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Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29:1-11, Acts 10:34-43. Matthew 3:13-17

January 6th marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. It is the Day of the Epiphany, usually understood to be a celebration of the coming of the Wise Men to visit the young Jesus.

Epiphany lasts longer than a day and is about much more than the Wise Men. We will be in the Epiphany season from now until Ash Wednesday. “Epiphany” literally means “revelation.” Narrowly understood, it is anything that reveals who Jesus is. The story of the Wise Men reveals him to be a king of some sorts, one whose power is a threat to Herod who thinks the king they already have (Herod himself) will do quite well for the time being.

More broadly “epiphany” refers to any experience of sudden revelation—an “aha” moment when we gain some new insight that alters our perception and experience and appreciation of life. Pastor Rick likes to link the season of Epiphany with light. An epiphany is a moment of enlightenment.

So, during this season, we are not faced with just an external attempt to figure out who Jesus is. The questions are internal and personal: “Who is Jesus to and for me? How do I experience Jesus? What difference does he make in my life?” Many answers have been given over the years to both the external and the internal question. Most, if not all, of them offer important insights. There is no single “right” answer, since Jesus touches each of us uniquely and individually, whether as prophet or teacher, as ecstatic mystery or priestly mediator, as savior or friend or role model or even as some have suggested, a clown who helps us see the ridiculous and sublime in life.

Let’s look at some of clues offered by this week’s lectionary readings.

The passage from Isaiah 42 is often read during Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas. It looks ahead to a coming “Messiah” using words many have applied to Jesus. The Messiah will “open the eyes that are blind, . . . bring out prisoners from the dungeon,” etc. (vs. 7) Jesus, when he went to his hometown of Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry, went to the synagogue and read from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) Later, when John, the Baptizer, being held in prison, sends his men to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5)

Who is this guy? He is one who stands for justice, siding with the oppressed. Moments when we see that happening, when we participate in that happening, can be “epiphany” moments. Note, by the way that the passage from Isaiah presents this “Messiah” as one anointed by God’s Spirit. Epiphany almost always emanates from the Spirit. Epiphany is a “spiritual” or Spirit-filled experience.

Like so many of the Psalms, Psalm 29 is about the wonder and awe experienced in the presence of God’s power. Isn’t it delightful that one of the responses is skipping “like a calf”? (vs. 6) God’s work in the wonders of nature can bring on epiphanies. An epiphany moment can be a time when one is overwhelmed with a combination of joy and awe—when one feels like falling to the ground in humility or leaping exuberantly into the air because one has seen something shedding such a bright light on life and its meaning that it can be described as “holy splendor.” (vs. 2)

Who is this guy? To use today’s vernacular, “Our God is an awesome God.” Epiphany is a season for the renewal of awe in our lives. Note in passing that the Psalm ends, like the story of the Wise Men, with an emphasis upon one who sits as “king forever,” as well as one who blesses the “people with peace.” (vss. 10-11)

In the reading from Acts, Peter has just come through an experience where God has given him a vision and led him into an experience which took him beyond the boundaries he previously thought defined those eligible for God’s blessing. God prodded him to reach out to an “unclean” Gentile in ways that violated all Peter’s instincts, the instructions which had defined religious behavior for him up to that point. Now he preaches a sermon, beginning with the declaration, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” (Acts 10:34) God’s love is bigger than any boundaries we are inclined to draw.

Who is this guy? One whose reach is all-inclusive. Wherever barriers between people, groups, and nations are being broken down, the possibility of epiphany is present for those who have eyes to see. It is a message of “peace.” (Vs. 36)

Peter goes on in his sermon with the outline that was used in almost every sermon in the early church. It recounted the life of Jesus, here beginning with his baptism (vs. 37), continuing through his “doing good and healing” (vs. 38), and concluding with his death and resurrection (vss. 39-41).

Who is this guy? He is the bringer of life and good, one whose significance cannot be defeated by the most violent of deaths. He even offers “forgiveness of sins.” (vs. 43) Epiphany may occur whenever simple acts of kindness are done in everyday life, whenever relationships are healed and forgiveness given or experienced, when death is faced, even challenged, with confidence, when new beginnings become possible. Note again that all this is made possible by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power . . .” (vs. 38)

Finally, from Matthew, the short story of Jesus’ baptism. The story triggered much discussion at breakfast this morning as we shared experiences of baptism and various rituals and meanings attached to it.

For now, just these observations. For Jesus, baptism was a moment of confirmation, a moment when he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and heard a voice saying that he was God’s beloved Son.” (Matthew 3:16-17) Notice, in this reading, it doesn’t say anyone else saw or heard. It was an internal epiphany. From this story we can note that moments when our faith or experience of God’s Spirit are confirmed, whether in baptism or confirmation, are often epiphany moments. We are also recalled to the fact that many in the Gospels and through the years of church history have looked at or experienced Jesus and seen God.

Who is this guy? He is one who reveals who we are and who God is. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open during epiphany, alert for the presence of a descending dove showing us the ways of peace and justice and forgiveness, in our inner being and in our outward living.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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