I hope you have taken down your Christmas decorations. Did you know that Christmas traditionally lasts for 12 days? The last day of Christmas – the 12th day – was on Wednesday and in many places it is considered the day by which all Christmas decorations should be removed.
Let’s stick with the topic of tradition for a moment.
Many of you probably know the most important Christian festivals. There were three major days in the early Christian church. Time has passed and things have changed a little. In the early days the first major feast was Easter, the day on which Jesus was resurrected. Pentecost, the day on which the Holy Spirit came, was the third greatest Christian feast. Do you know the second greatest feast day among the early Christians?
It wasn’t Christmas. The second greatest Christian feast was Epiphany, which was on Wednesday. Among those people who have heard of Epiphany, many have never celebrated it.
Pentecost has drifted into religious backwaters. Easter is greatly watered down today. Easter used to be celebrated with an all-night vigil the night. The celebration continued for what was called the “Great 50 Days”. Easter ended with a huge party on Pentecost. Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost were the focus of the church. Nobody even thought about celebrating Christmas until the fourth century.
What is Epiphany? Some of you may know Epiphany as the day on which the arrival of the wise men is celebrated. It is actually much more than that.
The word ‘epiphany’ means ‘manifestation’ or ‘striking appearance’. An epiphany is an experience of sudden and striking realization. It refers to insight through the divine.
Epiphany is a celebration of the revelation of God. It focuses on three revelations.
The revelation to the Magi — wisemen, astrologers or philosophers or whatever they were — is one of these. Another is when Jesus performed his first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. When he did this, Jesus revealed who he was. And the third is the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. That was the moment when Jesus was manifested as the son of God.
The Magi are celebrated at Epiphany because they represent the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles. Just to clear things up quickly. There were three gifts, not three people. How many people is not important to the story. Their names are not important. And the star is not the most important part of the story either.
That a baby was born in a manger was relatively unimportant.
Events showing the world who that baby is, those are important.
The authority of Jesus was validated by miracles (like changing water into wine), by the voice of God and descending dove at his baptism, and by signs in the heavens that could be interpreted by Gentiles. It is God’s way of saying, “Hey, this is the guy!”
Epiphany is not about history, it’s a reminder that God appears miraculously to us in places and ways we don’t expect. If we keep remembering that God thrives on unexpected appearances and if we keep expecting to see God everywhere we turn, we are unlikely to miss it when our moment of epiphany arrives.
Why did the gentiles see the star while the Jewish religious leaders missed it? Did the star shine only where a few specially chosen people could see it? Or were only a few people looking out for a sign and expecting a message from the heavens.
How many people saw Jesus turn water into wine? How many missed his first miracle even though they were right there? It was a wedding party, so I would guess that almost everyone present was too busy to notice what Jesus did. Most of them missed the sign. None of them were looking for it. Nobody was expecting it.
How many people heard God’s voice and saw the dove when Jesus was baptised? How many even at the water’s edge missed that moment and never had an epiphany.
How about us. How many of us are looking for a sign from God. How many of us are excited that we are going to see a sign today, maybe tomorrow, or the next day. Is your head is full of work and family and games and pleasures and entertainments and whatever fills your head?
Is a full head one that is looking out for a sign from God? There is a danger that the person who is preoccupied is going to miss it when the moment comes.
“Keep watch!” You don’t know the day or the hour when God will appear. Your friends can’t force you to encounter God. You have to have a willing spirit, and you have to be looking with a loving spirit. But God is here to be encountered. God is everywhere to be encountered, so you don’t have any excuse.
These are three stories of God shouting to the world. They are stories of God, and how he shouts. They are three stories of how God will reveal himself to anyone who is looking.
The Bible is full of stories. It is not a book of philosophy or moral guidance. It is a book of stories. Even things such as the Ten Commandments are revealed in a story.
What is your story?
All of us should have a story. We should have a story of how God showed himself to us. Our story is not about how we found God, but about how he gave us an epiphany. The important stories we ought to be telling others are the stories of God. Not how God saved us or how God provided for us.
Our story is part of God’s story. The important story is God’s story. It is the story of how there was once nothing at all, just emptiness, and then God created. It isn’t about how he created. It is simply that he created everything from nothing.
The story we tell is the story of God doing what only God can do. In the story of the Magi, they saw a star that everyone else could see. But only they understood what the star meant. That’s God, again. We don’t know how the Magi knew, or how God told them what the star meant, but they knew and they knew it was important. They told the story they knew about a star and a king. They didn’t apologize for the story. They didn’t say, “You’re not going to believe this, but we saw this star…” No, they just told the story they knew to be true.
The story we tell about God is the story in the Bible. The Bible tells of God’s revelation of himself to man. It is the story of God.
Some people won’t like hearing this story. Some will believe it and some will not. Some will even oppose it stridently. We must still tell it.
Herod was only one among many who did not like the story. The Magi were among many who embraced the story. They heard it as the story of God, and they came and worshipped the newborn king.
The story of God is found in the Bible and made real in our own experience. We are going to tell it to our friends and to others around the world. The story we tell is a true story. It is the story of God who created everything, who loves the world he created, and who sent his son Jesus to show that love to us. The story we tell is a story we have embraced as our own. It is the telling of that story that makes us the people of God. It is God’s story in our hands, on our lips, and in our hearts.
Be excited in 2016 about your epiphany. Be excited that God is making you part of his story. Be excited that God is giving you a story from your life, the story of the time you found your place in God’s story! That is the greatest story we can tell.
Make space in your life to have a real encounter with God. It might be here; it might be there; it could be anywhere … but expect that it will happen. Get up in the morning wondering where it will come. Go to sleep listening for God’s voice. Read your Bible expecting to hear God speak.