Scripture Readings: Isaiah 60:1–6 | Psalm 72 | Ephesians 3:1–12 | Matthew 2:1–12
“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: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:5-6)
Have you ever had to really wrestle with a riddle?
It could be one you tackle just for fun… a kind of riddle-game that humans have enjoyed for ages. I remember as a teenager, I played 20 Questions a lot with my friends; the game where you take turns thinking up a noun… a person, place, or thing… and everyone else has to to guess what it is by asking no more than 20 Questions.
And I remember one time in particular when one of our friends had us totally stumped. No matter what we asked, we couldn’t get any closer to the answer at all. Eventually, we had to give up, and our friend gleefully revealed the answer: “It was a crack.” Not a specific thing itself, but a crack… which could be in anything! We were all blown away. We had never imagined the answer could be something so simple, and yet so unexpected.
Riddles like this can be a lot of fun, even when they’re frustrating. But we also know that there’s lots of times when we’re forced to wrestle with puzzles and riddles for much more serious reasons. Like when we’re forced to work through a difficult problem, or navigate a confusing situation when the answers don’t seem to come so easily.
I think most of us have had times like these too… struggling to make sense of truly puzzling circumstances, and how we’re supposed to handle them. It could be something we face at work, at home, with those we love, with our own hidden hopes of fears, for ourselves, our communities, or for our world.
And sometimes, we can eventually work our way towards an answer. But then sometimes we get stumped. We hit a wall and can’t put two and two together. In those times, we need to have our eyes opened for us, our understanding deepened, our perspective widened… and then, sometimes quite suddenly, the picture becomes clear… the light has dawned, and we can see.
That’s one way to think about an epiphany… a sudden realization of a truth that had been hidden from us. Or better yet, a sudden revelation that is given to us when someone else steps in and opens our eyes to help us see what’s really going on.
Today we’re celebrating the Feast of Epiphany: a celebration of the revelation of Jesus Christ, not just as the familiar baby in the manger, but as the Son of God Almighty… as the King of all Creation… and Saviour of the World.
For many of us, this is a familiar story… but we also know that familiar words can often conceal life-changing truths from our eyes. We get comfortable with them, and forget what they mean… and what they mean for our lives.
Thankfully, our Scripture readings today can help to open our eyes again to the truly Good News of Epiphany, for us and for our world.
First off, let’s take a moment to consider Isaiah’s Epiphany from our first reading: the revelation that despite how dark the world around us may seem, God’s life-giving light will come. Not just for the struggling people of Israel, but for everyone. Isaiah 60:1-3,
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.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
This passage is of course just a glimpse of the full prophetic vision and message God gave to His people Israel, to point them forward towards the hope of their restoration after the horrors of their Exile. And yet, the vision goes well beyond just hope for Israel… it begins to reveal their role in bringing new hope to the world, as the glory of the Living God… His mercy, and rescuing love… shines on and through them so that all nations can draw near to Him and encounter His new life along with them.
And several centuries later, in St. Matthew epiphany we heard in our Gospel reading today, Isaiah’s message of hope is revealed to be taking on reality: God’s life-giving light for the world has come at last in Jesus Christ.
The visit of the Magi is much more than a strange but interesting episode in Christ’s early life. It is a clear sign revealing the start of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: Gentiles, non-Jews from far beyond Israel’s borders have drawn near to pay homage to this newborn King of the Jews, even as the old king, Herod seeks to destroy him.
Herod reminds us, after all, that we can seek out God’s light for some not-so-good reasons too. Many have used the Good News of Jesus as a cover to cloak their own ambitions, pride, and fears, and in King Herod’s case, a homicidal commitment to holding on to his own authority and power… slaying the children of Bethlehem to try to get rid of this newborn King.
But we don’t need to be like King Herod for God’s life-giving and revealing light to shines on our lives… and even on any self-centered reasons we may have for seeking His Son. And the Good News is that His merciful light does not seek to condemn us, but to expose our twisted motives, so that we can let them go… so that we can draw near to Him in faith and receive His forgiveness, freedom, and grace. The Good News of Jesus is even for those of us who have been quite at home in the darkness… God’s light is for us too, drawing us out of the shadows like a moth… not to a flame, but to the life of His New Creation!
And this leads us to our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and to the Apostle’s epiphany that God’s light for the whole world has come… and it calls us to go! To be transformed by it ourselves, and take it to everyone.
Like many devoted Jews in the first century, St. Paul had always imagined that God’s main concern was with His covenant people Israel. They were the chosen ones. They where the heirs of God’s promises. The Gentile nations might have a minor role to play, but they were the stars.
But when St. Paul encountered the Risen Jesus, his eyes began to be opened to the truth of the Gospel… the Good News that God’s Messiah had truly come, and that despite His own chosen people’s betrayal, Christ had died and rose again for all. To reconcile, not just Israel, but all of humanity to the Living God. For the first time, St. Paul could see that God had sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world… and to change forever how we humans from all families and nations see and treat one another.
Ephesians 3:5-6, “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: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
In other words, there was to be no first or second class citizens in God’s Good Kingdom. There was now no essential boundary between Israel and their neighbours. In line with God’s promises through people like the prophet Isaiah, and all throughout the Holy Scriptures, God’s spirit has revealed that Jesus Christ came to reunite and reconcile the whole world to God, and to each other.
Fellow heirs together. One diverse but united body. Sharing in the same promise… in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thousands of years later, this may not seem like big news to us. After all, we’ve heard the story of how the Gospel has spread throughout the world many times… and the vast majority of Christians nowadays are of Gentile heritage. What was once an epiphany for people like Isaiah, St. Matthew, and St. Paul must have lost its power to surprise and unsettle us, after all this time, right?
Remember: familiar words and stories can still conceal life-changing truths. What might we be missing today that the feast of Epiphany can reveal to us?
Many things, to be sure. But for starters, it shows us that we all have roles to play in sharing the Good News of God’s life-giving light with the world around us.
And I really do mean all of us.
Just as the door is now opened for all to draw near to God in Jesus Christ, so too all are invited to make this Good News known, and let it shine through our lives.
In other words, the revelation that Jesus Christ died and rose again to reconcile the whole world to God and to one another… the Good News entrusted to the Church… can’t just be something we talk about, it has to take shape in our day to day lives. It has to shine through our interactions with those around us… with our loved ones, our acquaintances, and strangers. It has to penetrate our minds and imaginations… challenging us to let go of our old ways of navigating life, and to reconsider everything in the light of the cross and resurrection of God’s Son.
It has to be something that we all respond to as God in His patience and grace empowers us to do… not looking at our own real limitations and losing heart, but trusting instead in God “whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine.”
After all, even St. Paul was blown away by the way God graciously uses those who seem completely out of place and ill equipped to shine His light and share His Good News with the world… having experienced this pardoning and empowering grace up close in his own story.
The minister and scholar Joel Kok points out how strange and wonderful it is that someone like St. Paul, born Saul of Tarsus, would be chosen to serve in the role that he did: “Amazingly, it was God’s good pleasure to choose Saul the Pharisee to bring Christ’s name “before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). As one who had violently persecuted the church and tried to destroy it… Paul saw himself as “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9) and, in this passage, “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8).”
Yet even if he saw himself as the least of all the saints… meaning ‘the least of all God’s people in general’… St. Paul had begun to see that this would not stop God from working in and through his life in the slightest.
Ephesians 3:8-10, “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles 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; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
It's God’s grace in Christ that makes the difference. Not our credentials. Not our skills, or abilities… or lack thereof. At times, we might also feel like “the least of all the saints”, but by God’s grace we too are called to share the Good News of Jesus through our whole lives, and with everyone.
Like St. Paul, our hope isn’t in our own abilities, but in Christ’s own life and light at work in us… through God’s Holy Spirit, who can use our humble faithfulness and openness to Jesus to reveal the glory of His Good News, and New Life to our neighbours, and to our wider world.
So no matter how dark things might get in the world around us, or how small and helpless we might feel when it comes to doing anything about it, may the familiar story of Epiphany keep our eyes open to this amazing truth:
that in Jesus Christ, God’s light has already begun to dawn… that He has already given up His life at the cross to reconcile our darkened world to God, and He has already overcome the powers of darkness… rising again to bind us together in God’s own holy love.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of the world has already brought God’s life-giving light, and He has called all of His people to share His light with His world.
How each one of us are to do this day by day is a question we’ll all have to ask ourselves far more than 20 times… but as we draw near to our Saviour Jesus in faith, and ask Him to open our eyes, and our minds, and our hearts to what He has in store… trusting in His Holy Spirit to work in and through us… He will be faithful and show us the way. Amen.
 Joel E. Kok, “Epiphany of the Lord, Years A, B, C,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Two, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 320.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School