Epiphany 2024

Matthew 2 Epiphany Sunday 2-24

Messiah would be a descendant of King David Imagine you are the Jewish people of first century Palestine, I begin with my own rendition of chapters one and two of Matthews gospel. This is a tale of the messiah, the anointed one, you’ve been waiting for since the time of King David and the promise that he would one day come…
There were some faithful women in the family tree of Jesus who haveknown exile, barrenness or doubtful relationships in their lives like Tamar, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth, Uriah’s wife Bathsheba who was raped by King David and Mary, the mother of our Lord Emmanuel. As well as these godly women, there is a line of famous men of faith you’ll recognise such as Abraham, Jacob, Jesse, David as mentioned, Hezekiah,
and Joseph.
The role of women in scripture sometimes represents the church, the bride of Christ and their fertility and exile have been used in scripture to represent the state of the people of God, the shorthand we use being church. God has had a rescue plan for his people the ecclesia and sometimes the very personal tragedies of woman like Rachel have been used to called attention to the plight of  people who are walking in darkness.
Fulfilment of prophecy

Having noted that his ancestry satisfies the necessary requirement we’re looking out for other fulfilment of OT prophecy. We read,
1.18 Took place in this way
1.22 Virgin gave birth to a son name him Emmanuel
2.1 Wise men come from the East
2.5 Bethlehem IN Judea
2.9 Star stopping over place
2.15 Called out of Egypt, shadowing Joseph
2.17 Rachel’s burial and weeping
2.23 Nazorean, correct tribe

Jesus’ birth fulfils the prophecy that the messiah would be a descendant of King David; his genealogy traces the generations between deportation, that is exile, back and forth from Babylon which foreshadows the escape into Egypt by the holy family and echoes the flight and freedom from Egypt of Joseph and the Israelite slaves. The consequence of sin is our own banishment from God’s presence and his blessing and to break the cycle of destructive behaviour we need a saviour, one who rescues us and brings us back from the pig sty and throws on us the holy mantle of inheriting the master’s holy kingdom. The remarkable unique birth of Jesus you need to know happened like this…
Joseph was a devout disciple and so was Mary. But there’s a problem –she expecting a child. So how come she was unfaithful to him before they’d even got married?She wasn’t unfaithful, but how does this make sense? Anything is possible with God, and it was in the same way that God’s breath spoke over the darkness of the universe and light came, so Mary’s womb was empty and dark. Yet God’s Holy Spirit filled it with abundant life and brought about a son. Remember I told you this child was born of David’s line, well, the angel of the Lord visited Joseph and told him that this baby would save His people. His people, that’s right, he would rise to become our new ruler the like ofwhich we had never ever seen before, he would be our King, our shepherd, our good shepherd, unlike so many disappointing or despicable leaders gone before.God himself came and dwelt among His people – this had never happened before. God came to finally deal with the sins of His people. His people would expand beyond who we thought we knew was acceptable to God, not just sons of Abraham but rich educated Gentile foreigners from the East as well as poor ritually unclean illiterate shepherds from just around the corner. In other words, everyone, all people, all types and ethnicities, even lepers. His name would mean, He saves, a type of Joshua upgraded.

Astrologers appear asking about the King of the JewsWhat a chaotic and politically divisive time to turn up, nutty King Herod thinks he’s in charge when he’s only there as long as the Romans let him. He keeps the country paying taxes and away from rebellion through force. He keeps his job on the proviso there’s no trouble. Two years after this extraordinary birth, some wealthy intellectuals, maybe astrologers or philosophers from way back East, turn up and start asking around without even first asking permission of Herod. Not very diplomatic, clearly, they don’t understand the protocol for royalty. These men claim to have seen a new star that only ever appears when a new king is born and since its origin was somewhere in Judaea, they’re calling the child king of the Judean people, aka the Jews. They come a long way to pay their respects to the new ruler. Word of this reaches Herod and he’s seriously worried about an uprising among the people and a challenge to his authority. He calls a committee of religious leaders together and using the best brains to find out where it’s predicted that a messiah would be born.
2:5 Bethlehem, why Bethlehem, that little back water? Some reasons are as follows : Bethlehem means town of bread – Jesus proclaims I am the bread of life, Scripture foretold it in Micah , Bethlehem is known as the City of David, Lambs were reared in Bethlehem Ephrathah for the temple sacrifices – Jesus is the Lamb of God
2:6 Rulers quake at the work of God How confident does it make us feel when we know that prophesies come true? It strengthens our faith and makes rulers quake in their sandals!
2:7 Herod has some calculations of his own, like Matthew’s fourteen generations and the wise men doing their astronomical cartographic investigations. Herod determines the exact time of the star’s appearance, so he kills all the boys aged two and under. This is such a chilling reminder of man at war with man, unable to hear the love-song that the angels bring – how much more it must grieve God than us that His own created are killing one another.
2:9 Lo and behold the star reappears Once the wise men are directed to Bethlehem the star reappears and then it stops! It stops! And they were overwhelmed with joy …what overwhelms
1 https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/things-to-know-about-the-place-jesuswas-born.html us with joy, when were you last overwhelmed, not with busyness but with joy! Recall it remember it, give thanks for it.
2:12 Warned in a dreamEpiphany moments can come in the miraculous but how encouraging too that it can come to us in the same way as to them – in a dream. The wise men take with them the great news of paying homage to this king of the Jews whose name they now know to be Jesus and that he is also prophet, priest and king hence myrrh, frankincense and gold – did they know why they were offering such a strangely appropriate combination of gifts?
2:13 The Holy family flee to Egyptthen fulfilling a prophecy, ‘out of Egypt I have called my Son’ and returning to Israel and again being warned in a dream they set up home in Nazareth thereby fulfilling another prophecy that Jesus will be called a Nazarene and this out of a warning that Herod Archilaus had now
replaced his father Herod The Great.
2:16 Slaughter of the innocents Rachel gave birth to Benjamin and Jacob buried her near Bethlehem. During Jacob’s long journey back to his homeland, his beloved wife Rachel dies while giving birth to their second son, Benjamin. Instead of burying
Rachel there, Jacob chose to lay his wife to rest right outside Bethlehem (Genesis 48:7). 7 As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). Rachel is mentioned in the nativity story when Matthew quotes the prophet Jeremiah. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted.” (Matthew 2:18)
Prophecy and exile are strong themes.
The phrase, ‘deportation to Babylon occurs three times in the first chapter of Matthew, vv11, 12 and 17. It’s as though we are reminded that without a saviour, we remain out of the presence God, like Adam and Eve banished from Eden. We need an intervention, an epiphany, to bring light and life into our lives. We are in exile by our sins and epiphany reminds us that God came for all people to bring them back into the kingdom of everlasting life and light and order and meaning and purpose. God gives birth to fresh hope fresh insight hope based on evidence and fulfilment of promises kept.
Reasons for hope
We have a habit of forgetting God’s provision to us like the Israelites complaining that eating manna in the desert wasn’t as good as the old days when there were plentiful cucumbers despite being enslaved! God operates over hundreds of years, think of the star. God can use even secular rulers to bring about His plans. Women have been mentioned and have had a pivotal role in the bible in the OT as well as since Jesus’ ministry of radical inclusion. God uses dreams to direct us as well as more dramatic methods such as angels and stars.
God keeps His promises.

Can we recall times in our own lives when this has been the case? God works with the cultures of the day and transformation is deeper and more complex and more permanent than it appears.Manifestation or epiphany enables us to see and understand in a new way. I’ve always loved the Suffolk coastline however, until I came to Sudbury I’d never heard of the phrase, ‘Sea of Faith’. It comes from a poem by Matthew Arnold entitled Dover Beach.

Dover Beach
The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Written in 1867 when it seemed amongst any wise men of the day, faith had had its day and confidence was in the industrial revolution and man’s incomparable power to master nature – that was until The Titanic and then the World Wars. This same poem forms the inspiration for an arresting new book I’m reading entitled ‘The surprising rebirth of belief in God’ – why new atheism grew old and secular thinkers are considering Christianity again.

If its author is correct, based upon twenty years of interviewing sceptics and atheists, then an epiphany is happening among the dark satanic mills of academia which have for too long churned out increasingly aggressive scorn on Christianity and the bible. Where once the sea of faith has withdrawn with a roar, there’s a new conversation building, and the thing about tides is they come in as well as go out. Let’s pray for revival in our lifetimes. Let’s hasten the day when we see mass conversions. To quote the back cover of the book, The tide is coming