Grace Presbyterian Church

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To All the World: A Service for Epiphany

Grace Presbyterian Church

January 6, 2023; Epiphany A


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We gather here this evening for Epiphany, the event on the Christian liturgical calendar marking the visit of the Magi who traveled from the east to bear witness to the child Jesus, as recorded in the gospel of Matthew. It is an occasion easily skipped over in the Christian calendar, especially as those Magi are often conflated into our Nativity scenes and Christmas pageants with those shepherds (who only appear in the gospel of Luke). 

In many cases where Epiphany is observed (often on the first Sunday after this date), the emphasis of that observance is likely to be upon the star, the not-entirely-explained astronomical phenomenon from which those Magi took their cue to make that long journey. Themes about stars or light shining in darkness or being guided by the light of that star, as were those Magi, might be central to such a serivce, and that’s all good. In recent years I’ve noticed a trend towards such services including “star-words,” which participants can take home and use as a reference point throughout the coming year. (Last year I received from a pastor friend the word “balance,” and already this year, in an online variant of that practice, I have ironically received the word “grace.”)

Again, these are all good things. There is another side to the Epiphany event, though, one that perhaps needs to be heard in our own troubled time. Remember, those Magi came from the East; most scholars suspect from Persia. They came from “the outside,” apart from the ancestry or tradition or religion into which the child Jesus was born. To use the language found often in the New Testament, they were Gentiles. That makes these travelers, most likely, the closest representatives to any of us to appear in the different narratives around the Nativity in scripture. Unless you come from a long line of Jewish ancestors, you’d be a Gentile in the language of the gospels and epistles. These guys are us.

As the New Testament unfolds, we see more and more the good news bound up in Jesus being shared more and more with those Gentiles, first in Jesus’s own deeds and words, then in the scrambling history of the early church. In an age where many in the current church have appointed themselves guardians and gatekeepers and presumed to draw lines between those who are “out” and those who are “in,” we would do well to remember how this good news broke out and spread into all the world, sometimes despite the best efforts of its apostles. 

Let us then, in the pattern made familiar in the Service for Lessons and Carols popularized by King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve, mark this day, the beginning of the gospel’s spread into all the world, with words of scripture and songs of faith, reminding ourselves of the boundlessness of this gospel and of the fact that only by God’s grace is that gospel made known to us. Let us mark, from the appearance of the Magi to the breathtaking scene in Revelation of a great multitude from all nations praising God in glory, how this good news has come to all the world, including to us. Let us all the more, then, go forward from this day with resolve to put no roadblocks whatsoever in the path of the gospel to all who wait to hear.

Let us hear the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

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