Epiphany, or Twelfth Night as it is also called, is a yearly festival held January 6th commemorating the revealing of Jesus as the Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi at Bethlehem. In a broader sense, it also refers to the appearance or manifestation of a god or other supernatural being. And while The Visit of the Wise Men is the only story associated with this celebration, this passage in Matthew is most certainly not unique to the experience of epiphany. While these Magi return to their own country never to be heard from again in the biblical texts, it could be argued that, if it were not for epiphanies experienced by others in the Book of Acts, Jesus may never have been made known as the Christ to more than a few Hebrew peasants who would have remained a small Jewish sect among the much larger community of Israel.
Instead, we learn of a strange set of events occurring in the life of a man named Saul. In Acts 8, we learn that Saul approved of the stoning of Stephen: “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison” (8:1-3, NRSV). Later in chapter 9 we discover Saul’s epiphany: “Now as [Saul] was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (9:3-6, NRSV). As we know, Saul’s conversation was so dramatic that his name was changed to Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles.
Later, we learn of another set of events occurring in the life of Peter. Following a dream regarding the acceptability of eating what he had previously considered to be unclean food, Peter entered the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, and said to them, “you yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. …I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:28-29 & 34-35, NRSV).
And so here we are as we stand at the beginning of a New Year, 2018. And we are also in need of an epiphany … a new way of seeing. As United Methodists, we need an epiphany that LGBTQ persons do not constitute a reason to split our denomination in two. As was with Peter, we must truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every people, anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God. As Americans, we need an epiphany that undocumented immigrants are not to be persecuted as Saul had persecuted those early Christians. We are in need of a conversion so as to become missionaries of comfort and peace to those neighbors in our midst whose presence has brought so much cultural enrichment and economic benefit to us all.
So let this festival of Epiphany be more than merely a Sunday when we give lip service to the Wise Men. Let it be a time when we become open to what new thing God is doing in our midst. And showing more than a willingness, indeed, let us show an eagerness to join God on God’s long-term work of Kingdom (kin-dom) building!
Happy New Year!
– Pastor Lee Neish
Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.