January 6, 2018 The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ

 

Isaiah 60:1–6, Psalm 72:1–7, 10–14, Ephesians 3:1–12, Matthew 2:1–12

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

In the name of Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

By now, you have likely discovered that I have a big heart for those on the margins, both of the church and of the society; and by now, you have likely discovered that I have little tolerance for theologies that exist to keep people on the margins. I have developed this heart for two reasons, I think. The first is personal experience: I know what it is like to have been pushed to the side in the church, and know what it is like to live on the margins in our culture. The second reason flows from the first: my experience of being marginalized has led me to read the scriptures in a new light, and there I discover that God, too, has a heart for those on the margins. In fact, I can (and do) argue that this is the principle reason Jesus was born into the world: to bring those on the outside in; and I can (and do) argue that those on the inside who are intent on keeping outsiders out by their very actions, words, and beliefs have, ironically, pushed themselves out. Thus, when I listen to church and secular leaders who espouse views that exclude others in the name of God, I challenge them to justify their attitudes from scripture where it is clear (to me at least) that God is not on their side.

Perhaps that is why I love the season of Epiphany so much. This is the time of year when we are reminded that the birth of Jesus was not limited to time and space some two thousand plus years ago, or to a specific people. Rather, Jesus came to be a “light to enlighten the Gentiles,” or, in other words, “a light to the nations,” as aged Simeon said of the child. That is to say, Jesus came for the sake of the whole world; to reconcile the entire creation to God. Jesus came to shed light on the shadow places of our lives and the world; to reconcile that which is estranged, and to make whole that which is shattered. “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

For our purposes here, we dare not underestimate the significance of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the early Church. Elements of the early Church fought long and hard to keep the Gentiles out believing that the only way they could be included is if they first converted to Judaism, the chosen people of God. The vision of Peter, the ministry of Paul, and the decision of early Church leaders denied this. In each case, these leaders of the Church recognized the leading of the Spirit in the inclusion of the Gentiles and were determined not to throw other obstacles in the way. These leaders realized the universal significance of Jesus early on, and in theory, anyway, paved the way for all to come to the light of Jesus.

In this way, the marginalized—outsiders—are to be the special focus of the Church of God. Rather than finding more and more ways to keep people out, one can and must argue that it is our responsibility to seek out those on the margins and bring them in to the love of God in Jesus Christ. We are reminded and charged in this Epiphany season to pay attention to the leading of the Spirit. On whom is she shining the light of Christ? Are we reaching out to those so illumined? Are we inviting them in? Or are they too unpalatable (in our opinion) to be invited in—too needy, too dirty (defined in various ways), too shifty, too poor, too vulnerable, too unlike us? Jesus is “a light to enlighten the Gentiles,” Simeon tells us. Who are the Gentiles to whom we must reach out? Amen.

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