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Epiphany - the Continuing Story

12 January 2022

Epiphany

I first share this with you during the Church’s season of Epiphany.  This is an unveiling, a revelation.  It is symbolised by the arrival from the East of representatives of Wisdom and Royalty – the Three Magi, Wise Men, or Kings.

 

Guided by an astronomical phenomenon – a moving star – they come to worship “Him who is born King of the Jews.”  The visit is deeply significant beyond the imagination – like all Scripture – wrapped in layers of meaning.

 

One of those most important layers of meaning is that this is a foretaste of the History of Redemption expanding from a Jewish Tribal Faith (which was always open to ‘outsiders’) to a full-on Epiphany – Revelation – of Redemption to the ‘Gentiles’ – i.e., non-Jewish Tribes.  Jesus, born King of the Jews, was also born to be King of Kings… beginning with these three who came to ‘worship’ – to acknowledge His superiority.

 

They didn’t come to ‘pay their respects’!  No, this King’s coming was foretold by a unique event in the Heavens – an event that they could read, understand, and follow.

 

I think many of us confuse the Star with God.  What I mean by this is that God is perceived as glorious, heavenly, and, essentially out of reach!  He is ‘Other’ – distant, higher, beyond.

 

How powerful then is the Epiphany of understanding the Incarnation.  I have witnessed the birth of my three sons.  It’s a gory, unpleasant, bloody, organic, painful, wonderful, miraculous, transformational and utterly natural experience – all rolled into one.

 

When you feel God is distant, consider the birth of Jesus.  He came out of His Mother’s womb in a very similar manner to the births of my three sons.  Of course, Mary did not have the NHS Midwife at hand.  In fact, they may only have been Joseph – a fact that would have bonded them together forever.

 

This was a very human manifestation of the Divine.  This was very ‘organic’ – very natural.  And this one of the great differences that makes such a difference in our faith: God became Flesh.  Or in one of my favourite lines from a hymn,

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
  Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold Him come,
  Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
  Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
  Jesus our Immanuel.

 

God got messy.

God got accessible.

God got human.

God got organic.

God got personal.

God got down to Earth.

 

I know you know all this but I had a clear understanding of the mess of Jesus’ birth this morning – how accessible and real and present God got through Him.

 

And this got me thinking about Incarnation – in Jesus but also in you and me.

 

James says, “receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”  (James 1:21)  In a sense, James is saying, “Be like Mary, who received with humility, with meekness, the implanted word.  Let the Holy Spirit hover over you and create in you the Word Incarnate.”

 

Church Theology calls this the process of ‘sanctification’ – a word that has never connected with me nor excited my imagination.  But ‘incarnation’ does.

 

God wants to become manifest in flesh – your flesh.  Messy.  Miraculous.  Metamorphosis.

 

And the most exciting aspect of this for me is that it has a timeline.  It’s a process, not an immediate change.

 

In the world of music we enjoy a distinction between the Digital World and the Analogue World.  The Digital World is on and off.  There are no shades of grey.  No continuum between two states.

 

John chapter 1 sounds ‘digital’ like this.

 

“The Word became flesh, and lived among us.”  (John 1:14)

 

Put this is the context of the opening of John and we may get the wrong impression.  Here’s John’s great introduction beginning from verse 1.

 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it.”  (verses 1-5)

 

Here’s the surprise ‘epiphany’ for me today.  Jesus was a ‘proper’ baby.  He wasn’t some apparent baby who was possessed by the fully-aware Deity.  No, He was in every way exactly like us, without the tarnish of sin.

 

I say this because of the shock Mary and Joseph had when Jesus stayed at the Temple and because of a consistent message on ‘timing’ in John’s Gospel.

 

Luke 2:41-52 gives us this uplifting account of Jesus growing in revelation.

 

“His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover.

 

When he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast, and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. Joseph and his mother didn’t know it, but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day’s journey, and they looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they didn’t find him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the middle of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When they saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I were anxiously looking for you.”

 

He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” They didn’t understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth. He was subject to them, and his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”

 

I think that the fact Mary and Joseph didn’t understand this saying, “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” is deeply significant.  Jesus must have been a special child but not one that stood out as wholly ‘other’.  He was normal.  The age of 12 is significant in spiritual development – with Jesus becoming an adult.  But this was NOT the time for Him to be manifest… that came 18 long years later.

 

I love the fact that His (earthly) father and mother were ‘anxiously’ looking for Him.  Again, I say, He appeared to be a normal, if gifted, 12-year old.

 

Jesus, during His ministry, mentioned the difference between God’s timing and man’s.

 

In John 2, we read,
“The third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the wedding. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.”

 

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.””

 

And then in John 7,
“Jesus therefore said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.”

 

Remembering, your Old Testament, you’ll recall that there was a right time to enter the Promised Land.  Through fear, the tribes failed to act in God’s timing.  Then they repented, and in their own timing, they had a bash.  Thousands died.

 

God’s has a plan.

God’s plan has a timeline.

God know what He is doing.

 

Consider also the Disciples being commanded to “Wait!”  Yes, they were told to wait in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high.

 

And so I come to my BIG point today.

 

Jesus waited until He was 30 to manifest His full Nature as the Great I Am – Incarnate.  So what did He do in the 18 years between a partial revelation in the Temple and walking out into His time to be revealed?

 

I believe He was analogue and not digital.  And by this I mean, when the Word become Flesh and lived amongst us, this wasn’t a finished process, it was a process that had only just begun.  As Jesus grew up – He, as we quoted earlier, “…increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”

 

Like an analogue experience of music where a guitar is never quite in tune, and a violin’s beauty comes from the vibration of the string and vibrato of the finger – putting the note in and out of perfect pitch, Jesus was Human.  We read, “and the Word became Flesh and dwelt amongst us,” and think, “Done deal!”  I don’t think Jesus’ increase in wisdom and stature was far from a done deal.  I think He ‘grew’!  It was a process.  And He may not even have been ‘ready’ until He was 30 years of age.

 

This is enormously good news for you and for me.  We are each a work in progress.  And what a work in progress we are because we are the Word in progress.  God desires that Christ be fully formed in you: Incarnation II.  The purpose and process of sanctification is a progressive incarnation of the Living Word in your Living Flesh… the Word must become Flesh and dwell among humankind.  In fact the whole Creation is yearning to see you manifested as a child of God.  Why?  Because their future depends upon this manifestation.

 

God is not finished with you yet, and you are not finished!

 

What must we do, then?

 

We MUST receive with humility the implanted Word – which is able to save our souls.

As it says in the Amplified Version of James 1:21

“with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls.”

 

Most of the challenges we face in our lives are the result of insufficient Word coming into our hearts – hearts which are prepared in humility to be the ideal soil for His seed.

 

More Word!  Softer soil in our hearts!  More devotion to the Apostles’ Teaching.  Amen!

 

Remember: you are in the process of becoming ‘incarnated’ as the Word is in the process of being incarnated in your flesh.  Trust the process.  Stay with the process!

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