Sunday, January 6, 2013

The God of All the Tribes

Brad Sullivan
The Epiphany, Year C
Sunday, January 6, 2013
St. Mark’s, Bay City
Isaiah 60:1-6
72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

We took down our Christmas tree yesterday along with the rest of our Christmas decorations…although I think the lighted Christmas Pigs that we got at the St. Mark’s Christmas party are still out in the front yard.  All of the preparation and excitement, and Christmas is now over, there usually seems to be a bit of disappointment post Christmas when it’s life as usual after the build up and excitement of Christmas.

But now we’re in the season of Epiphany, the season of the revealing of Christ, and especially if we end up having that post-Christmas let down, we really need the season of Epiphany.  We need the reminder of who Jesus is and how wonderful his birth is for us.

I think Mary and Joseph might have needed a similar reminder at about the time we hear of the wise men coming to visit them and pay homage to Jesus.  Jesus may have been about two years old at this point.  There is no time stamp given, but later in the Gospel, Herod kills all children two years old and younger, based on the time the wise men gave him, so Jesus is probably about two years old at this point. 

So, two years after the birth of Jesus, the angels’ announcements, and the shepherds coming and glorifying God, Israel is still under Roman occupation, and Mary and Joseph are raising a two year old.  Now, I know Jesus is sinless, but two year olds test their boundaries with their parents, and we’re talking about the God of the universe as a two year old testing his boundaries.  Mary and Joseph might have benefited from the reminder of who Jesus was, not  only their beloved little boy, but also the savior of the world, the long-awaited messiah.

First, the star came and rested over the home where they were staying.  This may have called to their minds Balaam’s oracle from Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near – a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”  Now, this oracle was from centuries before, given against the land of Moab, when the people of Israel were first coming into the promised land, but Balaam’s oracle seems, over the centuries, to have become a more general messianic prophecy as well.  The star rising, leading the Wise Men, and resting over Jesus’ house would certainly have been a reminder for Mary and Joseph of who Jesus truly was.

Then, the Wise Men come, bow down to him, and bring him gifts fit for a king.  Wonderful and expensive, the wise men’s gifts were for Mary and Joseph a great reminder and confirmation of who Jesus was.  For us too, the Epiphany is a reminder and confirmation of who Jesus was, not only a cult little baby, but our savior, God with us.  We need the Epiphany, and we need many epiphanies to keep reminding us and in some cases, to give the good news of Jesus for the first time.

Paul had such an epiphany as he mentioned in his letter to the Ephesians which we heard today.  Jesus was revealed to him, and the mystery of the Gospel was made known to him so that he could then bring the Gospel of Jesus to the gentiles, to the nations, to everyone who wasn’t Israel. 

Up to that point, the God of Israel was seen by other nations as simply the God of Israel.  Nations and people’s had their own tribal gods, so to speak, and the God of Israel was understood by the gentiles simply as Israel’s tribal god.  With the coming of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ, Israel’s God came to be understood by the nations as the high God, the God over us all.  Through Jesus, the Gentiles have access to the high God known in Israel, even if they are not a part of Israel.  In Jesus, God was no longer the tribal god of Israel, but the God of all creation, available to all.

Through the Epiphany and other epiphanies and revelations, our connection to God through Jesus is continually made known.  Imagine for a minute, though, that it wasn’t made known.  Imagine if the Epiphany never happened.  No wise men were led to Jesus, shepherds weren’t told of his glory at his birth, the revelation to Paul never happened.  Imagine Jesus was God living among us as a human being, the long-awaited messiah, and that he died and was resurrected, bringing connection to God and victory over death for us all, and then imagine if no one really knew about it.  Say Jesus had just lived a quite life, died a natural death, was then resurrected, but no one really knew about it.  Say everything about salvation happened, but no one was aware.  Easter happened, but no one knew.

Well, we would be left without any hope in the Gospel.  The God of Israel, the God of all creation, would still largely be known as Israel’s tribal God.  We gentiles would not know of the access we have to God through Jesus.  We who believe in the Gospel would have no hope in our unity with God and in the resurrection of the dead.  Everything about salvation could still be true for everyone in the world, but without the Epiphany and countless other epiphanies and revelations, we would have no hope in the salvation given through Jesus.  We would have no belief in the high God over all, but simply in countless tribal gods, each nation and people having their own God.

I realize many nations and peoples still have their own gods, their own understanding of god or of multiple gods.  I realize there are many religions out there.  We still tend to fight with each other over our various religions. Whether we go to war with others and kill in the name of god, or we argue with others over god, or we simply don’t talk with others because of differing understandings of god, there is still plenty of fighting and animosity amongst humanity over tribal gods.  Our tribes, our people, are still often defined by our gods, and yet the epiphanies and revelations of Christ tell us there is not a multitude of tribal gods in the world, but one God who is the god of us all.

If that God is God of all creation, then there is really only one tribe of humanity.  Regardless of the differences in belief about God that humanity has, we believe there is one God over us all, and therefore one humanity.  We needn’t fight with others over religion because we believe in one God over all, and therefore there is only one tribe of humanity, regardless of our various religions. 

That seems to me a pretty hopeful message, and that might give a little bit different take on evangelism, on sharing the good news of Jesus, which is really what the Epiphany is all about.  The Epiphany was the good news of Jesus being shared by God with the wise men, and presumably by them to others.  Paul shared his epiphany, the revelation of Jesus he was given by God.  Paul shared the good news of our unity with God through Jesus and of the victory over death to those who had different tribal gods than the God of Israel.  Paul helped make into one people, those who were many people.  As Peter wrote in his first letter, “once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” (1 Peter 2:10)  Paul gave people hope in the resurrection of the dead and in their connection to God through Jesus, linking all humanity together. 

We have been given this great news, and been shown this wonderful Epiphany.  We, like Paul, can share this good news and we can live this good news that we are all of one tribe.  Even though Christmas is over, we can still have the joy of the Gospel in our hearts.  We can live at peace with each other.  We can be an epiphany for others.  We can be a reminder for those who already believe.  We can pray and live these words from Morning Prayer:

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near:  Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of you kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (BCP p. 100)  Amen

No comments: