Jan. 8, 2012 Epiphany

Mtr. Kathryn delivered this sermon from an outline, rather than writing it out. Here, in place of the text of the sermon, are my notes on her sermon. My apologies if I have failed to catch anything in the sermon I should have, or said it wrong.

When I was a little girl, we lived in St. Louis, and one of our favorite day trips was to Grant’s Farm. This is a large estate belonging to the Anheuser Busch family. One of the exciting things for me was the Clydesdale stables, and for adults, a high point was the free beer. By far my favorite part was a long train ride that meandered through the grounds. There were exotic animals and woods and meadows, but there was one point that was always the most exciting, no matter how many times I experienced it.  Rounding a bend, suddenly the manor house came into view. I am sure that my child’s-eye view magnified its glory, but to me it was like a castle, like a sudden glimpse of some magic world, a most splendid appearance, and it never failed to surprise and delight me even though I always knew it was coming.

That is what the word Epiphany means: an appearance, the splendid appearance of something wonderful. In the Bible, an epiphany is the sudden, unexpected appearance of God Himself in the world of our experience, and what we celebrate today as the Epiphany is exactly what happened when the star appeared over Bethlehem and announced the sudden, wonderful appearance of our God, born a tiny infant  in a stable.

But people don’t react the same to epiphanies. The way  people respond to an epiphany depends on the way they see it, and that can make their responses entirely different. In the gospel reading today we see the very different reactions of three groups of people.

First of course there is King Herod. The wise men were the ones who told him about the star; preoccupied with the exercise of power and maintenance of control, the news that the shepherds had been spreading had not reached him. His reaction to this surprising vision was that he was troubled. He was troubled and all Jerusalem with him because he was a powerful and paranoid man, a ruthless man, and his natural reaction to the splendid vision was fear and hatred. The news of a coming king was not good news to a man who had murdered wife and brothers and was a scandal for his cruelty. Jerusalem was troubled with him, not because of the epiphany, but because they knew their man Herod. They had an inkling that the appearance of the star was going to bring suffering of some sort, and it was not a surprise when Herod had all the boys under two years old around Bethlehem murdered.

Second to react to the epiphany were the priests and scribes. We read of their response when Herod consults them about the star. Sure, they said, we know all about that, and they told him about the prophecies that had foretold the star and what it meant. Their reaction was disinterest. Just another pr0phecy and there were so many prophecies. It was an academic matter and they had other duties to get to.

But third were the wise men, the kings of the orient. How did the news of this epiphany reach them? It had come to them by a very roundabout route. Five hundred years before, when Jerusalem had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, a young Jew named Daniel had been taken captive to Babylon. He became known in the Babylonian empire as a wise man, and became the chief of the wise men there. When he went into captivity there, he had taken with him the scrolls of the prophets, the same scrolls that the priests and scribes found so academic, and those scrolls were read by the Babylonians. Years later then, the wise men trained by the wise men trained by Daniel saw the epiphany with great interest. Such great interest that they traveled the dangerous slow journey over hundreds of miles to that unknown land where a king had been born for the world. They were the only people who saw the epiphany and reacted with joy at its appearance.

I have been here at St. Philip’s one year now and many good things have happened, there has been much growth. And you all have been so welcoming and encouraging and kind to me and my family. And we are always thankful that God has brought us here. Thinking about the coming year, what I want most for all of us here is that we react to the epiphany, to the many epiphanies we can experience in reading the Scripture,  like those wise men.

It is so important to read Scripture, for all of us to read and read in the Scripture, but I am reminded of the two men on the road to Emmaus. They had read the Scripture constantly from their youth and they were talking about the events surrounding the crucifixion and the rumors of the resurrection and puzzling over them. Then suddenly Jesus appeared with them but unrecognized and began explaining to them the prophecies concerning those events. It was epiphany after epiphany as they understood the Scripture for the first time. They looked back on it and said that their hearts had burned within them while He spoke.

And that is what I hope for all of us. However many times you may have read the Scripture, that this time you will see the star, the light, that your heart will burn within you, that we would all come like wise men and react with joy to the epiphany of God’s Word coming to us. I hope and pray for you a year in which you all know Him better and become more and more like Him.

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