Epiphany 1, 2017

 

The Epistle. Romans 12:1-5

The Gospel.  St. Luke 2:41-52

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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This is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. 

 

Epiphany officially landing on the 12th day of Christmas, marking the end of the Christmas Season and the entrance into something closely related to it regarding surrounding events….and something especially dear to us as non-Jewish, Gentile, 21st Century converts to Christianity.

 

Even if we were born into the faith, and have been Christians all of our lives, we are still, before baptism, unbelievers, separated from God in a specific way and therefore outside of the Covenant relationship with God.

Commentator: “No new truth comes into view on the festival of the Epiphany, for we are still by the Manger of Bethlehem. What is to-day insisted upon is rather the whole truth. There is to be no narrowing of the infinite scope of the Incarnation. We are no longer in danger of supposing that Christ belongs exclusively to a single race or nation, but we must ever remember that the Babe of Bethlehem is the world’s own Babe, not only the Saviour of those who believe as we believe, but of all mankind.”[1]

 

We can say that Epiphany Season is especially dear to us, because it is when we, as former “gentiles” with quotes around the word gentiles….celebrate the Appearing of Christ to the Gentiles of His day.

 

God’s plan of salvation began in the Garden of Eden when there was no Jew or Gentile.  Adam was born as the Father of mankind.

We are born into Adam.  It is only later when God begins to separate out a specific people unto Himself, Israel…. who prefigure God’s saving a specific people in the entire world.

 

Israel is so very closely tied to God as His people, His beloved, that someone at that time, who wished to be in favor and in a true relationship with the One True God, would have to join the people of Israel, become one of them, ritually and ceremonially.

 

Yet at the same time, God speaks through certain Prophets proclaiming what He is really up to…what He is doing on a grander scale in bringing others in.

 

Though Israel is His chosen people, they are not going to be the sole inheritors of God’s grace.  God will broaden and has for a long time, broadened His salvation to extend to all men.

 

 

Paul in Romans 15 probably gives the best quick summary of Old Testament passages, mostly taken from the Psalms and Isaiah. 

 

Paul writes this, “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised (to the Jews) to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”

 

That is a key phrase.  Christ became a servant in order to do a number of things. Paul lists three.

 

Christ came down from Heaven to do certain things.  Just by laying aside His heavenly glory and coming down to us is an act of ultimate service to us. 

 

But He came, as Paul says here…

 

 

 

1.        To show God’s truthfulness to the Jews.

2.        To confirm the promises given to the Patriarchs.

3.        To give the Gentiles (the non-Jews) reason to also give God glory.

 

Some might combine the first two but they don't have to be.

 

He came down to show God’s truthfulness to the Jews.  God had been truthful all along. 

 

He had promised to rescue them from Egypt and He did.

He had promised to save them from surrounding enemies (if they obeyed Him) and He did.

He promised that when they did not obey Him He would not be as gracious to them…and this too He did. 

He let them wander, and suffer a while and get overrun by enemies.

 

 

He also promised that this was all to bring about their salvation.

 

So when Christ came, God’s promises were all revealed to be true. His faithfulness in sending a Messiah was true… (though sadly they didn't all accept Him as such)…but this does not change the fact that God did what He said He would do…and does every time.

 

Second, Christ came to confirm the promises given to the Patriarchs.  And we could add Prophets. 

 

For example, Malachi prophesies, …and this should sound familiar to you.  It is the Epiphany Morning Prayer opening sentence.

 

Malachi writes God’s words, “From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, My Name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my Name, and a pure offering:

for my Name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:11)

 

But to the Patriarchs, God promises Abram, “…Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

 

Or to Isaac God says, “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Gen 26:3-5)

 

 

So there we have just two of many promises that God made to the Patriarchs of old, which Christ fulfilled by calling into the fold Gentiles, consequently adding more and more to Abraham’s Great Nation…made up of Jew and Gentile.

 

And finally there is that third work that Christ did.  He gave the Gentiles reason to give God glory. 

 

Jesus’ whole message was one of repentance for the individual and a call for Him to enter – through faith in Him – a Covenant relationship with God and this would be cause for praise.

 

When there is a full understanding of God’s work for us in Christ, it excites Doxology or praise. 

 

Paul, again, gives us a good summary of this third aspect of Christ’s work in giving the Gentiles something to praise God for.

He says in Romans 11,  “But if some of the branches (the Jews) were broken off, and you, (Gentiles) although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches.

 

If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” (Romans 11:17ff)

 

There isn’t a ‘glorying God’ line in there, but the conclusion is clear.  We Gentiles who believe in Christ are grafted in to the vine of God.  God has done this.

 

 

He even removed unfaithful Jewish natural branches to make room for us unnatural branches.

 

That has two effects.  One, to make the natural Jews jealous, and two, to make the Gentiles grateful.

 

That is a gift of Grace toward us.  He could have left us “un-grafted” and apart from Him, but in His grace He has called us unto Himself. 

 

He has done the necessary horticultural work on us to bind us to the vine and as we are connected through the Holy Spirit’s work of binding us to Christ, we begin to be strengthened at that point of attachment and we can enjoy the nourishment that is supplied running through the main trunk of the vine.

 

So here is this string of promises made to Gentiles like us from Paul.  He says,

 

“As it is written,

 

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,

  and sing to your name.”

 

 And again it is said,

 

 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

 

 And again,

 

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,

  and let all the peoples extol him.”

 

Isaiah says,

 

“The root of Jesse will come,

  even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;

 in him will the Gentiles hope.”

 

 

 

The truth of God has been vindicated by the fulfillment of the promises made to the Jews.  And the Gentiles have been led to praise God for His mercy.

 

And this praise does not stop with the simple act of worshipping God in Church on a Sunday.  We prayed quite clearly in the Collect for God to grant us the perception to know what things we ought to do, now that we are the recipients of such a great gift and privilege…and that we may have the grace and power to faithfully fulfill the same.

 

That prayer goes perfectly well with the Epistle lesson for today.

 

In it, Paul appeals to his audience that by the mercies of God, we are to present our bodies as living sacrifice…holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.

 

 

Romans 12 is a pivotal point in that letter.  The previous 11 chapters have been the set up for what is to come in chapters 12 and following.

 

In the first 11 chapters, Paul very much lays out many of the same arguments and reasons to praise God. 

 

God has saved us by grace.

We are a new creation.

We stand justified before God on account of our faith in Christ.

And now our life is to be one of sanctification, doing all such good works as He has prepared us to walk in.

 

The sacrifice before it is offered to God is killed and a certain portion of it…much of it was to be burned as a sacrificial offering for sin in the Old Covenant.

 

 

 

Now in Christ, we are to present our bodies to God and to the world in good works as a living sacrifice.

 

The killing has been done to another, namely Christ.  His offering of His dead body for the sins of the world stops all animal sacrifices and makes any attempt to do so useless in the eyes of God.

 

We are to be a living sacrifice.  Our works to one another are to be living.  We are to be living in the Spirit. 

 

Our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is to be holy and acceptable to God.  This is our spiritual worship.

 

And all of this is in light of what Christ has done… mentioned earlier in those three points.  God is just as faithful now as He was then.

 

His promises are all fulfilled in Christ.

Epiphany then has great significance for us. 

 

When we understand what this season means, not only Christmas but also Epiphany, and Christ manifesting Himself to the Gentiles…the first being the Wise Men and those who were not the main focus of redemption in the past…nothing but immense gratefulness should well up in us.

 

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In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.



[1] Excerpt From: Melville Scott. “The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/YQ09A.l