Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 2:1–2:12
The Feast of the Epiphany
January 3-4, 2015
God has a marvelous and sometimes ironic sense of humor, if we are willing to see it. The title for this message was set in place several weeks ago before Christmas, and I was going to start in using the title from the longest running TV soap opera by the same name (“Guiding Light,” or GL as it is abbreviated) that ran from 1952 – 2009. Actually, I learned that GL had a 15-year run on radio before it ever aired on TV, which means that it was broadcast for an unbelievable 72 years! Let me say here at the outset that I am not a fan of soap operas and never watched a single episode (that I know of) of GL. Fact: everything I picked up about GL for this sermon came from the internet. So what’s the bit about God’s sense of humor here? That whole “Guiding Light” theme took on a whole new meaning for me this past week. Like so many others, my family was down with a stomach virus after Christmas, which thankfully we are now over. But as I lay there in bed in the middle of the night, the only “guiding light” I was interested in was the one to the bathroom. Enough said – let’s move on. This weekend, we give thanks to God for that guiding light – the star – which He sent that led the wise men to come and worship Jesus. And even more, we give thanks for him who is the Light of the world, the true light which enlightens everyone, and that light no darkness can overcome (John 1:5, 9). And so as we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany, the theme for this message is “Guiding Light.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
By all indicators from the world around us, Christmas is long past. Decorations are down in the stores and won’t reappear again until next Labor Day, carols aren’t being played anymore, and maybe the spirit of good will and holiday cheer has dropped off the radar as we enter this new year of 2015. So, why does the church prolong the Christmas celebration well past the turning of the calendar? Like so many other celebrations in the life of Christ’s people, Christmas is not a day but a season. For the people of God, Christmas doesn’t end when December 25 is over. No, there are twelve day of Christmas, and this season ends at Epiphany when Jesus was revealed to those first non-Jewish visitors from the east, the wise men. Epiphany is actually on January 6, so we’re celebrating this a little early by transferring the day itself to the Sunday before. But why? Remember the words of the angel to those shepherds on that first Christmas night: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). All people: that’s what Epiphany is about and that’s why it’s so important. The guiding light of that star which led those mysterious wise men to Jesus confirmed the message of the angel. The Father’s gift of his own Son is for all people: Jew and Gentile, young and old, male and female. No barriers here, as Paul the apostle tells us in today’s Epistle lesson (Ephesians 3:1-12): “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). So, we think we’re going to take all of this in and absorb it in just one day, or even a season? That is ridiculous to the point of being laughable! If anything, we ought to devote the rest of our lives as Jesus’ disciples to growing ever deeper in the truth of what this means.
The thing with guiding light is it is both guiding and light – both/and. The star, comet, supernova or whatever it was that the Lord God placed in the sky all those centuries ago served its purpose and went away. So what’s going to guide people to Jesus today? Not what, but whom. This is where you and I come in. Now we’re not stars per se, especially as the world thinks of stars and celebrities. But we do have the light! And the Light of the world tells us: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This is how people are guided to Jesus today: through works of love and words of hope that point them to the One who was born for them, who lived, suffered, died and rose again for them. We have the good news of great joy that makes an eternal difference. Now what are we going to do with it? This is what we’re going to be focusing on starting next week with Serving Jesus – Living in Community 2015. We’re going to be focusing on this little book, Joining Jesus on His Mission. It’s really a practical, how-to book on letting our light shine where God has already placed us: our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. If you haven’t picked up your copy of the book yet, get it today and start reading. The reading schedule is listed right here on page 1 of the January newsletter. It will challenge all of us to be a whole lot more intentional in being that guiding light to point people to Jesus, and with God’s gracious help through the power of the Holy Spirit, to just do it.
So, I’ve got a little Epiphany humor for you – maybe a little lame, but you’ve been forewarned so here goes. It seems a man was driving around the deep South during the Christmas season and happened to pass through a small town where he saw a Nativity display out front in the city park. All of the figures were represented there: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, shepherds and animals, angel and wise men. But he had to do a double take as he passed by to see if what he saw was what he really saw. On the heads of the three wise men, covering up their crowns, were firemen’s helmets. “What is this?”, he thought. At first he thought it was just a prank, but nothing else was out of place. So he said, “I’ve got to know what this is all about.” So, he drove around the small town trying to find somebody who could give him an answer. Finally, he came upon the town Library and it was open, so he parked and went in. When he asked the lady behind the counter about why the wise men were wearing firemen’s helmets, she told him the Bible said so. He said, “Well, I’ve never heard of that.” So she pulled out a Bible and slapped it down on the counter in front of him, opened it up to Matthew chapter 2, and said, “It says right here, ‘The wise men came from a fire (afar).”
I don’t know if the wise men wore firemen’s helmets – probably not, but I do know that those extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh presented that they presented to Jesus pale in comparison to the gift which God the Father has presented to us – his only Son. It is this gift of all gifts that moves us to give ourselves, our time, and our possessions in ways that will honor the Lord Jesus. And in so doing, the light which guided the wise men is now carried forward into the world in a new way through ordinary, everyday people like you and me as we point people to him who “has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), king of the Gentiles, your king and mine: the Savior, Christ the Lord. Go and be that guiding light! Amen.