“Arise, shine for the light of Christ and the glory of the Lord has come upon you”…I’ve now sang that three times since the fall, and here it is in our Epiphany lessons (Isaiah specifically) for Sunday.
So what is this Epiphany business all about anyway?
As I was preparing for Sunday, the commentators had a lot to say about traditional understandings of the visit of the magi’s and their gifts. The magi are representative of three non-Jewish cultures, and therefore serve as a symbolic representation of God’s revelation to the Gentiles. The gift of gold is a gift one would present to a king; the gift of frankincense is a gift one would present to a divinity…so these two gifts are symbolic of the combined nature of Jesus—both human and divine. And the gift of myrrh is a burial gift, foreshadowing the death of Jesus. These are wonderful and symbolic understandings of the magi and their gifts…if we want to keep them safely tucked away in our nativity scenes and children’s plays. But let’s take another look at the Epiphany and what it means for us today.
In the reading from Isaiah, we have the expression of deep joy by the prophet in the midst of the Babylonian captivity; there is an eagerness to return home, to overcome the enemy, to once again experience the love of God. And so Isaiah tells the people essentially, “rise and shine, the day of God’s glory is here”. This is a wonderful revelation of good news. And the prophet doesn’t stop there! Not only has the day of God’s glory arrived, but people will be reunited, sons and daughters will return home, the sea will provide a bounty, and many nations will come together. Rise and shine indeed! The prophet is reminding the listener that God is grabbing hold of things and that everything is about to change…this is what an epiphany, or a revelation, is about!
In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we are given the account of the visit of the wise-men…the revelation of God to the Gentiles. And while this is important because it lays the groundwork of all future revelations to “outsiders”, what I find so wonderful about this text is that it reminds us of God’s universal love for everyone. As great as the gifts of the magi were—I mean who wouldn’t want gold, frankincense and myrrh—these gifts are never as great as the gift of the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us. No gift that magi, or we, ever present will be equal to or surpass God’s love. And there’s no shame in that! God isn’t keeping score on the value of our gifts, because really what we offer, we should offer with our whole heart…which is love in return. God’s gift of the Incarnation teaches us about generosity and the power to give to others out of love. That’s the revelation…that’s the epiphany.
Last year, Epiphany fell on a Friday. Some of us gathered together for dinner and an evening service of prayer and reflection. Part of our service together was a presenting of candles as symbols of the gifts we have to offer God. Answers included peace, love, truth, and justice. We are able to offer these gifts because they have been given freely to us.
So this Sunday morning, as you prepare for the exchange of Peace and the receiving of Holy Communion, ask yourself what gift you have been given that you want to share with others. “Arise, shine, for the light of Christ and the glory of the Lord shall come upon you”.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.