Topic: Biblical Verse: Ephesians 3:1–3:12
The Epiphany of Our Lord (observed)
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
I don’t really enjoy taking down Christmas decorations. It’s not that I mind the work involved; it’s mostly that I’m not looking forward to their absence. I like the lights on the Christmas tree and its star on top. I enjoy looking at the Christmas cards that people have sent us with artwork depicting the Nativity, the angels, the Wise Men. It feels good to see the filled-up Advent calendar still up on the wall, a reminder that Christmas has arrived! I don’t want to let all that go. So this year, I’m thinking, I’ll just surprise my wife and leave everything up! Or maybe not.
The hard truth is that the days of Christmas have come to a close and it’s time to move on. The star can’t stay up on the Christmas tree all year long. We’re moving into a new season, Epiphany, as the Church calendar continues on. There’s a star here, too, though, the one that serves as the inspiration for the one on the top of our trees. While its light was impressive enough to serve as a beacon that drew visitors from far-off lands, the light to which it pointed is better still.
You’ve heard Matthew’s account of the visit of the Magi, the “wise men” who came from the East in search of the new, great king. When they arrived at Jerusalem, the capital city, they expected to find the one who they sought. I think they were surprised to find that the child wasn’t there, but instead would be found in a little village miles away. If you look at this episode in the larger context of Matthew’s Gospel, though, the bigger surprise is that it was these Gentiles who were the ones looking for the newborn king. Matthew continually points to Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to send His Messiah, long foretold in the Scriptures – specifically, in what we call the Old Testament of the Bible – as the Savior coming from the line of David. The Son of David had arrived among the people of David, Israel; however, his people weren’t the ones who came looking for him. The Magi, the surprising seekers of our Savior, were outsiders. They were not part of the people of David, descendants of Abraham. And yet God gave them light by which to see His great gift, a Savior for all people. That’s Epiphany: God’s surprising revelation of His grace to our world, for our world.
Paul echoes that surprise in our text today from Ephesians. You can read this letter as if it were written to you and for you – because it was. Christians, whether they come as descendants of Abraham’s people or from the Gentile nations, are all brought together under the light of Jesus, God’s promised Messiah. Paul lays it out here: God’s surprising plan of salvation includes all people, no matter who they are. God the Son’s incarnation as a baby born in Bethlehem, where he would later be found by the Magi, and the selfless offering of his life outside the walls of Jerusalem, the city where the Magi had assumed the king would be, all are part of the mystery of Christ. The mystery – not a secret but an astonishing revelation – is that God would give all the world a Messiah, not just a select few. God’s plan is for all people who in darkness sat, people like me and you.
Our world has been dying in darkness for a long time, ever since humanity’s fall into sin. Separated from God, people have dwelled in darkness. You and I were born in it, and it is only by God’s grace that we can be brought out from the darkness of sin into His light. But even Christians can fail to remember from whence we’ve come. You might take your status for granted. You might forget how important faith in God’s promises is for your life. You might not think that what you’ve got is something that other people need to live, too. You aren’t here today because you deserve to be here, but because you need to be here. Just like the rest of the world, you and I need what God offers. Every human being needs the unsearchable, unimaginable riches of Christ, as Paul puts it: God’s grace which gives life and light in our dark world. People need to be enlightened.
Recalling Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, God the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” God has given you that surprising revelation of His love of which Paul writes. You have heard that Jesus is God the Son, the Messiah. You, like Paul, have been brought from the darkness into which you were born: not because of your nationality or your heritage or your family, but because of the Holy Spirit calling you and enlightening you through faith. Through Jesus, you have access to God the Father. Surprise! Like the people of ages past, we could never have seen this coming; yet the Father has brought us together in the Son through the work of the Spirit. And now you and I, like Paul carry Christ’s light, light that our world desperately needs.
The world cannot understand the wisdom of God’s mercy and grace. People continue to be convinced that, if there is a God, they’re responsible for making things right with him. The darkness of sin blinds them to the reality that it is God who has stepped down to be a human being like us, so that we might live in a restored relationship with Him forever. If your eyes have been opened by the light of God’s grace and you know what Jesus means for your life, then you know what he means for the lives of others. The Savior has come, for you and for them. The Epiphany season into which we’re moving is about more than just telling others about God’s astonishing plan for saving us through Jesus. It’s about living that astonishing plan out in your life for others In the days ahead, you will have an opportunity to bring the light of God’s grace into someone else’s life through your words and actions. As God’s people enlightened by the continued working of the Holy Spirit, you and I are sent as Epiphany people.
Epiphany is a season of light, even though we take down Christmas trees and all those other decorations that helped make the Christmas season feel more festive. The light of Christ Jesus remains. This weekend, we dedicate a new sanctuary lamp for St. John’s. Sometimes called an “eternal light,” lamps like this one serve as reminders of the continual presence of God among His people. As the Magi came to pay respect to a great king, we come to the Lord’s house to worship – not a king, but the King of Kings. In that child of Bethlehem, you can see God dwelling with His people. The light of the world has dawned in Jesus. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, you and I live in the light of Christ, which stays with us in every season, whether the times appear festive of bleak and dreary. Let the sanctuary lamp serve as a reminder for you that whenever you come to the Lord’s house, He is here to enlighten your life.
Following our worship services at St. John’s this weekend, we’ll be taking down our Christmas decorations. The star won’t stay up on top of the tree all year. The sanctuary will return to a state of simple beauty for the weeks and months ahead. But while the time of Christmas has come to a close, the light of Christmas, the Savior of all, has come to you. Now, it goes out into our dark world so that others might be surprised by God’s grace. You carry Christ Jesus’ light, and he will enlighten the world through you.
God bless you this Epiphany!