Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sermon: Epiphany

6 January 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 2:1-12 (Isa 60:1-6, Eph 3:1-12)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today, the thirteenth day after the Festival of our Lord’s nativity, the day after the Twelfth Day of Christmas, is called “Epiphany.” Today begins our Carnival season, in which we feast with joy, celebrate, proclaim anew the joys of the Lord with parades and festivals – even as we prepare to bid “farewell to the flesh” (which is what the Latin behind “Carnival” means) with the coming of the fasting of Lent.

In the midst of this world’s cycles of feasting and fasting, in the ebb and flow of this existence of joy and sorrow, of life and death, of the pulsing rhythm of celebration and somberness – this day and season of Epiphany is a time of joy.

“Epiphany” is a Greek word that means a shining of light, a revealing, a manifestation, or a showing. For when we are in darkness, we can’t see anything. Nothing can be shown to us. We are lost and don’t even know where to go to get out of the darkness. But once the light shines, the truth is revealed to us in the blink of an eye, and we can be shown where to go.

In His creation of heaven and earth, on the first day, the first thing God created was light. The primordial darkness of chaos and disorder gave way to the Creator’s plan of revelation and order. Light is something to be shared, for God doesn’t need light to see, but we, His humble creatures, do. The Lord God gives His creatures light so He can reveal Himself and His good and glorious creation to them.

But we sinners, we who have corrupted that creation, prefer darkness to light. Why? Because our sinful deeds can be hidden in darkness. The true distorted image of the monsters we have become thanks to sin is exposed by light. But in His mercy and grace, the Light of the World, God of God, Light of Light, has come to take away our ugliness, to restore our beauty, to replace chaos with order, and to bring us once again happily into the light.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come!” proclaims Isaiah. This is good news. God’s glory has come, not to burn out our eyes, not to destroy us with His brightness, but rather to bring us out of our lonely darkness, “then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart will swell with joy.” For the promised Light to come into our midst doesn’t merely expose our sin, but rather burns it away in a radiant blast of restoration and healing, so that we creatures, originally made in the image and likeness of God, may once more shine with His glory as His icons and children.

This prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Light was set into motion when the Light of the Word was ignited in the lamp of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s womb. This glorious Light could not be suppressed, as even the creation itself shone, manifested by a star that led the magi to the Christ child, who was to become a beacon of hope in a dark and dismal world.

But once more, there are those who thrive on darkness, whose deeds are wicked, they who see light as a threat of exposure of their evil. King Herod was one such friend of darkness. The star which shone upon our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, also illuminated the false claims to the throne by the tyrant Herod and his parasitic family. This Light was no friend of Herod’s, and Herod sought to extinguish the Light.

But the Light was the hope of the world – not merely the hope of Israel. For as Isaiah preaches: “The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you… gold and incense, and they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.” The magi, Gentiles from far away, brought these royal and priestly gifts, created things of beauty to be laid at the feet of the almighty Creator who has come to His creation as an all-humble Child. Gold, the precious metal of royalty, and incense, the beautiful aroma of priestly sacrifice and worship of Him who is surrounded in the smoky clouds of holy prayer, along with myrrh, a perfume of anointing, a symbol that this boy King and Priest is also the Christ, the promised Messiah, the “Light to Lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel.”

On this day when the Magi came to worship before the King, the false king and his master Satan would not succeed in bringing about the darkness. The Light has been manifested in a glorious epiphany to Jew and Gentile alike, uncreated Light beaming within a newly enlightened creation. Thirty years later, the darkness would make a grab at this Light, and would even cover the earth for three hours while Light and darkness would make battle – but darkness will be forever destroyed, as the Book of Revelation, itself an epiphany of the Light of the World, reveals to us that in the New Creation, we, those redeemed by water and the Word, those enlightened by the Lamb: “will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

This is what Paul means when he proclaims: “it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.”

The magi, wise men who did not belong to the race of Israel, were nonetheless given a revelation of the Light, and their darkness was removed by the shining of the Christ child’s face, by the epiphany of “the manifold wisdom of God.” The Light of the World has come for all, for Jew and Gentile, “for us men and for our salvation” – “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.”

Dear brothers and sisters, let us glory in this light. Let us not fear the light, and God forbid that we should revel in darkness and seek to extinguish this Light. When the light reveals our sin, let us use this light to examine ourselves, to confess our sins, to repent, and to once more glory in the warm, radiant light of our Lord.

Let the Word of the Lord continue to bring us to the Word made flesh, even as the glorious star led the wise men in their pilgrimage. Anything that leads us away from Christ only leads to darkness, to the cold, lonely, and frightening prison of our broken and distorted sinful nature. But when we are led to where our Lord Jesus is present – in the epiphany of Holy Communion, in the manifestation of His preached Word, in the bosom of our Mother the Church, which cradles our dear Lord’s body just as His virginal mother cradled Him when the magi followed His star and presented Him gifts – we can bask in the glow and warmth of His holy light, without fear of the ugliness of our sins – for they have been taken away.

And though we still observe the epic struggle between good and evil, the constant back and forth of night and day, of sin and repentance, of the glory of goodness and the terror of evil, the cycle alternating between feast and fast – we know that the time of this up and down, back and forth, is coming to an end.

The epiphany of our Lord Jesus, His glorious manifestation of light to the magi, and to us, in this vale of tears, is but a glimpse into the eternity to come when darkness will forever be extinguished, when daylight will never yield to the night, when the “Morningstar… fair and bright” will “transport us to that happy place beyond all tears and sinning.”

To You, O Lord, all glory be
For this Your blest epiphany;
To God, whom all His hosts adore,
And Holy Spirit evermore. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

No comments: