Homily delivered to the English Church in Villars, Switzerland on Sunday 22 January 2017.
Third Sunday after Epiphany
(Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23)
If Advent is the season of coming, of expectant hope and waiting, then it seems one could call Epiphany the season of arrival. Not arrival in the sense of an ending, but arrival in the sense of an opening. The first act after the prologue.
We have heard the story of a people in a desert longing for a redeemer. We have questioned and worked our way through the ancient prophecies. We have celebrated Christ’s incarnation and dwelt on its implications for Mary and Joseph, for us today and for all of humanity. We have sung and prayed to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and we have finally arrived now to Epiphany, this season of joy. A season to celebrate the long-expected who has begun to work the unexpected.
Epiphany. It is often tradition that we remember and meditate on the arrival of the magi, Christ’s baptism and his first miracle. In their own way, each of these events speak of an arrival. Those stories may span decades in the pages of Scripture, but they signal to us that the first act has begun, the story is afoot and that we had best keep up, because already things are already not how we would have expected them to be.
The reading in Matthew echoes Isaiah’s prophecy telling us that the people there who have dwelt in darkness, ravaged by the invasions of the Assyrians from the north would receive specially the blessings of the Messiah. And so Jesus went to this region to begin his ministry. Matthew makes special note, “Galilee of the Gentiles”, a hint to us that already Jesus has a vision grander than that of the only the Jewish people.
By beginning his ministry in Galilee, an area home to many gentiles, we see the realities of what Epiphany means playing out in the life of Jesus. Here in the first chapters of his ministry, Jesus is already taking powerful action to communicate the unexpected.
That faith in the Messiah, hope in the redemption of that which has been broken, is not hope for only a single people. Redemption does not belong to only the Jewish people, it is a joy to be anticipated and lived-out for all.
In the tradition I grew up, the deep truths of this season were often passed over. I find it a shame that we often forget to make room in our hearts for Epiphany. We celebrate this season as a reminder that God is big enough for us all. Certainly, let us not forget the importance of the story’s prologue as proclaimed by Advent and Christmas, but we cannot stop asking ourselves, how will God show up in the unexpected? God’s bigness is not a questions we must put to Him, but a question we must put to ourselves. It is us, rather than he, who places limitations on our expectations. This season, more than almost any other, sets the stage for a theme that will continue to echo throughout the entire Gospel narrative.
From the beginning, we see this theme of epiphany. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus called-out to his first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James and John. It is not clear to us what inspired these men to drop their fishing and follow Jesus, but I have to believe that much of what they saw and understood at that time is also what we see in our own learning to follow Christ. They were willing to embark upon the unexpected. Regardless of why they put down those nets, they could not have known what would follow. They stepped out in faith. Their acceptance of Jesus’ call was less their moment of salvation as it was the first of many actions, that like the disciples, we must continue to take in faith, actions that will bring us greater depth and understanding to our knowledge of Epiphany.
In this same way, it is also appropriate then that this is the week set aside for Christian Unity. The prayers throughout this week should also be for us a constant reminder that this journey of faith is larger than our own conceptions of it. It is easy for us to get buried in our own traditions and liturgies, our own way of doing things that either feel or have become “right” in ways that are defined more by our own comfort than by the Gospel. Epiphany begs us to see things differently. Remember the wise men, those foreigners who came from the east. Even before Christ grew up and could begin his ministry, God was making it clear that new pathways of his grace and favour would be opened to the world. It was not Mary or Joseph or even the shepherds that brought forth those outsiders, it was He who set the stars in motion.
God is opening his doors to the outsiders, he is healing the broken, he is making the old new, as has always been his business. And how beautiful it is when this work takes place within his Church. May it only continue and flourish.
Pray, then, that those who could not break bread together may do so once more. Pray that in the breaking of bread our brokenness may be mended. Pray that in the pouring out of wine we may pour ourselves out for our brothers and sisters.
This is Paul’s admonition in his letter to the Corinthians. Why is there division? Why has the person who baptized you become more important than the Name into which you were baptized? I think sometimes we can distance ourselves from this letter because our problems feel so different. They feel so big and important in comparison to these ancient and petty arguments.nBut what has changed?
When the creeds of our denominations become more important than the name of Christ, we fall into the same trap and the cross of Christ loses its power in our lives.
We need unity same as the Corinthians, and Epiphany helps us see that larger picture. If gentiles were welcome to the manger, how much more should the Church welcome one another to our shared table, the same wellspring of faith, hope and love and the same cross that is the power of God to us who are being saved?
Epiphanies are not planned. How do we organize in advance something defined as a “moment of sudden and great realization”. I would encourage us all this week to meditate on those ways in which God is speaking to us differently than in those ways we would normally expect. Where and how is he working to bring us together: as a church, as a country, as a world and as a race? Epiphany as a season of the liturgical year is certainly planned in advance, but we should not let it be something we only commemorate. Let us live into and practice arriving to the realities of this Gospel theme, so that we too may become fishers of men baptized in the name of Christ.