Ephesians 3:1-13 Good Gifts January 5, 2014
Good Morning! Happy New Year!
We’re glad to be back home safe and sound after another round of holiday travels, and we hope and trust that each of you could experience the blessing of God as you turned the corner into 2014.
This is epiphany Sunday. Typically in the church, this is the Sunday when we talk about the visit of the three magi from the East; the ones who followed the star, crossing borders, making a risky trip to greet the child-king Jesus.
As tradition has it, they brought gifts; tributes. These magi, these astrologers, these wise-men, they wanted to pay homage to the King of Kings whom they sought for so long.
And so they carried gold, and frankincense, and myrrh; royal gifts as a symbol of both friendship and allegiance.
Some of our most beloved Christmas carols celebrate these characters and the gifts that they brought. What Nativity scene is complete without the three kings bearing their gifts?
Epiphany is an English word that has its roots in ancient Greek, and it means something like “Manifestation”. It comes from two words “Epi”, which is a prefix in Greek meaning something like “upon” or ‘on’ or ‘above’ and “phainein” which means something like ‘to show’ or ‘appear’.
An epiphany happens when something shows itself, or appears, or becomes clear in a way that was previously unseen.
It’s not that something magically appears, you know- it’s not like a magician casting a spell and making an elephant appear in the room.
No…an epiphany is more like casting light on the elephant that’s already there.
You can think of turning on a light switch; the contents of a room were there all along, but the light creates the conditions where we can’t ignore the contents anymore.
That’s an epiphany.
Or an image that I like even better this morning, you can think of a Christmas gift, all wrapped up.
The contents of the wrapping paper are hidden from sight until you tear off the wrapping or open the box.
It’s that moment, when the veil between the gift and the recipient is removed; when what’s in the box is made ‘manifest’…that’s close to what we mean when we talk about an epiphany.
That’s what we celebrate on Epiphany Sunday.
The Messiah; the Son of God, the Holy One of Israel was made manifest.
God became flesh to dwell among us, and these wise men were among the first to recognize, pursue, and celebrate the mystery of God With Us: Emmanuel.
But there’s part of this story that I think we often overlook…and that is that these ‘three kings’ were Gentiles.
They were unclean.
They were most likely Pagan; bowing their knee to other Gods, looking to the stars for guidance.
And yet they still found Jesus.
They come to him, crossing boundaries on their way, and while Jesus is still too young to even take care of himself, the scandal of his kingdom is already breaking through the boundaries we work so hard to maintain!
And it’s never stopped!
The salvation God offers through Jesus is unlimited. It’s for Jew and Gentile alike.
That’s the “Mystery” that Paul is talking about here in Ephesians.
It’s the Mystery that I’d like to invite all of us to enter more fully in the new year.
The mystery is the gift…the gift is the mystery.
Look, I still have Christmas on my mind, maybe some of you do, too.
As you might know, Christine and I celebrated two Christmases that were just about 1,000 miles apart within the last couple of weeks.
We were with both of our families; first we drove to Christine’s family in Pennsylvania. We were there for a couple days, and then drove back here the day after Christmas, slept, did some laundry, re-packed and headed to Iowa the next morning and spent time with my family until New Years eve.
If you’re thinking how that doesn’t sound like much fun, you’re right. 🙂
We love our families, but the traveling isn’t as fun as it used to be.
So we were with both of our families, and our families are pretty different when it comes to giving gifts.
Christine’s family exchanges names and we give lists of ideas to each other, they take the whole gift thing a little more seriously than my family does.
They also have a fair amount of tradition. There are certain foods her mom always makes, there are certain rituals they do together, and all that tradition makes it a special time.
When we go to the Lehman Christmas, we know pretty much what to expect.
Well this year, there was a surprise.
…so this kid came over, We’ve only met him a couple of times.
He came over on Christmas day and crashed the party (in a really good way).
He came bearing gifts for people he barely knew, just because he wanted to be a part of the celebration.
I brought a few things for show and tell.
Stevie knew that Christine and I were pastors, so he put some thought into what to give us, and he gave us a couple of Bibles, one complete Bible and one New Testament pocket Bible.
And he gave us this flashlight.
And, thoughtful kid that he was, he even remembered to give us a whole pack of batteries. 🙂
He called ahead, so we knew he was coming…but still, his visit was unexpected.
It’s not often you encounter someone who’s more interested in giving than receiving. 🙂
He was unexpected, but not unwelcome.
See, when Jesus came into our world…when God became flesh to dwell among us…it was in an unexpected way.
And the way Paul puts it in Ephesians, the mystery that has been hidden for ages…it’s been revealed!
The wrapping has come off. The box has been opened. We can ignore it no longer!
The good news has been revealed so that through the church, the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities; to everyone everywhere!
I’ll be honest, Christine and I didn’t need two more Bibles.
We already have more Bibles than we could ever read at once.
We didn’t need a flashlight.
But the real gift that took us by surprise was this kid’s generosity and thoughtfulness. That’s what’s going to change the world.
Now, I love that line that Paul uses: the wisdom of God in its rich variety.
I got other presents this year…I brought a couple that my brother gave me to show you…
these were both completely unexpected, because as I told you, my family doesn’t do the list thing.
So my brother gave me this head-mounted flashlight! It’s surprisingly useful!
(let me just say I think everyone should have one of these!) You can keep your hands free and see where you’re going on these long winter nights! I’ve already used it more than I ever thought I would.
I didn’t bring it, but I also received a picture frame that was painted by two of our nieces with a little help from their dad. It even came with a family picture in it.
That was one of the most meaningful gifts I received this Christmas.
Now, I also got this Santa Doll.
Talk about variety, right?
It’s pretty hideous, isn’t it?
I might even say it’s downright scary.
But it was still a good gift, because I gave it to my brother last year, and he gave it back to me this year! It’s the gift of humor.
There are a variety of gifts, but they are all expressions of the same love.
That almost sounds biblical, doesn’t it?
You are a gift. You have gifts and you are a gift.
So what are you revealing to the world?
When the world unwraps you…what’s inside?
Is it your sense of humor? Is it your kindness? Your generosity?
We need more epiphanies today.
We, the church, we need to be more vulnerable as scary as that sounds.
Let yourself be discovered.
Don’t be afraid to come out of the box and offer your gifts to the world.
For we have already received the gift to end all gifts; the gift of God’s story and the chance to make it our own! We have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith.
With a variety of gifts, we are meant to show the variety of God’s wisdom!
Let the mystery shine through you!
In a few minutes Christine will lead us into a time of communion, a time we set aside now and then to receive the gift of Christ, to mark our unity under His Lordship and our allegiance to his Kingdom, but it’s also a time to offer ourselves, to claim His story as Our story, to commit ourselves to spreading the mystery of God wherever we go.
May we go in peace and in love and in mystery.