Sermons That Work

Today We Seek to Understand, Feast of Epiphany – 1999

January 06, 1999


Today we seek to understand one of the most difficult of all movements or transitions in the Christian experience of faith. This is the movement from Incarnation to Epiphany. We have all been caught in the spirit of Christmas. Despite our theologizing about resurrection and our awareness that Easter should be our “biggest” holy day. Christmas seems to win out. Our sentimental ties to babies and young mothers along with a substantial boost from the retail business makes Christmas the “main event” in our yearly liturgical cycle. Going from Christmas to Epiphany may be like going from the Super Bowl to the class “C” Junior High Regional play-off game. So, to enhance the Epiphany, we have run Christmas and Epiphany together into one event that we don’t really separate in our thinking. Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the star, and the wise men all end up in the same nativity scene. So what is Epiphany? How is our understanding of God and our relationship with God illuminated and deepened by a proper understanding of Epiphany?

Most of us, no matter how old we are, remember adolescence with the feelings and frustrations of that time of life. We remember the fear and excitement of even fantasizing about a romantic relationship with a specific person. Perhaps you remember actually holding hands or calling someone special on the phone, or even kissing seriously. Without going into great detail, the whole process of going from those first fantasies to full-blown dating and serious courting was both terrifying and wonderful for most of us.

The idea of Incarnation, God becoming one of us, is also both terrifying and wonderful. It is a fantasy that captures our imaginations at all levels and invites us into a deeper involvement. It is not a rational concept as our romantic involvement with a significant other is not rational. It is the idea of love and romance like it is the idea of God and incarnation that capture our hearts and imagination. But where or what is Epiphany?

If this analogy can help describe Incarnation, then the analogy for Epiphany is marriage. Epiphany is not a fantasy, but an encounter, or experience with the reality of God. We come face-to-face with a “burning bush,” or a “still, small voice,” or a “baby in a manager,” or the “resurrected Lord”! These encounters are very real experiences, which will impact our life, and being in such a powerful way that our whole identity is changed. We commit all of our material wealth and fortune to the “other” that we have encountered. We bring all our wisdom and our allegiance to the truth into that relationship. We freely promise loyalty and fidelity to the other forever. The partnership is for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, with no time limit. We become a part of the whole creative process, creating community and family and quality of life.

Those wise men encountered not a fantasy or an idea, but the truth about life and death and God. They experienced the fulfillment of a hope and a promise that dated from the most ancient memories of the human race. They encountered the mystery of the Creator within the Creation itself. And they knew what they had found.

Today the church as a whole community, as well as individual members of that community, need Epiphany. We long to encounter that same truth which captured the souls of the wise men from the East, John the Baptist, St. Paul, St. Peter, the Apostles, and countless saints known and unknown. It is the Lord who calls us through these Epiphanies to commit all that we are and have to that relationship which we can best define as “pure unbounded Love.” We will be fed and sustained not by what we bring to the relationship, but by what the One we encounter in the Epiphany brings.

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Christopher Sikkema

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