Readings for Epiphany of the Lord 6th January 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out The Epiphany of our Lord 6 January 2008 Textweek

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

The line that I hear over and over in the Gospel is ‘Where is the child?’ ‘Where is the child?’ And probably that is the question for Epiphany - where is the child? The understanding that most of us have of the story of the three kings, the three wise ones, is an understanding in which we can’t help but place ourselves and draw parallels with our own spiritual journey – setting out, as we do to somewhere quite different, coming before Christ, kneeling in worship, paying homage, giving thanks and offering our gifts. And as we hold that understanding, we then perhaps glimpse the church: the church is the stable or the manger to which we come, different people from different places, kings in our own kingdoms, bringing our gifts here to this manger, for here we trust that we will find Christ.

Both of those understandings I can acknowledge and affirm, both of them hold some value for us to reflect on, but I’d also like to explore another. Paul, in the reading we had from Ephesians has this to say: ‘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’. Have you ever wondered why Paul was able to look creatively at theological interpretations? Why Paul? Why was he allowed to question and turn around the holy scriptures and yet we, we the church, are conformed and constrained by an orthodox understanding? Why Paul, why could he do it and not us? The answer to that why is to be found on the road to Damascus, for there Paul did not have a conversion, but rather an enlightenment: he opened his eyes, he opened his eyes and he saw. He saw the world differently, the scriptures differently, the church, the synagogue, differently.

He continues, Paul does, in the same reading: ‘the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’. Probably the most important word in that reading is the word ‘in’: ‘sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus’, not the promise of Christ Jesus, ‘sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus’. And we affirm that Sunday by Sunday – we are members of one body, we are the Body of Christ. We have actually taken on that vision that Paul had.

So now like Paul, let’s look at the Epiphany not as in ‘former generations’, but rather with new eyes. Let’s contemplate the story not as us the kings, coming to Christ, but rather as the kings coming to us, the Body of Christ. Can we contemplate ourselves as central to the Nativity and can we envisage the kings bringing their gifts to us, to you and to me? It might be that such an imagining confronts or goes against our humble sensibilities. If it does then let’s acknowledge that this is the shackles of orthodoxy. What is revealed through the Nativity and what comes to light and to acknowledgement in the Epiphany, is the divine in humanity, God birthed of woman. It is there to be found in scriptures, and an enlightened Paul seems to have glimpsed that very truth. It is a truth that called him out of his secure orthodoxy into a journey that recognised the divine in all life. The fundamental God of the chosen for Paul became the very source of life, as he glimpsed the divine in each and every people.

We get that in other scriptures in other texts. We are familiar with the notion - he came down from heaven and he was lifted up. The divine dynamic is not one way – giving and receiving create one another: They don’t exist on their own, they create each other. Allow that dynamic to now reside with you and the relationship that the you has with the divine. Isaiah says: ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’. Eastern traditions seem to have a fuller appreciation of that divine dynamic, the activity that calls us toward the divine. It’s there again if we look for it. If we look for it we find that Moses climbed a mountain to be with the divine. As the divine came down so Moses arose. The very first story that we find in the Bible, of Adam and Eve finds humanity walking, walking the very same ground as the divine. Jesus himself walked from the tomb; he came to life from the very bowels of the earth. ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’.

The implications for us today are very uplifting. We’re not a people called to wait in pews for God to descend on us, rather we are a people called to Arise, to lift ourselves beyond the everyday toward the divine, toward our highest calling. And as we make manifest the gift of divine light, as we see with new eyes, then the kings and the rulers and the authorities will come to pay homage, for this is the call of the church, it is the call of Christ and it is the call of the divine: to continue the creative act of love, to see all as members of the same body.

Paul opened his eyes and he reshaped the church of his day. The same is asked of us and of everyone in every age. Our orthodox church, since about the third century has been engulfed by a Roman model – it’s a bit like the way Australian politics have been engulfed by the Pommie, Westminster model. The church has suffered the same fate at the hands of the dominant, the Roman culture. That engulfing brought with it idol worship – we worship Jesus rather than become ‘a promise in Christ’. The Roman model is regimented, it has an ever-expanding conquering outlook – that’s the mission of the church; you can see how we just slotted into another model. The Roman model is maintained by hierarchical social ordering, so too the church. This is our inheritance from former generations. Paul looked beyond, he looked outside the walls.

As we see and hear and listen to other traditions, so too we may be able to be introduced to new possibilities, new possibilities of being the church - intuitive, experiential, inward-looking, organic, not worried about numbers, but rather looking to reveal the promise in Christ, and as we hear the call and we too like Paul, may glimpse further and fuller truths.

Arise, arise and shine. Allow the divine that is immaculately conceived in you to find birth. Come forth from the tomb of death arise and shine, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Peter Humphris