For Epiphany, 2021

The Epiphany – January 6, 2021 – Matthew 2:1-12

On the Feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate God’s manifestation among us in the flesh of Jesus Christ, which sounds a lot like what we celebrate on Christmas. Interestingly though, the celebration of Epiphany is older than the celebration of Christmas. The first mention of Epiphany comes from around the turn of the third century, and from those early days, the feast emphasized God’s physical manifestation among us by focusing on three specific biblical accounts from the life of Jesus—his baptism, his first miracle at Cana, and the rising of the star that led the Magi to him. [1]

To say the least, Christmas and Epiphany are linked. By the late fourth century, aspects of Jesus’ nativity began to be incorporated in Epiphany observances, but they were far from its main focus. Eventually, Christmas became the widely observed feast celebrating Jesus’ birth that we know it to be today.  

Because we hear each year on this night Matthew’s story of the Magi, it’s easy to think of Epiphany as the end of the Christmas season, especially when we make a big deal about reminding each other that Christmas isn’t just one day, but twelve. For this reason, we may be tempted to approach Epiphany looking back toward Christmas. This is the night on which our wise men figurines finally arrive at the crèche. Of Epiphany (and I might be the only millennial who can quote him) Paul Harvey might say, “Now you know the rest of the story.” On Epiphany, tie the Christmas season up with a bow like those packages torn apart under the tree. And tomorrow, take the decorations down!

Epiphany is far more than any of these. It is a hinge on which swings our incarnational focus from Jesus’ nativity to Jesus’ ministry. It’s not about looking back at Christmas. It’s about looking forward to a season in which we, like those early Christians, will experience God’s incarnation through accounts of Jesus’ baptism, his miracles, his calling of the disciples, and yes, with Magi who follow the star.

It is very important to remember, especially on a day like today, which has become one of turmoil in the life of our nation, that Epiphany is about looking forward. This is not to say we should ignore present events. What happened today in Washington D.C. happened for a reason. If we refuse to look for those reasons, or deny that they exist at all, we will surely become part of the problem. So yes, we must take stock of the gruesome reality of present events. No doubt about it! But we must also look forward in anticipation of our response to them. 

What better example could we have for this than the Magi? Tonight, we celebrate not only that God is revealed to the Magi in the flesh, but that they recognize it when it happens! The Magi recognize Jesus for who he is. And when the power-obsessed, status-obsessed, legacy-obsessed King Herod tries to use them as a part of his violent plan for self-preservation, they don’t take the bait. Instead, they follow the Prince of Peace on a path of peace. They refuse to engage in violent subversion of a divine plan. They choose to open their hearts and their minds to God. They have met the source of all life’s love, and their lives are forever changed as a result. 

Isn’t that our story, too? We have met Jesus, and because of it we are called to preach his Gospel of peace. So this night we pray for the Spirit to bestow upon us the wisdom of those “wise men” of old. God’s wisdom. Wisdom that will recognize the division in our nation. Wisdom that will acknowledge the anger of others even as we feel our own. Wisdom that will prohibit violence and rage. Wisdom that will keep us looking forward. Wisdom that will walk the way of peace. 

It is tempting to go down a path of selfish bitterness, to thwart plans that are not ours. But the violent road of self-interest is all too well trod. We best not venture too far down it, lest we meet despair. Better to follow the Magi’s example, to live into God’s wisdom, and to return to our country—and God’s heavenly one—by another road.

[1] Alexander, J. Neil, Celebrating Liturgical Time: Days, Weeks, and Seasons (New York: Church Publishing, 2014), 36.

Prayers amidst turmoil

During what has turned into a very difficult day in the life of our nation, these prayers may be helpful to you. They are taken from pages 814-835 of the Book of Common Prayer. Some are slightly edited, and their numbers are retained here.

4. For Peace
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince
of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion
and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

6. For our Enemies
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

18. For our Country
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our
heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove
ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.
Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and
pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;
from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend
our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes
brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue
with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust
the authority of government, that there may be justice and
peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we
may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.
In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,
and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;
all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

19. For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We
commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided
by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant
to the President of the United States, the Governors of the
States, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength
to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love
of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful
of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

20. For Congress or a State Legislature
O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and
gracious, and whose law is truth: We beseech thee so to guide
and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress
assembled, that they may enact such laws as shall please thee,
to the glory of thy Name and the welfare of this people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

21. For Courts of Justice
Almighty God, who sittest in the throne judging right: We
humbly beseech thee to bless the courts of justice and the
magistrates in all this land; and give unto them the spirit of
wisdom and understanding, that they may discern the truth,
and impartially administer the law in the fear of thee alone;
through him who shall come to be our Judge, thy Son our
Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

22. For Sound Government
O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we
may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to
other nations of the earth.

To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors
of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative
authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their
duties.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our
laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and
foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to
fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding
and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and
justice served.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to
accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they
may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for
the well-being of our society; that we may serve you
faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name. Amen.

27. For Social Justice
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart and especially the hearts of the
people of the United States, that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

28. In Times of Conflict
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,
in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront
one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work
together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

33. For Cities
Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of
that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their
glory: Behold and visit, we pray, Washington D.C.
Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life.
Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate
poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail
with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and
women from different cultures and with differing talents may
find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

36. For the Oppressed
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

39. For those who Influence Public Opinion
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many
voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where
many listen and write what many read; that they may do their
part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and
its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

58. For Guidance
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou
wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see
light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.