You often hear about difficulties growing up as a middle child.
As a middle child myself I can affirm that at times it wasn’t easy.
When my older brother bullied me and I complained, my parents said to not be so sensitive and to get on with my brother.
When I used to get into conflicts with my younger sister I was punished.
My brother, being the first born had that prestige.
My sister as the baby of the family got a lot of attention.
Today we celebrate the Epiphany which I always consider is like the middle child sitting between the 2 major celebrations in the church of Christmas and Easter.
Epiphany is often missed because it falls on a particular date – January 6th – and therefore not always falling on a Sunday.
So that means churches have an option of recognising the 2nd Sunday after Christmas or the Epiphany.
Epiphany is also sometimes missed because it gets relegated to the Christmas nativity where the 3 wise men with their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh are simply part of the shepherds and animals gathering around the manger.
Some traditions actually refer to January 6th as Little Christmas or Old Christmas – a day that some Christian traditions still celebrate Christmas.
So what is the importance of the Epiphany?
Why is it written as a central part of Matthew’s Gospel surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ?
“Epiphany” means manifestation, revealing or showing.
What is being revealed? –
The revelation is of Christ’s kingdom coming to people who were previously known as pagans – in other words – to the entire world – to those previously considered to be rejected in regards to God’s saving plan.
These rejected people are symbolized by the “magi from the east” coming in search of the “newborn king of the Jews.”
The Magi were not Jews – they were outsiders.
They represent the work of Jesus spreading God’s love into a universal kingdom.
And the result of the magi’s coming has now occurred – people throughout the world have expressed faith in Christ and become his followers through the Christian Church.
The Epiphany is about God’s outreach mission to all people.
The magi highlight how God’s revelation – God’s love – is made known to all people and not just a selected few.
And what’s interesting is that Matthew’s Gospel is the only Gospel that records this event.
And what’s further interesting is that Matthew’s Gospel begins and ends with Jesus being revealed to all the nations of the world.
The last chapter of Matthew gives us what is known as the Great Commission – the sending of God’s people into all the world to complete this work of Epiphany:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The Epiphany highlights God’s extraordinary mission to reach out to every single person in every single nation.
In fact Matthew says that this is so important that Jesus will not return until it has been done:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
But it also highlights God’s work in this in that he does not leave us to do it alone because God is the one who initiates mission.
This is seen in that the Magi are led to Jesus.
It was by the bright shining star that they are led.
And when the star disappeared they are still led by God as they refer to God’s word through the prophet Micah for further directions.
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
And once back on track the star reappears to the magi.
And when they leave they are again guided by an angel who sends them on a different road home to keep them safe from Herod.
In all this, God is central in leading and guiding.
So in our mission work God is central – God is the initiator and will lead us.
We need to be ready for the signs like the Magi were.
The signs are all around us but sometimes we don’t see them clearly because of all the distractions guiding us in different directions.
That’s where God’s Word comes in to play as it did for the magi.
They just needed to refocus.
And that’s the direction for us too.
We need to keep near to God’s word whether it’s through our Bibles, through our prayers, through our worship – to keep listening to God.
Because life and all its demands can un-focus us from our mission to go into the world with God’s Gospel of love.
And we also have the assurance of God’s presence and protection with us.
The Magi were protected from Herod’s evil plan to destroy the work of Jesus.
They were warned and guided home on a safe path.
And Jesus repeated that assurance in the Great Commission when he said – Go to all nations – and I will be with you always till the end of the age.
In this account of the Epiphany the central theme is listening to God.
The Magi listened to God when he sent a star to guide them.
The Magi listened to God when he spoke to them through his Word in the Prophet Micah.
The Magi listened to God who spoke to them in a dream to go home via a different route.
Mary and Joseph listened to God when he warned them to flee to Egypt with their baby Jesus.
And central in all of this is that God is speaking.
And this is still the case today – God is speaking.
God is speaking to us constantly but are we listening?
To listen we need to be aware that God is speaking – and that’s the difficult part of our mission because there are so many voices speaking to us.
So many things guiding us on different directions away from God.
The Epiphany also shows us that our mission work does not go without opposition.
Herod was frightened and furious and was prepared to do anything to stop the message of Jesus Christ going out into the world – even sacrificing innocent children in the hope that one of them might be Jesus.
Mary and Joseph had to flee – the Magi had to flee – and sometimes we too are faced with choices that take us away from our places that have been our places of comfort.
Matthew also reveals Jesus’ understanding of the sacrifices that we sometimes make for the sake of the Gospel when Peter says:
“We have left everything to follow you!
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you … everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
January 6th, the Day of the Epiphany officially ends the Christmas season in the church – the 12 days of Christmas.
The day when God sent his Son to dwell with us.
And now he sends his children – his sons and daughters – you and me – to continue the Christmas message – that God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
He sends us out to be the guiding star to lead people to Jesus with the promise that he is Immanuel – God with us – a promise confirmed in our Baptism and in the Great Commission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”