This is the message that I presented at Neon UMC (Neon, KY) on The Epiphany of the Lord, 3 January 1999. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1- 12.
The month of January is the appropriate month to begin the New Year. For it is named after the god, Janus, who had the ability to look backward to where he had been at the same time that he was looking forward to the future where he might be going. At this time of the year, we take stock of what we did last year and hopefully make notes so that we do not make the same mistakes again. However, there is a limitation to this approach because we can never adequately determine the direction that we are to take.
Even though the Magi knew the direction they had to take to meet the newborn king, they still did not know the exact location, which is why they stopped and asked Herod for help. The Magi knew the prophecies which foretold of the birth of Jesus and looked for the sign that would tell them when the birth had happened. But all that knowledge was not enough for them to know where exactly he was born.
It is important to note that having met the Christ Child, the direction of the Magi’s lives changed rather dramatically. For after meeting the Christ Child, an angel of the Lord came to them and advised them to take a different path home, rather than returning to Herod as was originally planned.
Meeting Christ does change the direction of one’s life. As Paul noted in his letter to the Ephesians, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,”. Everyone knew that Paul had met Jesus in a rather dramatic fashion and not only was the direction of his life changed, so too was his name.
When John and Charles Wesley returned from England in 1738, they felt that there missionary work in Georgia was a failure. Though both brothers felt that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither man felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their backgrounds, neither brother could truthfully say that they trusted the Lord.
But with that moment that we have come to know as Aldersgate, John Wesley’s life changed. Wesley wrote,
I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that 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.
The star of Bethlehem offered the Magi a wonderful light, directing them towards the Christ Child. The light that Saul, the persecutor of Christians, encountered on the road to Damascus changed his life so that he became Paul, the missionary to the world. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the Light of the World, gave the John Wesley the hope and direction he needed to lead the Methodist Revival.
What does the presence of the Light mean for us? What does meeting Jesus, whether as the Christ Child or as the grown-up Jesus mean for us today? The first lines of the Old Testament reading for today tell us
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
Whether our journey in life requires that we travel to new places far away like the Magi or has us stay home, it is a journey that is changed by the presence of Christ in our life. If somehow we ignore His presence, we are like those covered in darkness. Yet, if we accept Christ in our life, our lives change. Perhaps we do not receive the riches that are spoken of in Isaiah but we become partakers of the mystery that Paul understood.
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
The birth of Christ is a bright shining light in the darkness of the world. Like the Magi, we see that light shining on the horizon. The journey that we do make through this coming year depends what we do. Should we ignore that light, should we try to stay on that path covered in darkness, then we have no guarantees about what the coming year will bring. And the journey through this year will be made alone.
But if we see the Light, the Light of God’s Glory, if we feel the warmth of the Spirit, such as Wesley did so many years ago, we know that our lives will change. Nor longer will we worry about what the year brings because we know that we are not making the journey alone. Wesley understood that once he accepted Christ as his savior, he was no longer alone. The assurance gave him the strength he needed to go on. Like Wesley, the presence of Christ in our live provides a joy and comfort like no other feeling in the world.