The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles

On page 117 of your Prayer Book you will see a service described as The Epiphany of our Lord or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. The Feast day is January 6th, which in this year’s calendar was yesterday.

The Gospel reading for the Feast of the Epiphany is from Matthew Chapter 2, and it begins, When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa, in the days of Herod the King, behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem saying, where is he that is born King of the Jews?

As we are told, a star guided these men to the new born baby and Jesus Christ was indeed manifested to the Gentiles.

The star is rather less important than what shone inside these men. There, in their hearts was the light of God, flashing the message of an event of unparalleled significance. To that heavenly urging these men responded, journeying many, many miles until they reached their goal, and there they were richly rewarded, …they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him.

We need no more reward, when Jesus is revealed to us, than to fall down and worship Him. For when we recognize Jesus Christ, as the wise men did, it is because we are in His presence, which is the greatest reward of all and one which is so completely worthy of our worship.

Jesus is not an artificial creation, born of man’s hands. He is neither a phantom nor a figment of our imagination. He is as real and living as when He lived as that baby in the manger. And He will manifest Himself to those who hear His call, see His light and then respond with the determination and sacrifice of those wise men of the East, following the star to the source of all light.

His manifestation to us is a promise to us, a promise repeated and reinforced during the season of Epiphanytide. The second Gospel reading of the season is for the celebration of the Baptism of our Lord. It is written in Mark Chapter 1, where verses 9-11 read, And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Some thirty years after His manifestation to the Gentiles, Jesus Christ is expressly revealed to us as the Son of God. At the same time, the Holy Trinity is revealed, the glory of the one, triune God.

The next service, found on p.121 of the Prayer Book, includes another Gospel passage from St. Matthew, and this one takes us into that period between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The reading begins with Matthew 28:16. Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

There, Jesus Christ is revealed to us as the conqueror of death, our Resurrected, living Lord, offering to us the hope of eternal life, through baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

There, Jesus manifests Himself as an indivisible part of the Godhead and these verses infuse all of His promises with the enormous power of the Divinity, ending as they do with the promise that He is alive for ever, …and, lo, I am with you all the days, even to the end of the world.

Today, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, we are taken in the Gospel to a much earlier time in Christ’s life. The twelve year old boy is taken to Jerusalem for the Passover, where He remains in the temple after His parents leave. Three days later Mary and Joseph find Him there, surrounded by the doctors who are enthralled at His knowledge of Scripture, and by His probing questions.

And Jesus, at that tender age, reveals His certain knowledge of His true origins and purpose, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

Then the Gospel narrative falls silent on the next 18 years of His life, as silent as it is on most of the first 12 years. But this is an eloquent silence carrying God’s message as surely as does the text of the Bible. In that period, we are told, Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Epiphanytide teaches us to believe that Jesus will be revealed to us, to each of us individually, not in any mere intellectual sense, but as our Living Saviour, our constant companion on the straight and narrow way which leads to our heavenly home.

We do not need to ask how He will manifest Himself. It may be through some passage of Scripture, the meaning of which surges with sudden understanding from our head to settle in our heart. It may be through the unexpected kindness of a stranger, the words of a preacher, or some event, joyous or traumatic, which shakes the foundations of our lives. For a few, perhaps with special needs or for whom God has a particular job, it may be an actual visit.

Whatever form our Lord’s manifestation may take, it will be lost on us if we are not like the wise men, open and responsive to God’s call and prepared to sacrifice to reach the place to which He wishes to lead us. How often do we say to ourselves, I really want to know more about Jesus, so I am going to forget about that TV programme I was going to watch and spend the time with my Bible? When was the last time we said to our husband or wife, why don’t we offer God worship and thanks – let’s pray Compline before we go to bed. Let’s pray the Rosary before supper. How often do we do something as simple as pause in the day to say to Almighty God, “Thank you for the love with which you love me!” That can be so uplifting it astonishes me, yet it is such a small step towards God, such a tiny gesture of holding out our hand to Him.

Let us be under no illusions, though, that actions like these are anything but necessary. Remember Holman Hunt’s painting of Jesus knocking on a door. The person knocking on the door can only be manifested to us when we make the effort to go to the door and open it.

We must also learn from the twelve year old Jesus, and be aware that the Father has business for us to do. We must be eager to learn of it and immerse ourselves in it. Where the Father’s work is, Jesus will be also. I am with you all the days, means exactly that.

But through it all we must be patient. God’s ways are not our ways. Thirty years passed between the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles and our Lord’s baptism in the River Jordan. If God took things so slowly with His Incarnate Son, why should we imagine he will not work the same way with us? So when our impatience is boiling within us; when we are inclined to shout at God for Jesus to be manifested to us right now, let us stop and remember that He, the Son of God, spent thirty years in the obscurity of a humble dwelling in Palestine.

We have no business yelling at Him to get on with it. Rather let us trust in Christ’s own words, I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the world. Let us keep open our ears to God’s call and our eyes to seek His guiding light. We are each a work in progress and our only help is from God. Our part is to trust Him as the wise men trusted Him throughout their long journey.

And let us be watchful, taking care that each step we take is placed on that narrow path; that at the end of each day, with God’s help, we are stronger in His ways than we were when the day began.

Time is God’s to command. Jesus is for God to manifest to us. But the yearning for Him is ours to nurture; the sacrificial journey towards Him is ours to make; the worship of Him at each glimpse of His glory and even when He is hidden from us, is our joy and the spark of light that we may show to others.

In manifesting our Lord Jesus Christ to us may God give us the burning desire to show our Saviour to others. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Peter Jardine+
First Sunday After Epiphany, 2007