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2019.01.06:Epiphany: Recognizing Jesus in Our Everyday Lives

Preached at First Presbyterian Church, East Aurora, NY, January 6, 2019, Epiphany Sunday, by Langdon “Buddy” Hubbard

Epiphany: Recognizing Jesus in Our Everyday Lives

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-14

Luke 2:21-52

 

            Did you know that before there was a Christmas Day celebration the ancient church celebrated Epiphany on January 6, the celebration of Jesus’ appearing in the world?  It was later that they decided on December 25 as the birthday of Jesus and then counted the days, 12 in all – yes, the 12 days of Christmas – until the Day of Epiphany came.  In the beginning, in the Eastern Church tradition, they celebrated Jesus’ baptism as Jesus’ first appearing, but then the Western Church decided it was really when the Wisemen came to give their gifts.  And so gifts were shared on Epiphany not Christmas, just like the Wisemen did.

 

            Over the years other church traditions arose, celebrating Epiphany as the day when Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, his first sign or miracle.  We could even make a case that Epiphany, or Jesus’ appearing was when he was presented in the Temple and the old man Simeon and the older woman, Anna, a prophet declared him the Messiah, who would be the light of the world, the whole world, not only for the Jews but to the Gentiles, that is the nations, too.  Someone might even claim that when Jesus was twelve years old and his mother and his earthly father, Joseph, found him in the Temple conversing with the teachers of the law, that was his Epiphany, when he was seen by the world to be someone truly special.

 

            But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter which biblical story we use to commemorate Jesus’ revealing to the world.  What really matters is this:  that Jesus has appeared to you and you have seen him and experienced his presence.

 

            In common usage the word “epiphany” means 1. A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; 2. An intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking; and 3. An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure (from Merriam-Webster.com).

 

            So let’s think about it.  Have you had a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature of God and the meaning of Christ to you?

            Have you experienced an intuitive grasp of the reality of Christ’s presence through something or an event that might have been quite simple but striking?

            Have you undergone an illuminating discovery or realization or disclosure of who Christ is in your life?

            If you have had any of these experiences of God you have had an Epiphany!  And that’s something to celebrate.  Several years ago I got to thinking about this for my own life, how God had shown up in my life and shown God’s presence to me.  I started writing down my stories.  One year and 40 chapters later, I had written 240 page book, which I called And God Was There All the Time: Traces of God in a Remarkably Ordinary Life.  These were my epiphanies.  The chapter titles are simple, indicating the incredibly simple ways God sometimes shows up, such as “The Ball,” “The Book,” “The Old Man,” and “The Bus Ride.” Ordinary experiences with extraordinary consequences and meaning.    Sometimes it is in the midst of the ordinary that we are most likely to see the hand of God working in our lives.

            One of those stories that formed my experience of God was actually one my father told me many times growing up, of a time when we was a child, around 12 years old, like Jesus in the Temple, and was staying with his family in Montreat, a Presbyterian retreat haven in the mountains of North Carolina, also where Billy Graham lived until his death.

 

            He was playing with a tennis ball, bouncing it against a wall when on one of his throws he was just a bit too strong and the ball sailed over his head and landed in a raspberry bush.  He ran over to retrieve it but for some strange reason couldn’t get close to the bush.  He felt a strong force pressing against his body, pushing him backwards and away from the bush.  He moved around the bush to the other side and tried again, but again the force was there and he could not reach the bush.  Time after time he tried but the resistance remained strong.  Finally, stepping back, and staring at the bush totally confused he was startled to see a copperhead snake slither out of the bush.  He ran and found a man who was cutting wood, told him about the snake, and the man and his axe took care of things.  My dad safely retrieved his ball and went back to playing, but he never forgot that moment in time.  As the years passed and he reflected on what had happened he came to believe he had had an epiphany of the hand of God, protecting him.  And in his retelling to me, his story formed my faith and I came to believe too in a God who is alive and active in our lives, sometimes in the simplest ways.  But God is there, all the time.  Of that I have no doubt.  I’ve had my own epiphanies.

 

            Gerald May, one of my teachers of prayer and spiritual guidance, tells about a time in his book, Will and Spirit, when he wondered why it is the monks and saints seemed to see God’s hand working in their lives all the time; why couldn’t he?  And someone told him, “Oh, those things are happening in your life all the time, too.  The difference is that they are paying attention, and maybe you are not.” 

 

            Could it be that epiphanies are happening all around us all the time, and we just aren’t paying attention?  The biblical stories are reminders to us to do just that.  Part of it is expectation, the trust and belief that there is a God involved in your life who loves you and wants to communicate with you, to guide you and love you through and through.  The traces of God are all around.  Are you looking for them?  The biblical characters were.

 

            The old man Simeon was looking, watching and waiting for the Messiah, God’s Anointed One to come. He came to the place of worship regularly believing that God wouldn’t let him die until he found him.  And then, when Mary and Joseph brought their baby into the Temple for the rites of purification after birth and the dedication of their child, he knew who he was the moment he saw him.

 

            The old woman, Anna, spent all of her time in the temple, too, looking for God’s salvation.  When the baby Jesus came in she knew who he was too and she couldn’t stop telling everyone about the baby.

 

            The wisemen weren’t looking for anything at all, but noticed something different about the night sky.  Paying attention to the stars, they noticed a particular star formation that led them to believe something unusual had happened in the universe, what they believed was that a king had been born, and they were determined to see who it was.  They followed the movement of that star until it brought them to the place where Jesus was and they worshiped him, offering him gifts that symbolized his royal nature (gold), the power of his life (frankincense), and his life-changing death (myrrh).

 

            And when Jesus was in the temple as a twelve year old child, the elders noticed there was something different about him, the questions he asked and the answers he gave.  He knew more, not only than other twelve year olds, but even them, the teachers of the law.  And he himself noticed there was something different about his purpose on earth; he knew he must be about his Father’s business.  What that business was, he didn’t fully understand then.  But it would become clear in time, because he was seeking and looking for it. 

 

            And that is what all the characters in these biblical stories had in common: they paid attention.  Epiphanies  came to them because they were looking for them, or at least were open to having them break open in their lives.  And what is wonderful about these stories is that the epiphanies came to them whether or not they were people of faith.  Some of them participated in faith communities, like Mary Joseph, Jesus, Simeon, Anna, and the elders.  But the wisemen didn’t.  They came from “afar,” that is far from the places and rituals of faith.  You might say they were spiritual but not religious.  What was common between them all is that they were open and seeking.  They all hungered for more.

 

            What about you on this Epiphany Sunday?  Are you watching and waiting?  Are you looking for God’s presence to open in your life?  Are you paying attention?  There is no telling how much we miss because we aren’t.  But that’s not the important thing.  The important thing is to wake up now to the possibility of Epiphany.  And that is what Epiphany calls us to today, simply to pay attention to the light that guides us.  You never know where God might show up next.