Updated: Jan 30
Last Tuesday was the day recognized as the day of Epiphany, January 6, 2015. To many of the Episcopal – Lutheran – Catholic branches of Christianity, that day marks the end of the Christmas season. That concludes the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” which fall between December 25th and January 6th.
So, in one way it means it is now time have taken down the Christmas tree and put away the decorations. We should now turn out the lights and start making King Cakes.
While marking all the seasons of the ecclesiastic year with little fun things to do … happily busying ourselves from one seasonal color on the altar to another, from having drapes on the cross outside and not … so on and so forth … all that procedural hustle and bustle takes away from the “reasons for the seasons.”
Last week I mentioned Epiphany was upcoming and I gave some definitions for the word “epiphany.” I said the word itself means, “A revelatory manifestation of a divine being,” and/or “A sudden insight or intuitive understanding.”
Did anyone have a “revelatory manifestation of a divine being” or “a sudden insight of understanding” last Tuesday … that you would like to share with us now? Raise your hand if so.
<look for raised hands>
In the readings today, we have a Creation story and a song of praise for the Lord, paired up with an Acts story of Paul basically repeating what we read in Mark’s Gospel – about John the baptizer using water, whereas Jesus used the Holy Spirit.
In actuality, every reading today tells of the Holy Spirit. Further, the Christian day of Epiphany IS like the Day of Pentecost (as far as Christians understand the meaning of that day), because “a sudden insight of understanding” and “a revelation of the presence of a divine being” IS ALL ABOUT being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now I know none of you sitting here today are unfamiliar with the words, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (or “Holy Ghost”). That is the Trinity; and it is what we all profess aloud, in unison, avowing what we believe.
We recite, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”
Some know that as the Nicene Creed, because the Council of Nicaea began to hammer together this profession of faith … BUT … (despite some pronoun usage differences) that which we state is actually is The Apostle’s Creed.
An Apostle is someone who has had a real Epiphany, not someone who has just changed into different color robes because a manual says that is proper.
If you notice in the Acts of the Apostles reading, it tells how Paul “found some disciples.” What isn’t written is how those “disciples” identified themselves as Christians. They were disciples of Jesus, because they professed belief in Jesus as their Messiah.
Most likely, they were converted Jews, rather than Gentiles, because they said they had been baptized “Into John’s baptism.”
Paul, as did Mark, explained that baptism by water was “the baptism of repentance.” Jews were required to know the laws of Moses, even if they spent most of their time breaking those laws they memorized. The Jews recognized all the rules that called for admission of sins; and they had a special day set aside each year, to cast out the sins of all Jews, starting anew with a clean slate.
Repentance through baptism was not a law of the temple. Despite all the recognition of sins, and rituals of cleansing involving water, the Jews were not required to ask God for forgiveness. That left many sinners feeling empty and guilty, so John baptizing people with water, as an act of repentance, drew crowds of people wanting to have God forgive them individually, rather than collectively.
Repentance was at least a first step towards receiving the Holy Spirit. Simply by admitting, “I have a problem with sin,” God knows you are saying the right words, even if you keep on sinning.
Still, being a disciple means you have not yet had an Epiphany. So, Paul reached out and touched these roughly twelve disciples and we find, “the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”
That was an Epiphany for those twelve, as they changed from disciples into Apostles.
Now, this image of twelve guys hanging out, completely unable to “speak in tongues” or to “prophesy” one minute, then suddenly being able to do it after Paul laid hands on them all, gives the impression that the Holy Spirit comes fast. It seems like a loud rush of wind suddenly overwhelming one, as “Wham, bam, thank you Man. I needed that.”
But, while that did happen that is the wrong impression to get.
Last week, one of the alternate readings was of Jesus as a twelve year old boy, having been left behind in Jerusalem by his parents. They found him in the temple, about four or five days later. The focus of that reading needs to be seen as how Jesus was still learning Judaism at the age of twelve.
He took learning his religion seriously, asking, “Where else would I be other than my Father’s house?” At twelve years of age, holy Jesus … the Son of God, born of a woman … still had to educate himself as to what Jews believed and what laws they followed.
If you remember the story of the “Wedding in Cana,” where Jesus turned the water into wine, his mother was the one wanting that miracle to happen. Jesus actually said to Mary, “Woman, how does that involve me? My hour has not yet come.”
If you also recall how Jesus was thirty years of age when he attended that wedding party, then when you do the math Jesus had been learning Judaism for 30 years; but his time still had not come. There was still something more he needed to gain first, before he could be totally dedicated to a ministry of salvation.
Jesus still had not had his Epiphany. As such, he probably still had a little playfulness in him, some impish pranks he still liked to pull on his brothers perhaps? Maybe, Jesus held onto a slight selfish desire to use the powers he knew were at his disposal to benefit himself, rather than someone not having enough wine on hand for a wedding.
You see, when Jesus walked into the Jordan River and was baptized by John the baptizer, Jesus was repenting his prior selfish acts. John washed Jesus clean of his sins, however minor they probably were.
And then … God tore the heavens apart “and the Spirit descended like a dove on him.” That was the Epiphany of Jesus. It was the Epiphany that he experienced, just as like the day the Apostles were first filled with the Holy Spirit, like a loud rush of wind, but in his case like a dove lighting upon him.
A select few others witnessed his Epiphany; but not everyone in the Jordan River at that time (including John the baptizer), hearing a voice come from above, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
When God is “well pleased” with your repentance, He gives you the full package of Holy Spirit gifts – seven in all. Unlike the twelve disciples Paul converted into Apostles in Ephesus, Jesus could do much more than “speak in tongues” and “prophesy.”
If you remember the story of Jesus, when he was preparing for his arrest, trial and eventual death, he stopped by a fig tree to pick some fruit, because he was hungry. But, the fig tree was not producing its fruit, because it was not the season. Jesus rebuked the tree for that failure and said, “May you never bear fruit again.” “Immediately the tree withered,” we are told.
That is not a human power. That is a power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus explained to the disciples that the power of God can have anything you command happen.
In Psalm 29, we heard these words today: “The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.” The “voice of the LORD” is the Holy Spirit, so when God spoke to Jesus and a the Holy Spirit lit upon him like a dove, that was Jesus’ Epiphany.
In the Creation reading today from Genesis, we heard, “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” That command was the voice of the LORD, invoking His Holy Spirit into the “wind that swept over the face of the waters.” The earth had an Epiphany when God gave it light, separating the night from the day, and a shapeless void transformed into a purposed order.
In that Genesis reading, at the end it said, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
From that we get the impression that the creation of the heavens and the earth, followed by the lighting of the earth’s star – our sun – all took place in one twenty-four hour period.
Hello? Do you recall the analogy that a day to God is like a thousand years?
That “day” took hundreds of millions of human years, where the earth spins around in an orbit of the sun, so the sun appears to rise and set daily; but mankind wasn’t there yet. So, it was like one day’s work for God. That work, that act of God, reflects what is required for one to have an Epiphany and hear the voice of God say, “Work is good.”
The point of all the readings today is about the sudden change from being an ordinary repentant disciple, until one’s faith leads one to acts that please God, so He will set His Holy Spirit upon each of us, if we meet that requirement. However, it is only sudden at the time when we experience that wind over our face … that voice within us.
It took Jesus thirty years to stop using God’s benefit for selfish purposes (as few as those might have been). It took some amount of time for the disciples in Ephesus to learn that there even was a promised Messiah, a Christ, before they had a clue what the Holy Spirit was.
They did not know they were blessed by God so they could happily work FOR OTHERS the rest of their lives. All of the Apostles experienced their Epiphany during their lives, when there was still time to do more work.
By the time most of them were tortuously murdered by jealous believers of the same God, those who never did the work necessary to get to know God personally, upon their soul’s release from their bodies, the Apostles could say things like, “It’s okay God. Please forgive them because they don’t have a clue what they are missing.”
There will be one Epiphany for everyone, whether you are Christian or non-Christian, whether you are filled with the Holy Spirit while a living, breathing human being or not. We believe in one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins – one baptism with the Holy Spirit is all one needs.
You can be assured that having a true Epiphany while one is still alive and still able to work afterwards for the Lord, leading others to their one true Baptism, is much better than having “a sudden revelation of God before your soul,” after it has left your body and you are evaluated on past works done.
You do not want to be finding an “immediate understanding” that your life’s work was only for foolish, selfish desires. Then your Epiphany will be all about coming back to this world for another chance to do it right, having to face all your past failures all over again.
Recently, I watched an HBO showing of a documentary about George Harrison, the former Beatle. His wife, Olivia, told the story about a break-in at their home, where an intruder seriously stabbed George, nearly killing him. This happened after he went downstairs to investigate the noises of breaking glass.
His wife said, “All of a sudden I heard George chanting his mantra very loudly.”
George Harrison was chanting very loudly what his Hindu-Christian mixture of religious learning had taught him many years before. This chant was a way of producing the effect of a dove lighting, calming him; and he had been practicing this for many years, solely for the purpose of being in control of his soul’s exit from his body at death.
We think we can prepare for death, but unexpectedly George Harrison had been stabbed, and he tried to force his death mantra for a selfish desire to be in control. However, his assailant, who was high on drugs and going upstairs to do more harm, leaving George chanting in pain.
Olivia met the intruder with an iron bar, breaking open his head and causing much blood to flow. She thought he was dead, but then he got up and grabbed her. George Harrison, stabbed and bleeding, ceased his mantra chant and came to the aid of his wife, children, and mother-in-law. He defeated the intruder and he was then rushed to the hospital.
This is what the assailant looked like in his mug shot at the police station.
I tell you this story because this first Sunday after the Epiphany is ALL ABOUT not waiting until death is staring you in the face to panic and start trying to remember how to be in control of your soul. You are not able to control your soul without the Holy Spirit. So, don’t let your “death mantra” be an “I’m sorry God” plea.
After all, just like George Harrison found out, you never know when death can interrupt you “selfish time.” You do not know the time or date when it will be too late to start learning what it takes to receive the Holy Spirit. You will never know how much time you have left to do the work of the Lord, and to have your Epiphany in a timely fashion, with God pleased with you.
It is not as hard as it seems, but it is completely inconvenient, as it requires you put more than one or two hours of effort per week into your faith, your religion, and prove your beliefs.
We have programs that can help you along that path. We are here ready to reach out to you … to lay figurative hands upon you so the Holy Spirit can open your eyes, ears, and mouths to the tongue of prophetic Scripture, so you too can prophesy to others.
But, no one is going to come to your home to make it easy. We have no tapes to place under your pillow, to listen to as you sleep, so you wake up filled with the Holy Spirit. You have work to do, and after six days of good labor, then you can rest in peace.
You have to want an Epiphany before you can receive God’s Spirit.
Let me know when I can help.