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Weekly worship: Sunday 6 January

Sermon notes: what do epiphanies show us?

Zara and her children in an Iraq camp for displaced Syrians

Zara and her children in an Iraq camp for displaced Syrians.

Photo: Christian Aid/Unknown

Focus passages

  • Isaiah 60:1-6
  • Matthew 2:1-12

Isaiah 60 and Matt 2 offers us a shape for giving ourselves to the epiphanies we receive.  Epiphany designates both the weeks which follow the revelation of the Christ-child, but also for seeing, understanding and giving ourselves to the presence of God suddenly revealed to us. 

Isaiah has an epiphany in which he sees that Jerusalem’s pain and hurt will give way to peace and justice. The Magi have an epiphany when they see in the stars a curious sign which points to the coming of the Messiah to a foreign people. 

Epiphanies are counter-visions, they break forth from contexts of hurt, horror and injustice and declare that God is with us, revealing the coming of new worlds, powers and joys in our midst. 

These counter-visions break out in the face of the powers, principalities, and Empire of our day to offer the alternatives they tell us are not possible. 

Epiphanies show us that God is working against the dominant powers bringing new life.

Arise!

The counter-visions of God’s life amongst us commission us with dignity and power. In all that bows us down or threatens to break our spirits, God’s Spirit comes to us in epiphany, revelation and counter vision to say “Arise!” 

Thus, God’s Spirit comes to Jerusalem in Isaiah 60. Jerusalem is an occupied land, still reeling from the Babylonian and Persian exile. Her faith is shattered by war, violence and occupation and so they have learned to keep low, to train their hearts, hopes and appearances not to be a threat to the imperial powers who tell them there's no alternative to the ‘blessed’ rule of the Emperor. 

The Magi’s epiphany causes them to arise. They arise and take the journey which reveals not just the birth of the Messiah, but the rebirth of God’s counter-vision of a community which is open to ‘foreigners’, and sends us over borders to bring new communities of the ‘near and far’ into peace and love.

Shine!

Epiphanies contrast to the propaganda and claims of the powerful. They shine because they offer hope to people in struggle and sorrow. Jerusalem’s epiphany tells the people of a city on a hill to shine, to bear witness to the hope Empire has taught you to doubt. 

The Magi’s star says go and shine before Herod.  But, this is to take risks and invite the extinguishing of your light and hope in failure and rejection. 

Yet, if hope is to inspire us to persist in the struggle for justice and peace then those who see it must be hope-full.  And others must see it in us.

Lift up your eyes

The counter-visions God shares with us require us to look far and wide to see what God is already doing, and especially with whom.

This is to raise our visons from the distracting distorted offerings of dominant powers who tell us what our aims should be, who declare who matters and who doesn’t and how and if change can come. 

Let the signs of God look us in the eye, so we can raise hearts, voices, movements which embark on the change God is bringing amongst us.

Proclaim the praise of the Lord

The counter-visions God grants are filled with hope, peace and love.  They promise new life.  They are announcements in our time, place and tongue of Mary’s Magnificat. 

Thus, the work of change is now an act of praise for the one who is changing things.  Challenging injustice is to pronounce the nearness of God’s alternative world and counter-way.  It is the evangelism of change.

Concluding prayer

Lord,

In word and world we hear you cry:

Arise!

The light of the world has come:

So let us shine

We lift up our eyes

To see your new world coming

And in doing justice

Proclaim the praise of the Lord

And so, we pray counter in and through us systems of despair and dread

With signs of love and peace.

Points for prayer

Christmas does not go out with a whimper but with a burst of epiphany light. Now that the decorations are packed away, we are invited to lift our gaze to the stars, to the light of the world, and anticipate that overwhelming joy of arriving at the destination.

We celebrate the arrival of light. Electricity, through solar power, is providing much-needed light for communities across the world. And it’s demonstrating there is another way, beyond fossil fuels.

Pray for the epiphany needed for renewable energy to become the default and norm for the world this year, as we take the essential steps to respond to climate change.

Prayer points taken from our prayer diary 

These weekly pointers have been provided by Rev Dr Peter Cruchley, the Mission Secretary for Mission Development at the Council for World Mission.

He's also a minister of the United Reformed Church in the UK, and a member of the Christian Aid worship and theology collective.