The Epiphany, Sunday 5 January, 2020
Who on this day
through the guidance of a star
Thine Only-Begotten Son to the Gentiles;
that we who know Thee now by faith,
may one day be brought
to the contemplation of the beauty of Thy majesty.
In the name of God; Father , Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the world of marketing, a great sign, or perhaps an awesome logo is more precious than gold. This is true because a really great logo can help a brand really stick in our minds, which makes us want to buy stuff from the place with the good logo. I’ll show you what I mean: without any visual help, I bet you can figure out some famous companies just by my describing their logos:
Ok here we go. We’ll start with an easy one: a swoosh. Whose logo is that? Nike. Good.
Next, I’ll be a little more oblique in my description but you’ll probably get it immediately. The logo looks like 2 yellow curved structures in the shape of a letter that goes Mmm. The Golden Arches of McDonald’s nice.
Ok one more and now I’m going to make the description even more difficult: the fruit of of malus pumila tree, highly stylized with negative space slightly disconnecting the foliage from the fruit. A cutaway on the right side indicates that there has been an incision, likely with intent to consume the flesh of the fruit. Anybody got it?
Yup. It’s apple.
It’s interesting then, that the logo itself is not altogether all that complicated, but the description makes for more brain work in trying to figure out its referent.
It’s not a perfect analogy by any stretch, but the efficiency of an image mixed with the clarity of description is what The Epiphany is all about. We also call this day the Manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. In the background of our celebration today is that there was a time when the nations outside of Israel, the Gentiles, did not have a thoroughgoing idea of who God is or what He’s like. Paul mentioned this in his letter the Galatians when he pointed out that the mysteries of God hadn’t been made known to humankind. That’s not to say the ancient gentiles couldn’t say anything about God. Like I’ve mentioned before that classical philosophy did have some concept of the divine, having concluded that God would have to be a necessary being, perfect, and completely distant. But certain detail were missing from that account, as we would find.
We could also say that despite the leg up that ancient Israel had in this regard, things like the Law, the Prophets, and the various covenants we find throughout the Old Testament, even with a much clearer set of divine parameters and relationship, Israel kept missing the fullness of what God was like. Or at least, if the prophets’ messages were any measure, they didn’t act like they knew who God was or what He was about. And it turns out, that making God manifest to the world, with a clear sign and an efficient message, this was God’s original intention for his people all along. Way back when God called Abraham, way back in Genesis 12 even, God promised him that his people would be a blessing to all the other nations. All throughout Scripture, God checked in on that promise and found that the Israelites were too busy fighting each other, other people, or worshipping other Gods to be super effective. Even still, God is faithful to His promises and would make a way.
So in the fullness of time, God sent his Son to show the whole world what He’s like. On Christmas, celebrate the yearly feast of the birth of Israel’s messiah, the One that finally came to end the longing of Israel to see their maker and Redeemer. The promised one of Old would come to set as a lamp to the nations, finally so that all people’s would be able to marvel at, adore, and even obey the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Christ grew up spoke their language. He knew their ways. He worked with them, prayed with them, was one of them in each and every way save that he did not sin.
And as his earthly ministry was filled with teachings, signs and wonders, his followers would know more about the God who sent Him. One that was familiar to ancient Israelite: unique, just, faithful, a lover of the meek, a support to the downtrodden, and so on. Jesus, as a icon of God, a logo, perhaps, was supremely effective at communicating who God was. Even still, many of his own people missed it. Later, the amazing things observed by the disciples, the 3 wise kings who came from afar at Christ’s birth, and other border encounters with gentiles, these stories and manifestations would break the boundaries of ancient Judea and Christ’s light would be extended to all the world. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul would connect the supposed backwater deity of that strange people Israel with the unknown perfection of God as understood by the Athenians and others. The Gentiles, for their part, began to eat it up. A longing stirs in the hearts of all humankind, a longing for love, for truth, for beauty, for redemption. All peoples everywhere, even the atheist, responds to these things in their worldly configuration. It is not surprising that Jesus Christ, for his great salvation, his goodness, fairness, and power, would inspire so many that simply heard his good news of humanity and God coming back together so profoundly in him.
And so, Christ is God’s, is our, logo to the ends of the earth. He is the perfect image of the God who made us and has lived us from all ages. He comes with teachings to love each other and to love Him. If the Gentiles and the Israelites have a way of complicating the message, or missing out some details, Jesus sets it aright. Jesus himself so beautifully gave us his own copy: after all “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The question is, how do his people make Christ’s love and light manifest to a world that is in desperate need even now? The answer begins by following his light, just as those three kings did all those years ago, we might not always have the brand loyalty that Nike, McDonald’s or Apple has, but there is no greater reason to keep the lights on in the signs lighting the streets and in our hearts than Christ’s salvation of humanity. May we make him known by our abiding love for him, for each other, and for our neighbor.
To God be all Glory, from age to age. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
1603 E Winter Park Rd.
Orlando, FL 32803