Good morning! Today is the last week of our Prepare the Way series that took us from Advent through Epiphany. And yes, today is Epiphany Sunday, Three Kings Day, or Little Christmas, which means it’s time to take down the Christmas decorations. Except, Iris tells me, if your family is from Puerto Rico and we’d still have another week to go until they celebrate King’s Day.
We celebrate and honor epiphany as a church holiday because it represents the time when the manifestation of God as a person became understood, marked by his being honored by the 3 kings or 3 wise men.
Last week, our word theme was search, and we talked about what it means to search for Christ in our lives, inspire others to search for Christ in their lives, and how to deepen our relationship with God by searching for more ways to connect with God through His Word, prayer, fellowship, and worship.
This week, our scripture passages bring us a good followup word: find. This finding is caused by movement in searching for this new king that was born in Bethlehem. According to Isaiah’s prophecy, the land of Israel will witness how “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”(v.3). The text makes reference to young camels of Midian and Ephah and Sheba will come with gold and frankincense to proclaim the praise of the Lord (v. 6,7). In the gospel of Matthew, the visit of the magi is also about rendering praise not to a land, but to a newborn king.
In these passages we get an invitation to give honor, glory, and praise to God, who has acted in favor of the covenant people and who has come to us through the Messiah. In the gospel, the wise men from the East have had a brief encounter with King Herod, and we know that Herod had an ulterior motive when having what seemed like an honest and sincere conversation with these visitors. We talked about this last week since he was intending to begin a search for the newborn king, but in reality it was for the purposes of getting rid of him (vv.13). Once they went to Bethlehem and were welcomed by Joseph and Mary, the first thing they did was kneel and honor the newborn child. They then had their epiphany, both about Jesus, and about Herod’s true intentions in a dream, and did not return to Herod.
We celebrate this time of year, this Epiphany, because it offers a myriad of faith possibilities: a spiritual journey that takes us to Jesus; divine signs on our path that point us to where God wants us to go; the importance of the stewardship of our lives: time, talent, treasure, knowing when to start a new adventure in faith, and even sometimes when we need to stop – like the wise men with Herod.
The text from Matthew says, “they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v.9). Where are those places for us today? Is it in our communities that are suffering from various forms of poverty? How about at those shelters that we support, or the weekend food programs for kids? What about those assisted through UMCOR and GAiN? Personally, I think we find those places at every opportunity where people are longing for the light of Christ, the Christ of Epiphany is already there, just waiting for someone to find him.
We can also lean something by allowing the passages to take us in the direction of following the star in terms of prevenient grace; that is, how God has been working in our lives before we even realize it — or following the star in terms of a new direction God wants us to take; Or following the star in terms of discernment. What decision, new project, new relationship or adjustment do we need to follow through on that will ultimately bring honor to the name of Christ? What new way will we find Christ, or help another find Christ at the end of that part of our journey?
Perhaps a better question, since it is Epiphany Sunday or 3 Kings Day, is what are we bringing with us for what we find at the end of this journey? Remember, that God has gifted each of us uniquely, designing us as a masterpiece to be put to His purposes. We can use those gifts for those we find that need to find Christ for themselves. Let me say that again – we use our spiritual gifts, our physical gifts, our finances, our means, out natural talents and intellect to help others find their way to Christ.
God helps us find those that we can help and minister to.
What is important about what we bring? Well, for lack of a better answer: everything.
The 3 wise men brought specific gifts that were also prophetic in the terms of Christ’s first time around on earth – his earthly ministry – and bore some symbolic meaning for his future on earth.
The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.
This dates back to Origen in Contra Celsum (240 AD): “gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God.”
These interpretations are alluded to in the verses of the popular carol “We Three Kings” in which the magi describe their gifts. The last verse includes a summary of the interpretation: “Glorious now behold Him arise/King and God and sacrifice.”
Sometimes this is described more generally as gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering.
The gifts that we find in ourselves from the Holy Spirit are also set apart for a special purpose, and those gifts are mostly found in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, but primarily in 1 Corinthians 12. When we bring these spiritual gifts to bear, along with our natural talents, passions and desires, we can help others who are searching for significance and hope find them in Jesus Christ. Here’s a list of those gifts –
- Word of wisdom
- Word of knowledge
- Gifts of healings/ Kinds of healings
- Distinguishing between spirits/discernment
- Tongues and Interpretation of tongues
I’d like to invite everyone to find just one new way this year to honor the gift of Jesus Christ by extending yourself into ministry, discipleship just a little bit more. I’m not talking about a huge commitment, we can start small. Visitations, speaking to others, teaching a class, attending Bible studies, reading scripture more often, praying more often. What you will find is that Jesus starts to change you more, and changes the lives of others through you, to the Glory of God and His Kingdom, through Jesus Christ. Others can find what we have found because we’re willing to share. Let’s find Christ again this year, Amen?