ss=MsoNormal>Lord may your light shine through me, in the words that I have to share and stir in the heart of those gathered here this morning, what purpose you have for us. Amen.
It’s early in the New Year, the sixth day in January 2013, and this is a time when we look back at all the events and ‘things” of the past year
For some it might be a time of reflection, like, I will never do that again… for instance, I am glad that I didn’t have to jump into Lake Ontario in January this year…
for others it might be a time of counting all the blessing of the past year and looking forward the upcoming gifts that God will bring in the new year
It can be a time of considering the upcoming year – we might start to make plans, we might consider our vacation ideas or consider the milestones in one’s life or the life of our families – like a child’s first walking or first words or first days at school
Or for us at Farringdon with a beginning in 1833 – this year ahead of us marks the 180th anniversary of ministry in and around Brantford
For me and the rest of the Tinker family, and I imagine for most of you, it has been a time of change
We have a teenager in the family now, and Matthew has moved to grade one, which means full days…yeah
The Kids continue to each be blessed with very good teachers– and they are all thriving
Kelly has returned to full time employment while continuing her part time schooling
All in all – it has been a very good year – and looking forward in great hope and anticipation the year to come.
As we delve into this time of reflection – I have been thinking back to my childhood
When I was a kid growing up, the church that I went to had a very large crèche
This might not seem all that unusual, however our crèche was inside, right up front, behind the altar rail
Now the figures weren’t actually life size, probably scaled down 50%, basically kid sized, so for us kids, they seemed really big… for the front of the church
Another thing that I remember, that is also a tradition that most crèches that I have seen recently don’t do, is that the baby Jesus wasn’t placed in the manger until Christmas
Advent was truly a season of waiting for the baby Jesus to arrive
We here at Farringdon aren’t that different then the world around us which is playing Christmas music (not advent music) as soon as possible
We have two weeks of Advent, then the third week of Advent brings the Children’s Christmas Pageant and for the fourth week we have Lessons and Carols – beautiful traditions… just not Advent
Waiting for the baby Jesus seems out of fashion in a world where you can get some much instantly, with just a click or two of a mouse…
Another thing, that I think I remember correctly, from my childhood is that our Christmas day crèche was not as full as many others
We had Mary and Joseph, the Angel a top of the stable with a star of some sort
We had the shepherds, and because it was a stable we had at least a donkey and lamb and maybe some chickens…
But something was missing – do you know what it was?
We didn’t have the Wise Men…
They came 12 days later, they came on Epiphany
Today we commemorate Epiphany. In fact today is actually the day – January 6th
So I will share with you what Epiphany means and in doing so I hope to show you what the church is… and… what is the purpose of the church… So with that small task, here we go…
The feast of Epiphany finds its roots in the Eastern half of the Church, variants of which are now often called the Orthodox Church - Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox…
It was seen in the early church as more significant than Christmas.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, and became significant after the 5th century
Whereas Epiphany was closely related to the baptism of Jesus
With Easter and Pentecost, Epiphany was seen as the three most significant events on the Christian calendar
The reason that Epiphany is held in such high regard can be understood by what Epiphany means.
The simplest definition is that Epiphany is: “the revelation of God”
God showing himself to the world.
In the baptism of Jesus we have the beginning of His adult ministry, the Spirit of God descending on Jesus like a dove and the words of God declaring that “this is my son, with whom I am well pleased”. (Matthew 3:17)
The beginning of God sharing himself, in the flesh of Jesus.
You can see why the Eastern Catholics, to this day, still celebrate New Years day - as January 6th,
Why Epiphany is such an important event to be commemorated as Christians, followers of Christ.
But the Western Catholics, Roman Catholics; which most Protestants trace their roots, are more likely to identify Epiphany with Matthew story of the magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.
This is not a great divergence from the East because in the definition of what Epiphany is: the revelation of God in Christ. - We have God revealed to the Magi.
I think that I would be safe to guess that not many of you are of Hebrew ancestry
Since most of us come from outside Jewish roots, we are what is termed in The Bible as: Gentiles
Epiphany is a story of how the Gentiles, non-Jews, who had previously been outside God’s chosen people
Now have God expanding the net to include all people
And this event should be held in holy reverence among us all
Epiphany, for us gentiles, is in fact our big day!
So in Epiphany, we have Eastern and Western traditions commemorating similar but different incidences,
Both within the Christian community
Further, it can be said that both are really commemorating one event - Divine Revelation
God manifested and revealed as Christ
The western feast of Epiphany has the makings of high drama.
It features long journeys…by foreign people…guiding stars…ominous danger by a jealous power-hungry corrupt ruler…holy dreams…great escapes…and a threatened baby.
Exciting story - well suited for a Hollywood blockbuster.
The epiphany story of the magi, is well known, But, I would like to go the next step with you this morning. I would like to speak to you about Epiphany from the perspective of the reading from Ephesians
And as promised explain something about church, which hopefully you might see this as a continuation from nearly everything that I preach on
If you were to ask average person on the street, what is the Church and what is its purpose. You might get a variety of answers:
I think that you would hear that is building - or an organization
Maybe something to do with ministers or pastors or maybe the pope and priests
Or maybe a denominational perspective.
If you are really lucky you might hear that it is people that gather every Sunday to worship Jesus Christ.
In regards to what is the purpose of church: I think that the response would be even father removed from the truth.
I am sure that people will tell you that the church is there to: tell you what to think,
maybe to provide a moral compass in times of needs or to answer the big questions in life
Some might state the purpose of the church is for: hatching, matching and dispatching
Baptisms, Weddings & Funerals (and unfortunately or possibly fortunately this is the only times we have the opportunity to see some of our brothers and sisters in Christ)
Others might see the purpose of the church for only a couple times of the year - Christmas and Easter.
You might, just might, get the answer that it is the place where we are to learn about God,
But it is unlikely that you would hear that it is an exciting place to worship the creator of the universe.
The shortest answer from a popular Protestant theologian, John Calvin, which many with a Reform or Presbyterian background are well aware of, is this:
The church is where the word is preached and the sacraments are duly administered.
The word (the gospel message of the bible) is preached and the sacraments (baptism, communion) are duly administered.
This is a true and accurate description of the Church, but doesn’t really evoke the message of Epiphany - Divine Revelation
My definition of the church is: Anywhere where two or three or more are gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ… to learn…worship… and to live out Christ’s ministry…
The church is those united, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and live out His teachings.
Half of the definition is a belief - understanding and conviction to Jesus
And the other half of the definition is the active ministry and mission - following Jesus’ example, by doing as He did
In the Ephesians reading today, Paul spends some verses talking about how he was divinely chosen to be an apostle, speaks about his call to be the missionary to the Gentiles.
Then hits us with some incredible statements.
Paul states that he is here ‘to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.’(Ephesians 3:8b-9)
News of boundless riches…
I know that when I hear boundless riches, I think of winning 649 or finding Aladdin’s lamp and what that might lead to.
We are to understand that Paul is promising riches beyond any limits…
Well, I don’t know about you, but to me - news of that is worth listening to.
And then the 2nd half: “to make everyone see what is the plan…from the God who created all things”
It sounds like Paul is about to answer the most-asked philosophical question… what is the meaning of life and then by the creator that made it…
At this crucial moment Paul inserts an interesting element … He states the purpose of the church
So that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known. (Ephesians 3:10)
Paul slips this very significant detail right before the climax of the ‘purpose of life’.
Paul states that the church… the followers of Christ… the people of God… are to be a tool or a vehicle in which God will make his purpose known.
One illustration that I like which deals with the concept of "through the Church," is that the church is a ‘theater’ to display God’s manifold wisdom.
In the days past ‘theatre’ would have been only understood as a place for plays of drama and comedy, while that is still true, now-a-days it is more often thought of a ‘movie theatre’,
And this modern understanding is better suited for the illustration
Where God is the light - the source of images… and it is projected on the church, as the screen…
We are to be a device for God’s light to shine through or to display.
So what is the message that the church is to display, the wisdom of God, and the climax of passage:
St Paul write: ‘the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.’ (Ephesians 3:11-12)
God’s purpose of all time has been completed… ‘carried out’ in Christ Jesus, our Lord…
The work is done… Humanity is restored to God, made perfect through the sacrifice of Jesus…
Available now for all that have faith in Him.
An Epiphany… Revelation of God… that now goes beyond a chosen people or nation…this epiphany includes the Gentiles…it invites and welcomes all
Finally… we are to trust - in faith …
That we have access to God… we have returned to relationship with God… in Christ’s work –
We are brought to the great reunion with God – as seen in the last book of the New Testament - Revelations
We are brought and bought by God to the heavenly city of God.
Where every knee will bow, where every tongue will confess
Where there will be no more struggles and every tear will be wiped away
This… is to be understood in boldness and confidence.
Consider the whole passage from Ephesians today:
It starts with Paul’s credentials,
Then states his call to mission to the Gentiles
And narrowing down or funneling through the church
Then the climax - the statement of the purpose of the church:
To present the epiphany of Christ, that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs… members of the same body…and sharers in the promise of Jesus the Christ
So, Epiphany… is both a call… and a challenge
It calls out to see and understand the unique salvation through Christ and to boldly access God.
AND it challenges us: to be the church…. to be partners with God
To be ‘the screen’ in which God projects His wisdom - His eternal purpose for salvation
We need to ask ourselves what do we need to do, for the world to see God projected “on” and “through” us?
Lord, our Lord, may your light shine through all of us, in the words that we have to share, in the lives that we live as a testimony, a witness to our faith in You - and stir in the hearts of all gathered here this morning, what purpose you have for each of us and for us as your church. Amen.