Encountering God’s Presence

Encountering God’s Presence

This morning’s message is on Epiphany. When Pastor Trish asked me to speak today she reminded me that today is observed as Epiphany Sunday so I may want to speak on that.

As I began to do some research to prepare for today I realized there was much I had to learn. There used to be a show on TV where a person would walk up to random people on a city sidewalk and ask what they knew about a certain subject. Now I don’t want you to answer out loud but if I were to walk up to you today and ask you what you could tell me about the celebration of Epiphany what would you share with me?
If you were listening to the children’s message this morning you probably gleaned a few facts about epiphany.

The Magi Visit the Messiah

So let’s take a look and see what Matthew tells us in Chapter 2 verses 1-11.

Matthew 2:1-11

The Magi Visit the Messiah

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

According to my study Bible not much is known about these Magi who are traditionally called Wise Men. We don’t know where they came from or how many there were. Many legends have grown up around the story of the Wise Men, one of which is that there were three Kings. This idea of three Kings came from the three gifts that were given. We then assume there was one king for each gift. There really is no mention in the Bible as to the number of Kings that came to see Jesus.

The Wise Men could have been Jews who had remained in Babylon after the exile and so they would have known the Old Testaments predictions of the Messiah’s coming.
They may have been eastern astrologers who had studied ancient manuscripts from around the world.

They may have received a special message from God directing them to the Messiah. They may have all been from different lands, representing the entire world bowing down before Jesus. There are many unknowns.

But, one thing we do know, is that these Wise Men recognized Jesus as the Messiah at a time when most of God’s chosen people did not.

The Wise Men brought gifts and worshiped Jesus because they knew who He was. The gifts they gave were worthy for a future king. Bible students have seen the gifts brought as symbols of Christ’s identity. Gold was a gift for royalty, frankincense a gift of deity, and myrrh a spice for a person who was going to die. The Wise Men were showing us that Jesus was worthy of the best that they had.

In researching Epiphany, I learned that it is the 12th day of Christmas, the day we remember the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem. In Germany and a couple of other countries, the celebration of epiphany is a big event.

Children dress up as kings and go from door to door – very much like our children do on Halloween – only instead of collecting candy and treats for themselves they collect items for the poor. When they present the gifts to the poor, they remember that the Wise Men brought gifts to the poor Christ child.

Thinking about this Epiphany tradition makes me wonder if maybe we are missing something. In fact, the more we look into church history, the more we realize that we may be missing a lot of things.

Epiphany in the early church was one of the great feast days, second only to Easter in importance. Easter used to be celebrated with an all-night vigil and then the celebration continued on for what was called the “Great 50 Days”. Over the years, Easter has become watered down and the celebration of Epiphany has all but disappeared.

A seminary professor recently said, “How comes nothing epiphs on Epiphany anymore?” Why was Epiphany so important in Bible times and why is it so unimportant now?

So what do we know about Epiphany? As we said earlier, it is the day set aside to remember that the Wise Men came to see Jesus.

In the days when Epiphany was a great church feast, not only was the Wise Men’s visit celebrated but this day also celebrated Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at Cana and Jesus’ baptism. All three events were lumped together to symbolize the revealing that Jesus was truly the Son of God.

Jesus Changes Water Into Wine

Let’s look at John 2:1-11 and read about Jesus’ first miracle at Cana.

John 2:1-11

Jesus Changes Water Into Wine

2 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Weddings in Jesus’ day were week-long celebrations. Often the entire town was invited. In order to accommodate that many people, there was much planning needed. To run out of wine would have been very embarrassing.

Now when Mary asked for Jesus’ help, she was probably not asking Jesus to perform a miracle; she was probably simply hoping he could help solve the problem and find some wine.

Jesus’ answer to Mary is difficult to understand, but maybe that is the point. Although Mary did not know what Jesus would do, she trusted him enough to know that he would do what was right.

Mary submitted to Jesus’ way of doing things. Mary recognized that Jesus was more than just her human Son – He was the Son of God.

When we take our problems to Christ, we often think we know how He should take care of them. But He may have a totally different plan. Like Mary, we need to submit and allow Him to deal with our problems as He sees best.

The wedding at Cana was crowded, but only a few were aware that Jesus had worked a miracle in their midst. Most of the people weren’t paying attention, except to realize that the wine was flowing again. They weren’t watching and missed an event that people have talked about for two thousand years.

Waiting Expectantly

Now let’s take a look at Jesus’ baptism in Luke Chapter 3 verses 15 and 16.

Luke 3:15-16

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

Did you hear what it said at the beginning of verse 15? The people were waiting EXPECTANTLY!

If we want anything to epiph in our lives, then we better be expecting it and watching for it.

If you are expecting company in your home, you will probably go about making preparations for their arrival. You may prepare a special meal. If they are planning on spending the night, you will have fresh sheets on the bed, dust the furniture, put fresh towels in the bathroom. And when your preparations are ready, you go peek out the window around the time of their expected arrival.

We go through all these preparations and yet how many of us expect God in that way? Do we prepare for God to come into our presence?

How many times have you prepared for your day by asking God to be revealed in every part of your day…in your co-workers, in the traffic on the way to work, in your housework, in your children, in your spouse?

What about this morning? How many of us prepared for church today by asking God to speak to us through the music, through the scriptures, through the sermon? How many of us actually expected a real life-changing encounter with God when we walked through those doors this morning?

I CAN tell you, if you came this morning expecting to encounter God, you will!

If we are not looking for God at every turn and listening for God in every voice, the chances are we will be just as clueless as the guests at the wedding who missed seeing the miracle.

If we’re looking, the signs of God’s presence are all around us, just as much outside the church as inside. God is there in the trees, the ocean, the deer, the sky, and the list goes on.

A couple of weeks ago there was a meteor shower and during the late evening and early morning hours if you were looking at the sky you would be blessed with seeing shooting stars.

During a one week period of time, on 3 different days, I saw a shooting star. It had been a very long time since I’d seen one. But all 3 times when I saw them, I was sitting outside finishing up my morning prayer and quiet time with God. All 3 times, I literally had just opened my eyes and looked up and saw the shooting stars streak across the sky. I felt truly blessed. But if I had remembered before I went outside about the possibility of seeing the meteor shower and had kept my eyes open in expectation, how many more shooting stars would I have seen?

We all meet God in different places at different times and in different ways. God is in the delivery room as well as the funeral home. He is in the face of a homeless person sleeping on a bench, as well in the face of child who puts a dollar in the homeless person’s hat.

God is sitting beside you right now in your pew. The message of Epiphany is that encountering God’s presence was not and is not a one-time deal.

Yes, Jesus was born and he lived on earth and God’s glory was revealed in all that he did. And when Jesus died on the cross, that wasn’t the end!

God is not dead, dried up, stuffed somewhere between the pages of our Bibles. God is alive and kicking and he is here and there and everywhere hoping that we will open our eyes so we can experience his awe inspiring presence!

The message of Epiphany is, “Keep Watch!” For you do not know the day, the hour, the minute, the second when God will appear to you.

I can’t force you to encounter God. This is a choice you must make for yourself. YOU have to have a wiling spirit and YOU have to be looking with a loving spirit.

But I can tell you that God is here to be encountered. He’s beside you in the pew. He is here revealing himself in the scripture. He is in the prayers. He is in the words of the songs we sang and will sing. He is here in this sermon.

You see the ultimate purpose of all of this, coming to Church, is to provide a place where it is easier for you to experience the presence of God. This is a place and a time to set aside all the media that bombards us, to let go of all the concerns we are trying to carry on our own. This is a place and a time to open our eyes and truly see God in our midst.

My hope today is that if you have not yet made space in your life to have a real encounter with God, that you would do that today, right here, right now.