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Epiphany

On January 6 (at least in the Western Church), we celebrate Epiphany, marking the revelation of Jesus Christ to the whole world. The central biblical story is Matthew’s account of the magi (astrologers) coming from the East to worship Jesus.  

I am struck that Matthew includes this story of the broader world being led to Jesus. Perhaps, I should not be surprised. After all, Matthew opens his gospel by naming Jesus’ family history, including several of his grandmothers who came from other nations.

In Matthew’s account, we quickly see that, though Jesus was born to “save his people from their sins,” God’s salvation would be for far more than just the people of Israel. The Great Commission’s vision of making disciples from all nations is already here in the opening scenes of Jesus’ life. Matthew clearly indicates that the good news of Jesus Christ is for the whole world.  

What often leads me to shake my head in reading the Epiphany story is how the magi came to find Jesus. The magi noticed a new star some two years before their arrival in Bethlehem. After discerning through their practice of astrology that a king has been born among the Jewish people, they set out on a journey to find this new king. Though the chief priests and teachers of the law knew from scripture that someday the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the star-watching magi were the ones to recognize that Jesus had been born. In Matthew’s gospel, the magi are the first to seek out Jesus – and they came to worship him.  

Church Signs

Occasionally, I wonder what would happen if we simply put a sign out front of our church that proclaimed “Jesus is here.” In some sense that is what God did with the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, with the angels in the shepherds’ field, and with the magi’s star over Bethlehem that all converge around Jesus’ birth. God declared to those who were watching and waiting: “Jesus is here!”

I have not seen such a church sign yet. Perhaps you have. Even as I wonder about that possibility, I can feel several objections and questions rising up within me.

  • But Jesus is not physically here.
  • Would a neighbor who showed up looking for Jesus find only a locked building?
  • How would our members react to such an un-nuanced declaration?
  • Would such a sign come across as merely a gimmick?
  • How will people walking, biking, and driving by our building respond?

Though we just came through a season where we celebrated Jesus’ incarnation as “God with us”, stating so directly, so publicly on our church sign that “Jesus is here” somehow feels a little presumptuous, maybe even a bit audacious in our cultural context. And recognizing that hesitation, that slight momentary pause within me, has left me wondering: Why can we insist on Christocentric sermons inside our worship gatherings but seldom even mention Jesus on our church signs that invite people to worship with us?  

Light of the World

In connection with the magi’s star, one of the traditional symbols associated with Epiphany is light. Alongside John’s gospel account, we recognize that Jesus is the light of the world. Luke points to this reality as well when he records Simeon’s response to seeing the eight-day old Jesus:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”
(Luke 2:29-32, NIV)

These gospel accounts resonate and fulfill Isaiah’s prophecies that God’s promised Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles as well, “that my salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) Throughout Epiphany, we remember and celebrate God’s declaration that Jesus is the light of the world.

I am caught short then by Jesus’ declaration following the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus states rather directly to the crowds following him: “You are the light of the world.” Those of us who follow Jesus share in his life and ministry so much so that Jesus can boldly and audaciously commission us as the light of the world.

While encouraging the next generation of Jesus’ disciples, Paul reminds the Philippians that, when they live like Christ in the world, “then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Philippians 2:15)

The Epiphany story of God’s light shining before the whole world is made complete when the light of Christ shines in and through us. We are God’s stars – not as celebrities, but in imitation of that first star over Bethlehem – giving light with our lives to a watching world as we declare together “Jesus is here.”

A Living Invitation to Worship

As I have been preparing for Epiphany, the idea I keep coming back to is this: as followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to be a living invitation to worship. More than any announcement about worship on our church signs, our lives are to serve as a beckoning invitation, declaring “Jesus is here” in such a way that others are invited to come and worship him.

So as we gather to remember Jesus as God’s light for the whole world this Epiphany, I feel drawn not only to worship, but also to consider how I will – and how together we will – “let [our] light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)