Monday, 13 January 2014

Sermon January 5, 2013 The Epiphany of our Lord

Are you familiar with the Christmas song - It's the most wonderful time of the year?  That song came to mind when I was thinking about what I would say this morning.  Just to remind you, here are the words of the first verse:
It's the most wonderful time of the year.
With the kids jingle belling,
And everyone telling you,
"Be of good cheer,"
It's the most wonderful time of the year.
It is not a carol – rather it is one of those secular Christmas songs which often permeate the ether in the weeks leading up to Christmas – ones like White Christmas and Sleigh Bells or Here Comes Santa Claus.  I wince a bit when I hear many of these because they represent the secularization of Christmas with its emphasis on materialism and the commercialization which seems to be so prevalent at this wonderful time of the year. 

The preparation for secular Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier each year and Advent is almost unheard of outside the acknowledgement is some churches.   However, the sentiment in that song resonates with me.  Christmas truly is – in many ways - the most wonderful time of the year.  Now despite popular belief it is not the most important time of the church year.  That is of course Easter with the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour.  However, Christmas is a truly wonderful time of the year. 

Today we are celebrating Epiphany – that part of the Christmas story in which the magi – the astrologers from the East follow the star and find the Christ Child in the lowly manger in Bethlehem.  They bring their poignant gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child whose coming was foretold by the star in the heavens.  They observed the sign in the heavens and were wise enough to follow it.  Have you ever wondered – or perhaps you know why today is the feast of Epiphany and not the feast of the wise men or Magi?  Epiphany is a Greek word meaning "to manifest," or “to make known.”  The birth of the Christ Child was made known to the magi and the world through the star hence we celebrate the epiphany.

However, in this sense the whole of Christmas and not just this day could be named epiphany.   It is the epiphany for the whole world.  Not only that, the whole Christmas story is about God revealing to himself to many different people in different ways. 
I find Christmas to be the most wonderful time of the year just for that reason.  God is made known to so many people not just in the birth of the Christ Child but also in different messages.  We have the star which gives a message to the whole world that the Christ Child is born.  We have the angel visiting the shepherds with the message of the divine birth.  But it starts much before that right at the beginning of the story.  An angel visits Mary and tells her the wonderful, terrifying news that despite being a virgin she is going to bear the son of God.  We have the angel visiting Joseph and telling him not to put Mary away for she is blessed with that role. 

However another thing that makes Christmas wonderful for me is all the times God makes manifest - reveals to people what is going to happen - in dreams.  Have you ever noticed how many times throughout the Christmas story that God speaks to people in dreams?  The angel actually appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him the news about Mary.  The wise men not only see the message in the heavens they also receive a message from God in a dream to warn them not to return to Herod to give him the news about the birth.  Again they show their wisdom by paying attention to the dream and returning home by another road. 
Joseph then receives a dream advising him of the danger to the child from Herod who wants to destroy any challenge from the new King of the Jews.  Finally he tells Joseph in a dream that Herod is dead and it is safe to return from Egypt. 

This is particularly wonderful for me because the Christmas story reminds us of the importance of paying attention to the different ways in which God speaks to us today.  God speaks through scripture which we hear when we come together in worship but also through ways which we often don’t recognize.  As we see from the Christmas story and from many other stories in the bible people used to recognize that God spoke to them in dreams.  Today dreams are what can be called God’s forgotten language.  Our culture has forgotten to pay attention to dreams and the messages that they have for us – messages that may reveal God’s intention for us.  We have forgotten the language of dreams.  God also speaks to us in other ways which we have forgotten how to listen to in our world today.  We have the still small voice within us which is drowned out by the noise all around us.  We have the constant activity which does not allow us to be still and know that God is God.  As it says in the psalms:
Be still, and know that I am God!
   I am exalted among the nations,
   I am exalted in the earth.’

At this time of year when we have been so busy with Christmas preparation and celebrations let us take time to be pause and be still.  Let us listen and hear the different ways that God is speaking to us just as he spoke to Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds and the Wise men.  Let us be still and know that God is with us. … Amen 

Reading the Bible 38 Genesis 44 – The Test

Joseph again puts his brothers to the test.  He has his servants plant his cup in Benjamin’s belongings and then pursues and catches them red handed with the proof of their apparent dishonesty.  As a result of this the thing that the Jacob and the brothers feared most comes to fruition.  Benjamin will be kept in Egypt as Joseph’s slave.  Judah now steps up to the plate and pleads that Benjamin be allowed to return home.  If he does not return with the brothers he is afraid that it will kill Jacob. 

This action seems unnecessarily cruel on the part of Joseph.  A kind-hearted reader might think that Joseph has put his brothers through enough to pay them back for their treachery towards him.  After all he is aware that they apparently were actors in enabling God’s grand plan for Joseph and his chosen people to fulfill the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  However, this test was to determine once and for all if his brothers had been transformed in the years since they betrayed him.  If Joseph had not gone through the transformative experience in Egypt it might have been reasonable to expect that at least a small part of him would have been pleased to put his brothers through a bit more torment as pay back.  However, I believe that Joseph, being the person he is now, had only pure motives in this act.  Sometimes been soft-hearted is not what is required.  Sometimes we all need a bit of iron in our souls to travel the journey that God calls us to.