EPIPHANEIA

After the twelve days of Christmas have concluded, the Church celebrates Epiphany (a Greek word, transliterated above, which means “manifestation”).  It is a major festival in the Church Year, which unfortunately, often falls by the wayside after the excitement of Christmas.  The celebration of Epiphany covers the events that follow the birth of Christ, namely the visit of the Magi (wisemen from the East, at least two but probably more, who brought royal gifts and worshipped at the feet of the one true King).  They followed a God-given and created star that led them (probably from the area of Babylon, the East, which should make you recall the Captivity of God’s people, both the Northern and Southern Kingdom, as well as faithful wisemen such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego).  While they are often included in our Christmas Nativity sets and Manger scenes, they probably didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until some time after Christ’s actual birth, which is when the star appeared!  Regardless, Epiphany reminds us that Christ has come for all people and that the Gospel is to be shared with the whole world.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentiles! Or you and me . . . the whole world).  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith TO faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  Romans 1:16-17

While Christmas emphasizes our Lord’s humanity (incarnation = God taking on human flesh), Epiphany serves to manifest His divinity, including the kingly adoration of the Magi, Jesus’ Baptism and His first miracles (most notably changing water into wine at Cana in Galilee).  Thus, the Church Year is a representation of the life of Christ.  Historically, these observances are known as “Major Festivals”.  Here is the list: 

  • The Nativity of Our Lord (December 25th), 
  • The Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6th), 
  • Ash Wednesday, 
  • Palm Sunday,
  • Holy Week [Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Holy (Maundy Thursday),
  • Good Friday,
  • Holy Saturday (Vigil)],
  • The Resurrection of Our Lord,
  • The Ascension of Our Lord,
  • The Day of Pentecost and 
  • The Holy Trinity.  

As you read through the list, you can easily see why the Church celebrates and observes such festivals:  it’s all about Jesus, the life of the world.  Truly, we are not to be ashamed of the Gospel!

In almost two decades of serving the Church, I have often lamented how The Epiphany of Our Lord gets moved around and unwittingly ignored.  While Christmas ALWAYS falls on December 25th, Epiphany seems to be relegated to the closest Sunday that doesn’t interfere.  Christmas decorations are often removed and God’s people are left waiting for Lent and Easter!  Historically, there is much evidence to show that the early Church actually emphasized and celebrated January 6th (Epiphany) over and above Christmas!  Can you imagine? 

Let’s bring Epiphany back! 

This year, I will be asking our Altar Guild to leave our Christmas decorations up just a little bit longer (we’ll take everything down AFTER Epiphany) AND we will have a special Epiphany service ON JANUARY 6th!  I know it’s a week night and not everyone will be able to attend (my boys will probably be at basketball practices or games), but for those that are able, Pastor Grady and I will be here to observe this MAJOR FESTIVAL and share the Lord’s gifts with you in the Divine Service.  On that note, we will also add TWO more MAJOR FESTIVALS this year (also occurring on days other than Sunday):  Holy Saturday (the night before Easter, where we will gather outside by a bonfire and prepare for His Resurrection – we’ll even have S’mores afterwards for the kids) and The Ascension of Our Lord (always on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter).    

And so we move, live and have our being, as saints at Advent, following the life of Christ in a wonderfully liturgical progression.  Faith to faith, we are given, regularly and often, all that supports our body and life – namely forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. 
 
Let us thus follow the Star as it leads us to the One who has come . . . for you.
 
Merry Christmas!  Happy Epiphany!  And a blessed New Year,
Pr. Mackay   


Year of the Bible – Romans 12

Epiphany - Romans 12
 
 
 
 
In view of God’s mercy . . . offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. – Romans 12:1

Romans 12:1-15:4 (13:8-14)

The apostle Paul takes advantage of a beautiful metaphor to describe what the Christian life is like: It is like sacrificing ourselves to God. To sacrifice something means that you give the whole thing up – that it no longer belongs to you and that you no longer have any claim upon it. When people in the Old Testament era offered sacrifice to God, they were saying that they were dedicating themselves to God LIKE the animal sacrifice that they offered—with a total dedication of mind, body and soul. Of course, no one would ever be able to make that kind of commitment to God unless they were deeply moved by God’s sacrifice that a new kind of love emerged within them and they did the impossible! That, of course, is what happens to us. By seeing and grasping the greatness of the love of God, that God would give His only Son, that He would sacrifice Jesus for us, we discover a power of love arises within us, the love of God that enables us to dedicate our whole lives, our whole hearts, our whole being, TO HIM. Paul then takes us to the next logical thought – we ought not be proud about this kind of sacrifice, or judge others by the level or amount of sacrifice that we make. God will judge men at the end of time. We should not think to try and do it for Him. We should instead follow the path of humility and regard our differences of personality and talents and spiritual ability as different gifts from God. Out of love, Christians can and should treat their enemies in much the same way as Christ. Love is a powerful force and it always triumphs over evil. Love also submits to authority (13:1-7) and grants honor to those appointed to offices of authority. Love is the summation of the whole law. (13:9) It bends for the weak in faith and holds back judgment, but always for the sake of the “faith” which love serves. In this respect, Christ is an example to us, as are all the saints of the Bible, for all things written in the Scriptures were written to strengthen our faith and sustain us as we patiently wait for God to bring time to an end.

Questions – Romans 12

  1. What do Christians do with their lives as they seek to worship God?
  2. What does this mean?
  3. What moves our hearts to love God in this way?
  4. If we are humble about our gifts and talents, how will we treat others who do not have the same gifts and talents?
  5. What kinds of things does Paul tell us love will automatically do in us and through us?
Year of the Bible – Epiphany Week Three | Saturday | Romans 12 – © John W. Fiene


Year of the Bible – Mark 14

Epiphany - Mark 14
 
 
 
 
Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will. – Mark 14:36

Mark 14:32-52 (32-38)

Jesus knew and understood the meaning of death, but He knew and understood what would happen to us if He did not come into the flesh to save us. His humanity was fully human, for He felt and understood what death was, and for that reason He suffered so horribly in the Garden of Gethsamane. Jesus struggled with the will of God: Should He suffer? Was this God’s will? Would His Father deliver Him from this hour? Those questions do not often go answered, especially ahead of time. We don’t often know why God puts us in places and why we suffer when we do. But Jesus prayed the perfect prayer of the obedient son: Yet

not what I will, but what you will.

Soon thereafter Jesus was arrested. He had been betrayed with a kiss. Jesus did not take matters into His own hands; He did not rebel or kill to preserve His freedom. He committed His life to the will of God in the Scriptures. This was hard for His disciples to bear.
Questions – Mark 14
  1. Why did Jesus suffer?
  2. When we suffer, how should we pray?
  3. Does God always give us answers to our prayers?
  4. Explain what it means to “trust in God’s will.”
Year of the Bible – Epiphany Week Three | Friday | Mark 14 – © John W. Fiene


Year of the Bible – Luke 5

Epiphany - Luke 5

 

 

 

Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men. – Luke 4:10

Luke 5:1-16 (5:1-11)

Doing God’s will – this we refuse to do, but nature does His will when He speaks, and even the demons submitted to His will, even though they did not do so joyfully. Jesus demonstrated that He was God in the miracles of His ministry. Amazingly, though demons and creation obeyed His every word, men resisted Him with their hearts, so He came into our flesh and bore our sins and sorrows to make our disobedient wills obedient. He called us to faith by taking our place under the law and becoming a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins (cf. Abraham and Isaac). Jesus is the love of God made manifest to the world. But the world cannot and will not know about the love of God unless someone tells them about Christ. That is why Christ called His disciples. They were not just to learn about God and His love, they were to use the Word of God like a net – to catch the hearts of men for God so that men might love God and trust in His Word of promise. In the story that follows the call of the disciples, the power they would be given is hinted at – a man who is covered with leprosy pleads for Jesus to heal him. Jesus wills it and speaks the Word. Immediately the man is cleansed. Leprosy, a symbol of sin, is cleansed by the Word of God’s promise, and faith that trusts in the Word. This is the purpose for calling men to become pastors, and for all Christians to be priests to their neighbors in the world.

Questions – Luke 5

  1. What did the miracles of Jesus prove?
  2. If creation obeys the Word of God, why don’t men?
  3. What has Christ called his Church to do, seen in the call of the fishermen?
  4. What disease is a metaphor for sin?
  5. How is sin cleansed?
Year of the Bible – Epiphany Week Three | Thursday | Luke 5 – © John W. Fiene


Year of the Bible – Isaiah 22

Epiphany - Isaiah 22

 

 

In that day the Lord will punish . . . the kings of the earth below . . . for the Lord Almighty will reign. – Isaiah 24:23

Isaiah 22:1-24:23 (22:20-24)

Isaiah is a prophet. He saw the future as in a crystal ball. He saw the world, proud and arrogant, receiving God’s judgment for her rebellion and oppression. He saw the people of Jerusalem dying, not in battle, as noble men fighting for good, but dying from famine, surrounded by armies, people weeping, her rulers having fled to protect themselves, her defenses broken down, a ruthless army about to consume her, her sons and daughters left naked or dead. And despite what he saw, his warnings, Jerusalem remained disobedient, unwilling to listen to God. So deep was her sin, Jerusalem would not escape its delusions, they would greet death with indifferent sinful carnality (22:13), never grasping the serious condition of eternal death that would follow her physical death. God intended to judge her arrogant rulers, who thought only of their self-glorification and not of the people and their welfare. In chapter 23 Isaiah turns in prophetic judgment to the mother of Israel’s sins, probably the people they had admired and imitated—the Phoenician city of Tyre. Tyre was an island-city, located off the coast. It was impregnable. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the coastal part of the city, but he could not conquer the island itself, though he besieged it for thirteen years. (Alexander the Great, however, did conquer Tyre after a 7-month siege). This proud, rich, arrogant city had been the center of commerce for the entire eastern Mediterranean region. But it was also the source of every form of vice and corruption. Though they had never been God’s people, yet because God is the God of all men, the author of all life, their rebellion against God would be brought into judgment. But God also predicted a day when God would give Tyre another opportunity to turn and be healed. Such is the case with the gracious and merciful God. Chapter 24 reflects the fact that judgment would someday come upon the whole earth since God was the God of all. Prophesying the appearance of Christianity, Isaiah calls upon God’s people throughout the earth to glorify the Lord with their lives and to sing praises to the Righteous God of Israel. Although Israel as a nation would be destroyed, never to rise to independence and glory again, God would come in judgment and vindicate his people, reigning into eternity in the Kingdom of His Son.

Questions – Isaiah 22

  1. What was going to happen to Jerusalem?
  2. What was Jerusalem’s problem?
  3. What city on the coast was God going to destroy—an indestructible city?
  4. What had this city done?
  5. What is going to happen to the whole world on the day that Christ returns?
  6. What should Christians be doing as we wait for the end of time?
Year of the Bible – Epiphany Week Three | Wednesday | Isaiah 22 – © John W. Fiene


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