today’s lives – with God in grace, mercy, forgiveness, and blessing.

So when Jesus established baptism as the means by which he comes to people – as a means by which people receive grace – we have a wonderful combination in my way of thinking of the shepherds and the Magi –
where we go straight to Jesus, to salvation, to eternal life, to saving faith, to the Holy Spirit AND we have someone with us on the ‘long way round’ as we live in faith before the time we see God face to face.

Life – each day’s living – is important to us. We can shape so much of it by our attitudes and behaviour. Some of it happens to us – we have no control over our biological parents for example – in that life is also a gift. And in Jesus Christ – from the moment we meet him at Christmas, to today’s Epiphany – this declaration that this toddler is also God for us – through to his public ministry, his public execution, and his empty tomb and his followers’ claim of resurrection and ascension – we have one God – the only God! – who truly cares for us and serves. Whether we are at baptism the first time or returning to baptism each in repentance and faith we are recipients of God’s love and presence telling us they we – and today – are important. God serves us still. Let us follow him.

Bible References

  • Matthew 2:11 - 11