Epiphany Sermon Notes

Year C – 06 January 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6

A prophet does not need to tell the people that great things will happen, if and when things are going well for the people. It is when the people are in the deep of it; then the prophet tells them of the great future God has in store for them.

Isaiah tells the people that they will be a shining light in the darkness that will cover the earth, and nations will stream to them to trade with them and to find light in the darkness.

First the images are wonderful, delightful, full of promise and fulfilled hopes:

While the rest of the world will be covered with a deep darkness, the people of Isaiah speaks to have a different future. The light of God will rise to shine on them! The Glory of God will appear over them.

Like the sunrise after a deep dark winter above the arctic circle, God’s light will rise. Now in the days of relative darkness, a day of sun expected this morning, the first in weeks, there is a feel for this relief of light in the darkness. Still this is hardly the darkness, the thick darkness that Isaiah speaks of, that the people easily believe will happen, or even has happened.

Today, the young people I know, expect a deep darkness. They expect things to be worse than they were for their parents and grandparents … much worse.

Into that kind of darkness Isaiah tells the people, God’s light will shine, God’s Glory will cover them.

Now light is wonderful, even after a relatively short absence of the sun. But the Glory of God, that’s out of this world marvellously, miraculously spectacular!

This is the Glory that the people knew would likely leave them dead if they encountered it in person. This is the Glory that left Moses white as a ghost on the mountain, having seen God in person and having received the ten commandments for the people. This is the Glory with which Jesus shone white at his transfiguration as Peter planned to encapsulate it in a memorium, which is simply impossible.

The people Isaiah speaks to will have the greatest blessings, while those around are starved of any light, glory, or blessing.

The people, the nations, will flock to Israel to be in the presence of their light. And through trade with the nations Israel will prosper. The people’s hearts will rejoice and thrill at their prosperity.

Their children, their sons and daughters, will return home. Together they will be a nation revered and honoured with gifts of frankincense and gold.

And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.

From the perspective of the people hearing Isaiah, the hope brought them is as wide, deep, profound, and inspiring as it gets.

Hang on to that.

We know that the rhythm of God’s people will bring them to enjoy the blessings of God, and to eventually forget who gave them such blessings, to ascribe their own right to such prosperity and blessings. They will create out of God’s light and glory their own darkness again.

The greatest delight will never be in prosperity. But from the perspective of abject poverty, foreign and oppressive rule, and being scattered as a people, and as families, a bit of prosperity would be a welcomed and appreciated blessing, one that we would all be grateful for. For a while anyway.

So these are the images, and the place they take in others’ lives. Where do they fit in our lives? Are we poor? Are we grateful? Are we blessed already and ungrateful, assuming we have ‘earned’ our blessings?!

Light: last night arriving home, the stars shone in the darkness. No moon. No clouds. Just pinpoints of light, in dazzling beauty. Does one need great light?

Well to setup the camper and shelter for wood heat, light is needed. To work on a computer, light and power is needed. To hope that this winter will be survived, and well, a little light and a lot of hope is needed.

Environment Canada gives its summary of the weather in 2018 and concludes that because of climate change brought on by us (no more false ‘Bush’ science to hide the truth) the extremes of weather that we were used to have all been met or exceeded in 2018, and even these extremes will be the norm in the future, starting already today!

https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2018.html : “Events that were once rare or unusual for our grandparents are now more commonplace, while we all become more vulnerable due to extreme weather. As the Top Ten Weather Stories of 2018 bear out, Canadians must become more resilient—not only for what lies ahead but also for the variations in climate, which are already here.” Catch the whole report while it is still available: it is an eye opener, a frightful look to what the weather has had, and will have in store for us in Canada.

Environment Canada gives its summary of the weather in 2018 and concludes that because of climate change brought on by us (no more false ‘Bush’ science to hide the truth) the extremes of weather that we were used to have all been met or exceeded in 2018, and even these extremes will be the norm in the future, starting already today!

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Any time we can get a ruler, a government collectively, a justice system included, who/which will provide justice and righteousness, for those caught in poverty, for those oppressed, for those desperately needing the basics of life … Anytime God provides us even part of that from our government, it is time to rejoice. So we wait. We rejoice for the little justice, righteousness and goodness that is possible in this time when (like most times in history) those who are protected are not the poor, the needy, the oppressed, but rather the rich, those wasteful with luxuries, and those who oppress others in order to maintain their positions of wealth and power.

In our day as well, the oppressors are able to claim they are the victims, and to motivate hoards of others to continue to make victims of the supposed ‘oppressors’. It’s always been done this way. It’s just a surprise when one discovers that it is so in our day, with the people and institutions one trusted.

The psalmist provides hope for the day when a great ruler will arise, and we are reminded, to be grateful for what we do have, such as it is. And we are warned, that if we are the oppressors, God’s not pleased with us, and our time will come to an end, if not soon enough, to save our victims.

Ephesians 3:1-12

It is a flavour different than Paul himself, yet an interesting, if somewhat disturbing, difference.

Paul is imprisoned, or perhaps was and is no longer to be seen or found. Someone, a follower, writes in Paul’s name. Today it is unacceptable. In Paul’s day it was both acceptable, common enough, and an honour to have someone write in your name … as long as the person did not get it all wrong.

This writer didn’t get it all right, but right enough.

Paul is a prisoner … not because he is a common criminal, but as a result of preaching the Gospel of Jesus the Christ … not to the Jews, but to the Gentiles. Which was common enough, even if one did not preach about Jesus. Just believing and someone reporting you could get you arrested and killed. It is a wonder that anyone survived; that the church survived, for the effort to eradicate the earth of the Way of Jesus was thorough.

The writer is not focused on Paul’s situation, as if it is old news or long ago history even: Paul is gone like ALL the earlier disciples.

Still Paul’s impact on the early church is not and this writer furthers Paul’s legacy; that the Gentiles can believe and be accepted as fellow followers of Jesus.

The writer describes Paul’s sharing the good news with the Gentiles, including the intended readers of this letter, as a ‘commission of God’s grace’.

A mystery is revealed to Paul in a revelation (on the road to Damascus); the mystery is not about Jesus. It is that the Gentiles can be followers of Christ along with the Jews. Our retrospective perspective informs us that of course the Jews are not even part of the church; they have a separate and exclusive faith, not a Christian faith. Yet without Paul, and others, reaching out to the Gentiles, only Jews would have been acceptable as Christians. We would all be merely a small group of a different kind of Jews. Instead, we are distinct and dependent upon Jewish faith even.

This is grace the writer says, grace to be a servant, grace to be in prison, grace to be a saint, the least of them, but a saint, and a bearer of the Gospel.

This is made known now clearly, what before was hidden.

A mystery of faith moves out of the shadows of the unknowns, into the light as a known piece of faith; namely that God is for all people Jews first and then all Gentiles who believe.

The end of this faith is that together they have access to God; not because they have earned it, but because it is given to them, by faith, a gift of grace.

Matthew 2:1-12

Three wise men come seeking Jesus. In the normal manner (is there any normal about this?) they inquire of the king’s whereabouts in the capital, Jerusalem, where the ruler, King Herod, hears of their inquiries.

Are the men really wise? A king is born, given to them to know by a star. Do they think that this is just going to be a son of the king who rules, and not a usurper? So they just ask in the home town of the siting king for the newly born king. And what they start!

King Herod is frightened. And when a despot king is frightened all the people are frightened with him, not for the same reason, but because of what the king will do because he is frightened. We know now that people who are frightened make poor decisions. We know that one of the qualities of people who handle risk on our behalf, like pilots, surgeons, priests and emergency response people is that they do not panic under pressure, but respond with extraordinary calm and clear thought. The fright they experience in an emergency is contained and not let loose to run havoc in their minds. Instead they evaluate risk, find solutions, and act quickly, decisively and per-emptively to bring the emergency to a good end and to minimize ongoing risks.

Good rulers do the same.

Herod is not a good ruler. And the people know it.

They too are frightened by the crazy, impulsive, power hungry Herod. There are plenty of crazy, impulsive, power hungry people, in the churches, in governments, in the courts, in the streets, in vehicles going down the road. They are everywhere, and one has reason to be rightfully frightened of the chaos they unleash on others.

The wisemen do get Herod to do their work for them. He calls together the experts to find out where the king is to be born. They bring back the right answer: Bethlehem. So off go the wisemen, to find Jesus, no longer in the dark.

Now the help given by Herod helps them not a bit. The start continues to lead them. So why the stop? Proper etiquette? The star leads them right to where Jesus is. Note that it is no longer ‘in a stable’ in a manger. It’s quite some time after Mary and Joseph have returned to Nazareth with Jesus. But no mention of that, so maybe Mary does not so soon make the return trip, for health or reputation or safety reasons.

The wisemen provide Jesus the gifts they have brought. Mary and Joseph are suddenly quite well off. Today it takes about .5 million to raise a child. Mary and Joseph get a headstart on what it took then, plus a bit.

The wisemen are warned off in a dream about returning to Herod, to let him know how to find the baby king and to allow him to ‘pay homage.’ They finally understand that they have brought a crazy king news that is likely going to bring the death of the child, who the star has led them to find.

We know how the story develops. Mary flees to Egypt with Jesus. Thank heavens for the frankincense and gold to pay their way.

But the other children of Israel ….

The people had good reason to be frightened of Herod being frightend.

Image all children in Canada, three and under, being killed to keep a despot government in power! We’d not allow it. We allow plenty already to keep ‘our’ government in power, but that is not usually on the table. Instead, in government, in churches, in courts, in vehicles on our roads, we sacrifice truth … and little by little we teach our children and all people, here you have good reason to be frightened that the truth will be sacrificed, and eventually your children will learn that truth is not safe, instead one must learn to lie and lie well to be able to survive.

Those who tell the truth are relegated to the trash heaps of life. So if you want a bit of security, a bit of warmth in the winter and protection from the rain and bugs in the summer, then you must learn to lie and lie well.

There is good reason to be frightened.

Because Jesus is born, survives the pogram, teaches, is sacrificed, crucified, dies, is buried, and is resurrected, we know that God is with us. We do not need to lie.

We can hope for a day when truth will prevail.

As I write this the wood stove, really a wood furnace, freshly stoked for the day with wood, and left with plenty of air, reaches it’s peak heat. The warmth spreads throughout the living space, and against the cold, the warmth prevails.

So likewise does God’s truth, God’s grace, God’s commission win out over all temptations to lie, to force our wills on others, to busy ourselves with penultimate life-work. God’s goodness prevails in our lives, by grace, by faith. We need only surrender and get out of the way, and sometimes become the hands, feet, voice and heart of Christ.

So likewise do the fires of judgment burn hot, consuming the dross of our being, the evil that we allow to play havoc with our lives and with our neighbours’ lives … and the children’s futures.

But that image of heat and hell and dross burning off is not in the text. It’s just in the smell of newly burned-in paint, from the freshly painted furnace, wafting my way on the waves of warmth, that repel the cold and preserve my life.