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January 8, 2017

Striking Appearance: An Epiphany Sunday Sermon

Missing Our Worship Together Today (Jan. 8, 17)!

Stay Warm and Safe. Here’s a synopsis of what would have been today’s sermon!

“Striking Appearance”

2 Timothy 1:6-10

Today is Epiphany Sunday on the Christian Calendar. The Gospel of Matthew records the scenes of the Magi’s journey following the star that “appeared” (that’s what “epiphany” means) to lead them to the newborn Jesus.
● The “appearing” of the star, which led the Wise Men to witness the Ultimate Appearance of God — coming into the world in human flesh — is remembered each year on Epiphany Sunday.
● Of course, over time the word “epiphany” has come to be used whenever we receive a sudden, striking realization about something — we have an “epiphany”, we see that issue clearly.
● But at the heart of the word and its use in Scripture and Church History is a place, a time, a word, a way in which God shows up! And, most specifically, God’s appearance to us in Jesus!

As we have read (Matthew 2:1-12), after the Magi had followed the appearance of the star to Jesus, God gently warned them not to return to King Herod (he had violence in mind), so the text says that they left for their country by another way. They took a different route home, obviously. But, as J.C. Howell has remarked, “You can imagine Matthew winking a little, hoping we will notice his subtle cue about what life is like once we’ve me Jesus. Nothing is the same!” (Why This Jubilee?, p. 63)

Yes, they went ANOTHER WAY from Bethlehem — changed:
● The appearance of Jesus’ birth changed them.
● His appearance is also meant to change us as well!

This Epiphany — the appearance of Jesus — inaugurated a universal blessing, viz. Jesus comes to the insiders, the chosen ones, by being born of the house and lineage of David, he came as a blessing to Israel. But, too, the star appearing to the Eastern Magi, along with the shelter given to Jesus and his family by neighboring Egypt as they fled Herod’s violence, flags for us that this appearance is meant to be a blessing to outsiders, the not-so-chosen-ones, as well.

This is a Striking Appearance: In the birth of one baby, every people [in crowd and out crowd] encounter the presence of God himself. And we, like the Magi walk another way through our days as a result of his presence, God’ with us.

Paul refers to this Appearing in 2 Timothy as he writes to encourage a young church planter saying, “God’s grace has now been revealed through the appearing [epiphany] of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” 2 Tim. 1:10

That is the Striking Appearance we proclaim and celebrate as the church of Jesus Christ. It is because all people — cultures, backgrounds, Jews, Gentiles — have to deal with death as the ultimate enemy to the human experience. So, notice the striking thing in this appearance, as Paul describes it: In Jesus, Death has met its Match!
● Death is destroyed
● Life and Immortality (literally that which is “not destroyed”) come into view — we can focus on God’s kingdom that lasts forever.
● And, since death is our ultimate enemy, and since in Jesus it is destroyed, then there is nothing to distract us from the living the life God intends for us!
BOOM — that’s our Epiphany! We are set free to live the Christ life. If the greatest enemy has been destroyed then there is simply nothing else that can hold us back! With real life exposed and accessible then, yes, we have to return Another Way ourselves.

Because of the Striking Appearance of Jesus defeating death, we are to become a Striking Appearance of Jesus’ power in our world today — and that’s the Epiphany that our neighbors need to see in us.

How can it be so? Paul describes it well in 2 Timothy 1:6-10:

1. Be consumed by God’s desire for you! I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” 1:10

● The gift?: Life in its fullest — not distracted by death or any other hindrance. If death is defeated then nothing should hold us back. Fan into flame the life and be consumed by it — all day long, in decisions made, in relationships nurtured, in direction planned, in goals formed — fan it!

● Carl F. H. Henry once remarked, “The early Christians did not say, ‘What has this world come to.’ The proclaimed, ‘Look who has come into the world.'” This is the proclamation that is to consume our lives as we fan the gift of life into flame and become the Striking Appearance of the power of God in this world. Not timid, but with power and love and self-discipline to this end (v. 7).

2. Be bold enough to burn for Jesus ‘come what may.’
Paul describes (vv. 8-9) that suffering came his way because he was consumed by the Lord. We have to expect it as well. If we live the holy life he describes, “set apart” to burn for God, then we have to be ready for any suffering, rejection, or discouragement that may come.

Remember the Magi’s story. God appeared to the outsiders, the not-so-chosen-ones, and led them to Jesus. We become God’s Striking Appearance in our community when we do the same. But, that reach will not always be acceptable to some and we will need to be bold enough to burn for Jesus even so!

We live in a very divided society these days and perhaps the thing that is most needed is for folks to reach across the divisions with the grace of God!
● Our prejudices will try to keep us from applauding that reach…
● They will try to prevent us from being a people who actually reach…
● We may not be well-received because of the reach….
But just as God reached beyond the chosen ones of Israel to appear to the Magi in the east, so he plans to work through us to reach across modern-day divides by his grace!

This is what is needed in our day…and we are the ones to do it….if we are bold enough to burn for Jesus and share his grace, ‘come what may.’

Conclusion: So, yes, on this Epiphany Sunday, the Striking Appearance of Jesus is literally meant to create the Striking Appearance of Jesus in us!

His appearance destroyed death, our greatest enemy. Now, we are free to be consumed by Jesus and change the parts of the world we touch.

And, this is the epiphany our world is waiting for.

As the Unicorn says it in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle: “This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it until now.” (P. 196)

We live is a world hungry for “life as it is supposed to be” and many will look for it all their lives.  Jesus appeared to show us what that life looks like and set us free to live it. It is to us to fan into flame his life in us. Such a revival is the epiphany need in the USA and the World in 2017.

Lord, help us! Amen!
Tony Tench
Un-preached sermon on an icy, snowy Epiphany Sunday.