The Bible is the record of God in relationship with the world and the people he created. It is a book written by adults for adults. We can, and we should, tell Bible stories to our children and to ourselves, but the Bible is more than the stories we tell. Today’s Gospel is a story of an event in a baby’s life, and it is more simply that story. The Epiphany is literally in Greek the “showing forth” of God’s light in the darkness of sin and evil.
The prophecy of Isaiah 60 written down some 500 years before Jesus was born includes kings bringing gold and frankincense from Sheba, silver and gold from Tarshish. Why does Isaiah prophesy that they will bring gold and frankincense, silver and gold? They will bring them to proclaim the praise of the name of the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, because he has made light shine in the darkness, and as St. John tells us, “the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” Darkness does not understand light, and darkness can never overcome light.
Today’s Gospel makes real the themes of Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72 about the promise of the messianic age, when the God of Israel will be universally acknowledged and worshipped as the only God. It also tells us of the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ life. English-speaking Christians owe to John Henry Hopkins, a 19th century Vermont Episcopal priest, the clear teaching in verses 2, 3, and 4, of his carol, “We three kings of Orient are.”
reminds us that Jesus is, “King, and God, and Sacrifice.” Hopkins
“Born a king on
’s plain, gold I bring to crown him
again, king forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.” Jesus is king. Jesus is Lord. He is in
charge, not us. That is good news, gospel news. The English lay theologian C.
S. Lewis writes of humankind as rebels, called to lay down our arms in
surrender. The story of the Fall in Genesis tells us of the universal human
predicament. We want to be autonomous, free to do what we want, when we want,
how we want. And we are not autonomous. We are limited – limited by location in
time and space. In heaven we will be able to be at all places at all times, but
until we get there we can only be at one place and one time doing one thing at
a time. And we are limited by the network of relationships within which we live
because we need them to be able to live. We have some freedom to chose within
relationships, but we are never completely alone. We are always in relationship
with the God who made us and who loves us. Spiritual maturity is recognizing
that relationship, and recognizing that because God loves us he wants what is
best for us, and what is best for us is what God wants for us. Bethlehem
There is a comfort in recognizing that we live in relationship with Jesus, and that Jesus is king. Jesus is Lord. He is in charge, not us. That is good news, gospel news. We are not, finally responsible for everything, all the time. Our responsibility is to listen to Jesus’ “good, orderly direction” and do his will, recognizing that “his service is perfect freedom.” “Born a king on
plain, gold I bring to crown him again, king forever, ceasing never, over us
all to reign.” Bethlehem
“Frankincense to offer have I, incense owns a Deity nigh, prayer and praising, gladly raising, worship him, God most high.” Of all the religions of humankind, Christianity alone says that God became a man, “to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to . . . the God and Father of all.” A great many holy men and women have taught what they believe God revealed to them. They experienced God as distant, different, totally other than us, giving us rules to live by, and also giving us the hope of his mercy. Christians experience in Jesus God with us, showing us how to live, assuring us of his love and his forgiveness. At the end of life we commit our mortal remains to the ground, “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We expect to spend eternity praising God, in ways shown us in the Revelation to
We gather for worship here to practice what will be made perfect in due time.
Worship for Christians is not an option, something that can be set aside if we
have something better to do, guests or golf or snow. Worship is our life.
“Frankincense to offer have I, incense owns a Deity nigh, prayer and praising,
gladly raising, worship him, God most high.” St. John
“Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume, breaths a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb.” Bishop Thomas Fraser of NC used to tell the clergy, “Be hard on yourself and easy on others.” We all know our own failures, our mistakes, our sins. And we find ways to excuse ourselves and blame others, but when we get serious with ourselves, we know that without a savior we are lost. We have fought for our own way with our own strength and we have lost.
Jesus was content to be betrayed by one of his own disciples into the hands of those who hated him, who told lies about him to a corrupt governor, and who rejoiced at his execution. Jesus gave up his own life for them, and for us. Nailed to the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” And because Jesus, as son of God, prayed for us, we are forgiven sinners. Our life cost him his. “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume, breaths a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb.”
But that is not the end of the story. “Glorious now behold him arise, King, and God, and Sacrifice; heaven sings alleluia, alleluia the earth replies.” The baby worshipped by the Wise Men is the same Jesus who died on the cross to redeem us and all who will believe from the death of sin and rose from the dead to bring us all new life in him.
Today’s collect asks God to “lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face.” May God grant each of us, in this coming year, faith to see, as the wise men did, the glory of Jesus Christ, our resurrected and ever-living King, and God, and Sacrifice, crucified and risen Lord, and grace to follow where he leads the way. Amen.