Happy Epiphany! Or Happy Three Kings Day!
Today is the Feast of Epiphany – celebrated in the church worldwide as the day the magi visited the Christ Child (Matthew 2:1-12). The word ‘epiphany’ comes from Greek and means ‘manifestation’ or ‘appearance’, and can refer to either the appearance of a divine being, or of the revelation of the basic nature of something or some essential truth. The early Christian church used it to refer to the revelation of God, in Christ, to the Gentiles, as represented by the wise men from the East.
Years ago I came across a quote from Michael Leunig describing epiphany in this way. “There you are standing in the kitchen, paused between one ordinary thing and the next, when all at once this strange feeling enters the body, like wine, gently flooding your veins with a mysterious sweet mixture of grief and yearning…”
It reminds me of the 18th century, Methodist revival leader, John Wesley’s description of his epiphany, of how he was attending a church meeting, and someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
You, I hope, have had moments, not identical, but similar to these, in your Christian life, when God’s love and grace have suddenly broken into your experience in some new way. Moments of mysterious sweetness or strange warmth! Moments that sustain us and strengthen us during periods of difficulty in our lives.
This was the wise men’s epiphany: Matthew 2:11-12, “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
But there are ten verses before we get to this experience; verses that describe the days and weeks and months beforehand, the long journey, the questions they needed to ask (and keep asking), the wily and ruthless Herod they encountered on the way. The journey is hard work. To reach that moment of overwhelming joy, they have to persevere, and keep persevering.
The Monday after the Feast of Epiphany, as far back as the 15th century, was referred to as Plough Monday. (Sometimes the Sunday before was called Plough Sunday.) It was a time that saw the resumption of work after the Christmas period, particularly in northern England and East England. It seems appropriate to me that we hold these two together because there are a lot of Plough Mondays or Plough Sundays (and other days) in our lives before we reach those epiphanies. We have to plough on! Our journey is also long and arduous, and involves asking questions, and keeping on asking questions, and engaging with those who do not share our heart’s desire; to worship, to offer ourselves and our treasures, to Christ.
So, as our year begins, can I encourage you – and us as a congregation – to keep seeking Christ, to keep seeking those epiphanies, where the love and grace of God break into our lives in fresh ways, and to keep ploughing on together – and encouraging each other as we do!
You might enjoy this version of the traditional hymn, We Three Kings, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEtUGgBwzEM that I played at prayers this morning or the poem by George Mackay Brown included below.
Just as the magi discovered, may the difficulties of our journey – especially our journey at the present time – not stop us from searching for the one we desire to worship!
PS Can I also mention that this Sunday and next – 9th and 16th January – we are highlighting the opportunities for serving (i.e. putting your hand to the plough!) in the life of our church. We are looking for:
– people to be stewards (to welcome us to church and remind us to be Covid safe!),
– people to join the tech team,
– people to arrange flowers (to enhance our worship experience)
– or look after the church gardens,
– people to prepare communion,
– people to run Sunday School for children and youth,
– or help out at Playgroup (setting up or befriending parents and kids)
– or Cooking Circles (being a lead cook on occasion or coming to talk to people – and eat delicious food!).
There’ll be more info on each of these roles in the Sunday’s bulletin and we’d love to hear from you if you’d like to know more about any of these roles. Who knows, persevering in one of these areas may lead you – on a regular basis – to moments of overwhelming joy!
The red king
Came to a great water. He said,
Here the journey ends.
No keel or skipper on this shore.
The yellow king
Halted under a hill. He said,
Turn the camels round.
Beyond, ice summits only.
The black king
Knocked on a city gate. He said,
All roads stop here.
These are gravestones, no inn.
The three kings
Met under a dry star.
There, at midnight,
The star began its singing.
The three kings
Suffered salt, snow, skulls.
They suffered the silence
Before the first word.
—“Epiphany Poem,” George Mackay Brown