Epiphany: Matthew 2: 1-12 & Baptism of Jesus: Mark 1: 9-13; The Rev. Pam Stewart Tomoka UMC
“Epiphany” is the Greek word for ‘a sudden revelation’, or an ‘Ah Ha!’ moment. If I plunk the heel of my hand against my forehead [demonstrate], that reminds you of what? The commercial for V8 juice, after you’ve eaten a cookie or other non-nutritious snack, and you say: “Ah, I could have had a V8!” Enlightenment occurs with the Epiphany moment. We celebrated the Hope of Advent, the Light of Christ coming into the world at Christmastide, and in today’s service of worship, we begin the third season of the Christian year with the Light and Enlightenment of the Day of Epiphany and the Enlightenment of Jesus’ Baptism.
First, we are Enlightened in Matthew’s depiction of the Magi’s journey to find the newborn King of the Universe. The Magi (Greek for astrologers) have followed the star for probably almost two years, first being enlightened in their astronomy research and then taking the plunge to caravan on camels through months and months of dark nights following the westward leading Star of Wonder.
By the time the Magi reach King Herod in Jerusalem, Joseph had probably made a home for the Holy Family in Bethlehem, earning and saving enough to replenish the taxes he’s paid Caesar, so they could return to Nazareth. Joseph and Mary had accepted their roles in nurturing the Christ child until he is old enough to fulfill his being sent to be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. They may well have noticed the Star of Wonder, but until the wealthy, wise Magi appeared at their doorway, they did not understand that Jesus was the King of the Universe, the Light of the World.
This revelation, this Epiphany, that Jesus has come as the Christ, the Light of God’s Love for the whole world, is the greatest gift the Magi bring to Mary and Joseph, and to us today. January 6th begins the season of Epiphany, a season of enlightenment, in which the darkness is pierced by the Light of Christ.
There is a story of several neighborhood kids who enjoyed hiking the forested trails on the mountain outside of their town. One day they went further into the forest than they had ever explored before and lost all track of time. As they realized that they were lost and it would soon be dark, they fretted about what to do since none of the paths they were taking were leading them to familiar landmarks. They turned to the eldest, a teenager, and asked what they should do. The teen thought for a few minutes and then told them they should stay where they were and wait for it to turn dark, for then they could see the stars that could guide them toward the lights of the town. After some quibbling, they decided to wait for the light. Soon they were able to see the North Star, Polaris, and follow the stars until they could see the town lights. At that point, they heard the voices of the townspeople calling for them and they were able to make their way safely through the dark, following the starlit paths towards the loving voices. Like these lost youngsters, we too wait for the darkness to be pierced by the Light sent by God to bring us Enlightenment.
The night that the Magi found and worshipped Jesus, they were told in a dream to head home, bypassing King Herod by taking a different route. Joseph also had a dream in which he was told to immediately take Mary and Jesus and to flee to Egypt, because King Herod was seeking to kill Jesus. At that point, not only the light of the stars led them all away from Bethlehem in the dark of the night, but the light of their faith, their God enlightened beliefs, led them to safety. The darkness of Herod’s insane jealousy and power mongering resulted in the violent slaughter of baby boys two years old and under in Bethlehem. Herod’s fear of losing his power was irrational when one realizes that Herod wouldn’t even be alive 30 years later when Jesus preached and shone the Light of God’s love.
As we saw and heard the accounts a few days ago, on the Day of Epiphany, that is, January 6, 2021, the darkness of power hunger and irrational anger reared it’s ugly head as President Trump misused his power and incited hateful insurrection and violence in the Capitol of the United States of America. I don’t know about you, but I am still in shock and pray for the Light of Christ to brilliantly shine the way forward. We look to the teachings, example, and Light of Christ to lead us through the darkness of those events. Enlightenment is happening as the men and women who make up Congress together suffered and feared for their lives, and now begin to dialogue together for peaceful resolutions with accountable measures. Enlightenment is happening as political figures are beginning to take moral inventories of their beliefs and actions and stepping down or away so as not to continue on as part of the darkness. And at the same time, there is Light shining in the Hope that those who will be new government leaders will bring a passion to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
Epiphany Enlightenment also comes as one walks humbly by faith with God, as Joseph did when he fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, after listening to the dream from God. How terrified and lonely they must have been, strangers in a strange land in Egypt. And how relieved and yet sad as they heard of Herod’s insane slaughter of innocent babies in Bethlehem. But they were not alone, God was with them, and sent the Light again in a dream to Joseph, telling him that Herod had died and it was time to journey home to Nazareth in Galilee.
The second event we remember and honor the first week of the season of Epiphany is Jesus’ Baptism, depicted in the following verses (9 – 13)
of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
As we journey through the season of Epiphany, may we, too, be Enlightened with the message that through our Baptism, we belong to God as God’s beloved daughters and sons. We become part of the Light of God in our accepting of God’s acceptance, acknowledging that we belong to God, that God’s Spirit has settled upon us, we are not alone, God is with us. Just like Jesus, we can plunge into baptism, claiming the light we have from God in Christ as beloved sons and daughters of God and letting that light shine with the Light of Christ dispelling the darkness of this world. On January 6, 2021, we again faced the darkness of the coronavirus pandemic and had to close our church building again until January 20th. But, because we have this Interim Kingdom partnership with First United Methodist Church, they graciously shared their Light and are helping us to continue to provide this service of worship today and next Sunday. The darkness of COVID-19 might have closed our buildings, but it didn’t close our church. We are God’s beloved children and our Light continues to shine.
As we continue to battle the darkness that confronts us in the COVID-19 pandemic and the forces of greed, depression, addictions, loss, power plays, diseases, and other such debilitating entities…claim your light in the Light of Christ and speak your Epiphany Enlightenment as you say to yourself, “I am God’s beloved daughter/son who belongs to God.”