Aloha Friday Message – January 6, 2012 – An Epiphany Message

    1201AFC010612- An Epiphany Message

    Read it online here.

    This Sunday is “Epiphany Sunday,” a day to commemorate the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Twelfth Night is always January 5th, and the next day is Epiphany in celebration of the “Showing Forth” of Jesus. It’s the day when we think about Nativity Scenes and the gang of angels, animals, and people gathered around a sparkling little baby. Among the people we usually think of Mary and Joseph, of course, and then there are the shepherds who were watching their flocks by night, and the Magi or the Three Wisemen. They are all gathered around the little family comprised of a construction worker, a young mother who was a devout Jew, and their newborn son. Most of us realize that didn’t happen, but it is a nice way to sort of tie everything together.

    In the Biblical account found only in the Gospel of Matthew, the number of visitors from the east is not given. We assume it was three because of the gifts mentioned – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because of the expensiveness of the gifts, readers of Matthew’s Gospel thought perhaps the visitors must have “kingly wealth,” hence, “We Three Kings.” Isaiah and David had both predicted that the Messiah would be worshipped by kings from across the world (Isaiah 60:3 and Psalm 68:29 for example), and so even though there was no evidence for the visitors to be kings –they are referred to only as Magi which is the plural for the Greek word magos μάγος, who were priests of Zoroaster (a/k/a “Zarathustra” as in “Thus Spake Zarathustra”). Zoroastrianism was an ancient religion associated with astrology, magic, and fortune telling – a sorcerer. One such famous sorcerer was the Samaritan, Simon Magus – “Simon the Sorcerer” – who was a convert to Christianity thanks to the ministrations of the Apostle Philip, even though he tried to “buy” the Anointing of the Holy Spirit (Read the eighth chapter of Acts).

    A further bit of information we often overlook in the Nativity Scene is that Matthew says the magi followed the star to a house, but says nothing about a stable, shepherds, a manger, or even of Joseph. (Matthew 2:9-11):

    9 – After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 – When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 – On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

    An epiphany is a showing forth, or shining forth. It modern times it has come to mean a sudden realization that puts everything into perspective – a paradigm shift where our understanding is “suddenly” brighter and clearer. I put that “suddenly” in quotes, because generally an epiphany comes about after much laborious thinking and working. Those “A-HA” moments are rare, but they are usually preceded by intense effort even if the moment of understanding seems to come effortlessly. Famous “epiphanies” in recent history might include Isaac Newton and Arthur Fry (he invented Post-It Notes), and there have been a few in politics recently which we will not mention today. The basic idea is that genuine innovation comes through inspired thinking based on hard work. They are wonderful experiences whether we feel them ourselves, or watch others “see the light go on.” That experience is the Central Joy of Teaching!

    For Christians, Epiphany is the commemoration not so much of the visit by the magi, but the fact that Jesus is revealed to the whole world – Jew and gentile, rich and poor, righteous and sinner, young and old, and whatever other earthling set of opposites you can think up. He came here for every single soul on earth before or after his birth. All of us can turn our eyes toward Jesus and see God with us – Emanuel. That always gives me goose-bumps. God. With. Us. The Manifestation of The Christ. Born of a virgin in abject poverty in a tiny village outside Jerusalem, he grew up in obscure places in Egypt and Galilee, and was anointed with the Holy Spirit at about age 30 (we assume). A few years later he died a horrible death as a criminal falsely accused of sedition against Rome. In the Nicene Creed it is summed up like this:

    For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He suffered death, and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

    In Latin, that phrase “for our sake” is etiam pro nobis. It might also be translated “he was crucified even for us. For something like 50 years, that is the way I have thought of that part of his life and that part of our creed – “even for us” who repent and sin only to repent and sin again, and again, and again. Even the best among us – whom we admire for their saintly righteousness and service to God through service to their fellow earthlings – even they still fall under that phrase “even for us.” Everything that has anything to do with “Salvation From On High” was done, became reality, and was miracled into place “even for us.” And here’s the thing to learn from the Feast of the Epiphany and the Visit of the Magi:

    The “us” in even for “us” is all of us. Christians know that Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead to free every living soul from sin, including the ones who want nothing to do with that whole scenario. When Jesus entered into the world as that tiny baby on a cold night in a tiny village a few miles away from the capital of a nation once again under foreign domination, he carried with him a power of Grace so immense that it could actually redeem every soul that has now, has ever had, or will ever have been born of a woman and still there would be an immeasurable amount of that Grace left over. The magi demonstrated that God sent that child for the entire world to know and to love. It doesn’t really matter if they rode camels or donkeys, if there were three or two or even thirty of them. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t kneel around the manger. It doesn’t matter if we named them Caspar, Balthasar, Melchior. It might matter a little bit that the gifts were highly symbolic. Myrrh is an aromatic resin. It was used in preparing the dead for burial. Gold reveals that the baby born to a virgin and at someone’s house under a special star is actually a king. The frankincense tells us that the King the magi came to honor was none other than God incarnate. And the capper is that the myrrh tells us that he has come to die.

    Myrrh means “bitterness.” It was used in perfumes for centuries, but it was also used for embalming a corpse, and as an antiseptic, as well as to reduce pain. Of the three gifts given to Jesus only myrrh is mentioned at the beginning of his life as a gift from the magi and at the end of his life as a gift from a friend. “Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came [with Joseph of Arimathea], bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:39-40)

    He was wrapped in swaddling clothes at birth, in a shroud at death. Never owned a place of his own. Had a simple tunic woven from top to bottom all in one piece, but little else other than the most basic items of clothing. We don’t know what happened to the gifts, but perhaps some of that came in handy on the way to, for a time in, and on the way back from Egypt. Maybe Mary had kept some of the myrrh and gave it to Nicodemus? No one knows what happened to any of the gifts except the True Gift. He came here to show us God. He came here to redeem us from everything that had gone wrong in the world. He did all of this “even for us.”

    Take the risk of finding your own epiphany. Make this phrase part of your personal statement of faith – your “this is mine” Credo – to say etiam pro me quoque. “Even for me also.” And you don’t have to bring some fancy treasure. Be like The Little Drummer Boy and bring what you have – you. For your gift-wrap use a smile as the bow and your heart as the box. Jesus will look at your gift, and say something like “Oh, WOW! You brought that for ME?!?!?” And you can tell him “Etiam tibi.” Even for you.

    Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved.

    Please pray for these persons have a rough time with their health: MJ. KG, KD, JE, DO, CT, DN, JM, JC, JK, and all your friends and family suffering from health issues.

    Please pray for our country and for Divine guidance as we work toward the upcoming election. America, Bless God!

    Please send us your prayer requests …

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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