Epiphany is an unveiling, a moment of revelation, realization and insight and the scene is set by the opening words from Isaiah......
“Arise, shine, for your light has come”
The people being addressed were the still poor and bedraggled community of Zion and Isaiah prophesies the return from exile in Babylon.
They are to rise from their lethargy and despair and shine with the reflected glory of God which is rising upon them, ushering in a new age just as the rising sun brings a new day.
Zion will be transformed and so suffused with light that it will attract all the other nations of the world as well, to see what is going on for themselves.
And in recognition of what is happening in Israel these foreigners don’t come empty handed. Isaiah pictures camel trains bringing gifts of Gold and Frankincense.
They come to see what God is revealing to Zion.
The fulfilment of this prophesy is related by Matthew in story of the visit of the Magi from the East. The title “Three kings” is a bit misleading as there is no indication that they were kings or even that there were just three of them.
Magi were Zoroastrian priests from Persia and probably “wise men” is closer to the reality than Kings.
What we are told is that there were three gifts, and they themselves were symbols.
Isaiah’s prophesy told us only of Gold and Frankincense. Gold is symbolic of Jesus’ Kingship (He is our final authority) and the incense is symbolic of His role as High Priest so Jesus is both priest and king. Ans as our High Priest lives in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit we have direct access to God.
But Matthew’s Magi brings one extra gift not mentioned by Isaiah. They bring Myrrh.
Myrrh is used (amongst other things)to embalm corpses and this gift reveals that Jesus’ death will have a special resonance and meaning for the whole world.
In an interesting aside, in Mark 15:22 Mark records that Jesus at Golgotha just before his crucifixion was offered wine mixed with Myrrh.
So in a veiled way the gifts of the Magi reveal the exact nature of the Messiah – King and Priest but also a willing sacrificial offering for the sins of the whole world.
That this was God’s plan all along is the mystery that Paul says has only now been revealed to us – the mystery revealed is not just about Christ himself but also that the deliverance from exile is for all humankind and not just the Jews.
Paul says “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (5)
A new day has dawned. Arise, shine, your light has come!
This mystery, this plan that has been revealed to us, to redeem all creation in Christ “hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church, the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known” (9 and 10).
So we see clearly our own commission here.....”so that through the church...”
This revelation, this Epiphany, is not for us alone. In the light of the revelation of God’s Love, glory and power, we are to Arise, shine with the light of the gospel for our light has come.
We shine with God’s reflected light as we are changed and grow into the Holy people God wants us to be, to shine as lights in the world to the glory of God the Father, because we see and perceive that God’s plan has been fulfilled and we are a part of that fulfilling.
We need a shift in our perception it seems to me. We need a personal Epiphany. We do not come to church – We ARE church. We are not just receivers of worship services we are all active participants in worship in God’s eternal plan for creation.
We are “church” wherever we are. And our role as “church” is to reveal the source of the light that illuminates us to others that they too will see and understand and shine in turn.
We are in the business of transformation. We are changed that others might too be changed and in so doing we bring in God’s kingdom. We become an epiphany for others, but we must first know and believe the source of our joy. We must be certain of the truth of the gospel in order to fulfil our commission.
Which is why courses like Alpha, fellowship groups and Bible study are not optional extras they are actually integral to who we are.
We are Christians and as Paul says we are to be bold and confident to proclaim our faith and we are not left to do this alone.
God is with us by the presence of His Holy Spirit.
Matthew’s gospel as a whole is about presence and relationship and a closeness to God that is extraordinary. Matthew’s gospel starts with the announcement of Emmanuel – God is with us – and ends with the words “And remember I am with you to the end of the age”
We cannot and must not let him down by being complacent. We need to “Arise, shine, for your light has come”.