Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany 2018
If you saddle up your camel or hitch up sleigh and head over to the rectory tonight around 5pm, I will be having my annual Epiphany party.
I cannot promise you a star to guide your way, nor can I promise that you will find the baby Jesus when you arrive, but there is something wonderful that I can promise you: fried chicken. And while fried chicken may not give you everlasting life, I think we can agree that when it is good, it is something of an epiphany in its own right, a taste of heaven. And the fried chicken that I am offering you is the best kind of fried chicken, because not only is it crispy and juicy, but you don’t have to cook it and you don’t have to pay for it. It’s going to be there as a gift. You just have to decide if you want to show up to the party. And you have to decide if you’re going to reach out and take hold of that chicken leg and savor it, or just pass it by.
Now, I am telling you that it’s a gift, so if you show up to the party, and encounter someone bragging about the chicken; telling you how proud they are of it, how it turned out so good, and how they found the recipe, killed, plucked, cut, seasoned and soaked, floured and fried the bird, then you will know that that person is either lying or crazy. And don’t let anyone tell you how much they paid for it, or worse yet, try and sell you a piece. No, the table will be set before anyone else shows up and the feast is being offered as a gift to those that accept the invitation.
I know it may seem silly to some to compare God’s salvation to a bucket of chicken, but on more than one occasion Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a banquet or a feast, so it’s not that far off. And in those parables that Jesus told, the guests were never invited to the feast and then told upon arrival that they had to cook the dinner. No, the feast was a gift. The guests were just expected to respond to what was being offered. That’s it. In Luke’s gospel, when Jesus is telling the story, the host of the great dinner says that “those who were invited [but didn’t show up] will never taste my dinner.” In other words, the host isn’t going to shove the chicken down anyone’s throat, but he does want his house full, and anyone that wants to come can come.
We humans, we so desperately want to be proud of ourselves that we like to give ourselves credit for what God has done. We want to turn the spotlight back onto ourselves. We like to focus on what we have done for God, but that is not what the gospel is about. The gospel is about what God has done for us. The gospel is an invitation to the banquet; it is not the recipe for how to make the chicken. We need to be careful about approaching the bible as if it is an instruction manual or a recipe book; we need to see it as revelation. Revelation about what God has done, is doing and will do in the future.
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. Do you remember the story where after Jesus is born his parents present him in the temple and the old priest Simeon holds him up and says to God “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” A light for revelation to the gentiles. When we see Jesus we see God’s salvation. God is revealing himself to us. It is through Jesus that us gentiles finally got a glimpse of what God was up to. He is the one who hands us the invitation to God’s banquet and he is the one who has prepared the feast. We Christians, we like to celebrate when we saw the light or when we found Jesus, but what we really need to be celebrating is that God showed us the light. We need to celebrate that God found us. There is a big difference, because when we talk about seeing the light or finding Jesus, we somehow manage to put the focus back on ourselves and what we are doing, but when we talk about God showing us the light or revealing himself to us, then we aren’t trying to take credit for something God did.
Those three wise men, they didn’t find Jesus through their own skill or intellect, or even faithfulness. They found Jesus because God revealed himself to them. He reveled himself through the star, through angels and wonders and signs, but he also revealed himself through scripture and prophecy and tradition. Incidentally, if you think this story is hard to believe, I would argue that the only truly unbelievable part is that three men stopped to ask for directions, but I do believe in miracles so I will take it on faith. But even with stopping to ask directions, they would never have found him if God didn’t want to be found. And their gifts, their gold and frankincense and myrrh, they are really just a token acknowledgement of the gifts that this child was giving them: a kingdom more precious than gold, a living relationship with God, and victory over sickness and death.
I love the story of the wisemen, but I think it is worth remembering that they just showed up to the party. They were the first gentiles to accept God’s invitation. If they were wise, it is because they knew that they needed this child, more than he needed them. Their wisdom was really just in knowing how to respond to what God had done.
That’s a lesson we all need to learn. Our role in salvation is just to reach out and take ahold of what God has already prepared for us. Our role is to respond.
You know, given the time and the grease, we all could probably fry a chicken, but we could never find God on our own. There’s no recipe for that. That’s what makes this Epiphany so much better than a bucket of chicken on your dining room table; because we could never make it happen. No, God’s saving grace is not the same thing as fried chicken, but in both cases you encounter a thing of joy; the work has been done, the price has been paid, and all that is left for you is to decide what you are going to do about it.