Sunday, January 08, 2017
Revealed for a reason?
Sermon for the First Sunday after Epiphany
What does the Lord’s Epiphany mean to you?
Remember, there are two aspects of the Lord’s Epiphany: the Adoration of the Magi, and the Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan. Which do you identify with most?
God has revealed Himself to us. That is what Epiphany means: the realisation that God is in our midst. Our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Church call it Theophany which hammers it home that God has truly revealed Himself to us. The question now is, if God has revealed Himself to us, how are we to respond?
The Magi see Our Lord for who He is as they see His star in the East and travel hundreds of miles to worship Him.
St John the Baptist sees Him for who He is when He sees the Holy Ghost descend upon Him from above and hears the voice of God declaring that Our Lord is indeed His Son.
How do you see Him for who He is?
The Magi know of the Lord through their understanding and learning. They deduce that He is born in Bethlehem and then seek to prove that they are right by going out to find Him. Is this how we encounter Our Lord? Do we believe the historical record which shows that He does exist – a record that is clearer than that of Julius Caesar? If we do, then does the historical fact of the empty tomb convince us that He is who He says He is? This is how many people first come to Christ, by understanding Him as a real life person. However, can we only worship Christ on paper? Don’t we need to dare to travel out thousands of miles and meet Him?
St John the Baptist knows of the Christ through what His parents have told him of the proclamation of his birth by the angel, and the Virgin Mary’s visit to his mother. He knows his kinsman, Jesus, and he has been told that He is the Messiah. So St John engages in his service of God by proclaiming that coming Messiah. Yet he is working only by faith, feeling his way and trusting in the testimony of others. It is not until he sees the miracle of the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon Our Lord that what he has been told by his family and friends makes sense. This is how many people first come to Christ, by trusting in the testimony of others. However, how do we know we are not being misled by someone who may not really know the Lord? Are we willing to change our lives radically on the basis of believing what someone says, no matter how close they are to us?
This is the great challenge that we face in the Church. The testimony of the Holy Scriptures and of the Holy Tradition, and the testimony of Christian men and women are ways in which people find their way into the Church. Are these sufficient reasons for people to stay in the Church? The evidence of dwindling congregations would say otherwise. The only reason that people will stay in Church is if they find what they are looking for, Our Lord Himself. The Magi find Him; St John the Baptist finds Him: we need to be able to find Him. This is why it is crucial that we churchmen and women, who are engaged in the same search, live our lives in a way that will bear witness to the reality of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many Protestants will speak of “having a personal relationship with Jesus”. This is something to be applauded: the better we know Our Lord, the better we can live out His will in our lives and thus bring Him closer to those who need to know Him. The way we cultivate this relationship is through our study of Holy Scripture, through our personal prayer life, through regularly meeting Christ with others in the Holy Sacraments, and through doing those things He tells us to do.
Gimmicks won’t keep people in Church. Entertainment won’t keep people in Church. Academic study won’t keep people in Church. Beautiful liturgy won’t keep people in Church. The only thing that will keep people in Church is if they find God there revealed in His Son through the Holy Ghost. Our job is to allow that to happen.
How are you going to reveal God to those who need to know Him?