The revealing, appearing, or sudden manifestation …
In the Christian world, the Feast of Epiphany marks several different events in the life of Jesus, depending on the tradition and location. Christmas has typically been celebrated on December 25, with January 6 marking Epiphany, or the visitation by the Magi. In some Eastern Orthodox churches, including those in Russia, January 5 is the date of the Christmas celebration (using a sunset to sunset 24 hour day) and sunset of January 17th is recognized as the date of Jesus’ manifestation. This second festival, whichever date is used, may also honor the presentation of Jesus at the temple, his baptism at age 30, and his transfiguration several years later, witnessed by Peter, James and John. For the Western church, the focus has long been on the visitation of the Magi to the house in Bethlehem where Mary and Joseph moved after Jesus was born in the manger. Given the conversation between the Magi and Herod, we suspect that Jesus may have been 12-24 months old at the time of this visitation. The trip from Persia (present day Iran) to Jerusalem is 1000-1200 miles, a 3-12 month journey by camel depending on the route and other factors. So, if the star appeared at the time of Jesus birth, which is what would have been assumed by the Magi, given their understanding from Zoroastrian religion of which they were priests, then this timeline makes sense. It may be that the visit by the Magi represents Jesus being revealed to the gentile world.
Regardless of the details, we can find inspiration in the symbolism of this feast – the celebration of the gift of God’s incarnation being revealed to the world. The fulfillment of God’s dream for humankind and the earthly creation. In Epiphany, we remember that God’s dream was revealed and made manifest to the world in Jesus the Christ of Nazareth, born to Mary and Joseph at Bethlehem.
Today, our focus will be on the gifts of the Magi and the spiritual treasure they carried within. The Magi were given the grace of supporting the unfolding work of God’s incarnational kingdom presence. They came from a far distance to pay homage – though there is no indication that they personally became devoted to YHWY or his Messiah. Scripture records and thus honors their gift. We want to remain open to how we can support what God is doing in and through the lives of others. We may see signs and wonders that reveal the Power of God at work. From this, I would like to suggest several applications for our own lives and ministries.
1) We can support those beyond us. We can follow the Magi in making the sacrifices of going to those whom God is using, and contributing from our treasure to support their work. When we send money to those on God’s mission like Andrew and Rebecca Anderson and Sam Gase, then we are living out the Magi’s gift. When we send money to a schools, like TCU and Brite Divinity School, that are training people for ministry, even if they may never serve us, then we are living out the Magi’s gift. When we send money to the Disciples Mission Fund through our special offerings, or to Week of Compassion which is coming in February, then we are living out the Magi’s gift.
2) We can support those around us. When an individual or group from our own community is doing a ministry that we think matters, we can offer our support. There are far more good things going on than we can possibly engage. And many in which we would not personally want to participate, yet we value those ministries and the contribution they make. We may even want to support the work of those who differ from us in some significant ways – so that we would not consider joining them, but we do see their work as God’s work and want to honor it. When we give to these efforts, even a small amount that seems little more than symbolic, we are living out the Magi’s gift.
3) We can support those among us. Here in our congregation, and perhaps even in our own homes, others are living out the incarnation of God in ways that need to be honored and supported. It may be that someone close to you is doing a ministry that you want nothing to do with personally – there is just nothing about it that interests you or calls to your spirit. You feel fairly confident that God is not calling you into that work, yet you do have a call to support it. When you help provide resources for the ministry of others, then you are living the Magi’s gift. You see others doing ministry with seniors, children, youth. They are doing construction, or preparing music, or keeping the landscaping, or typing the newsletter. The work they are doing in ministry is not your calling; that much is clear. Yet, when you give to the church in general through your Sunday offering, you are living the Magi’s gift. You may also offer small tokens – a note, email or text, a phone call or even a small gift – some symbol that shows your encouragement and support of their work, even if you are not called to join it.
Imagine if we only gave to those ministries in which we personally participated. What kind of a budget process would that create for a local congregation. Can you run a home or any other community on that premise – everyone has to pay their own way and no one gets support from anyone else. Paul makes clear in his letter to the Philippians, and we see it again in 2 Corinthians, that some churches supported him financially while others did not. In the case of the Corinthians, this was Paul’s choice – he believed it would hinder the spread of the gospel for him to take financial support from the believers in Corinth, yet not so in Philippi. Why, we don’t know. And Paul affirms that the Philippians participated in the mission to Corinth even though they never left home – they were partners in that ministry, even while they remained homemakers and tradesmen. The distance from Philippi to Corinth is 700 km, meaning a month walking or 10 days by sea. These would not have been communities that had much connection other than Paul’s relationship with each. And yet the Philippians contributed to the Gospel work in Corinth. They lived out the Magi’s gift.
Over the last six weeks, we have considered the treasures within each of the characters from the nativity stories:
Mary held the treasure of bearing Christ to the world, of being the one who would carry and tenderly care for God’s incarnational presence until God was ready for it to be revealed. – Joy
Joseph held the treasure of caring for and supporting Mary in her journey. His was not the task of being the primary God bearer, but to be the companion. – Faith
Bethlehem held the treasure of being host to God’s work. They struggled to find room for Jesus in the midst of all the other demands of religious and secular life. – Hope
Shepherds held the treasure of hearing and telling the Good News of Great Joy for all people – peace on earth and God’s good will toward all. They received the wondrous message with joy, and told it to others, including those who already knew but perhaps needed to be encouraged that others were celebrating . – Peace
Jesus held the treasure of God’s love for the world. No longer would we only hear of God’s love, now the world would see, in flesh, the redeeming power of God’s love. – Love
Magi held the treasure of worshipping God and honoring Jesus by supporting the ministry. This support was both tangible and symbolic, perhaps in ways that they themselves did not understand. – Emmanuel, God with us.
We each are given all of these treasures in varying ways and at varying times, as Paul says, “To each is given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift given to each.” (Ephesians 4:7, affirmed by Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12). We participate in the ministry of the whole church, the health and vitality of the Body of Christ and the spread of the Gospel of Christ, as we use our gifts and support in various ways the gifts of others. We do this by following the examples given in the nativity stories and living out these treasures within us.