EPIPHANY I – In excelso throno
Introit: On a throne exalted I beheld, and lo, a Man sitting, whom a legion of angels worship, singing together: behold, his rule and governance endureth to all ages. Ps. (100) O be joyful in God, all ye lands: serve the Lord with gladness. Glory be … On a throne …
Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee: and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles: Mercifully grant, that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: when he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men. Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death. (Proverbs 8.22-36)
Gradual: (Ps. 72) Blessed be the Lord God, even the God of Israel: which only doeth wondrous things. V. The mountains also shall bring peace, and the little hills righteousness unto the people.
Epistle: Brethren: I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another: in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 12.1-5)
Alleluia. O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands: serve the Lord with gladness. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (St Luke 2.41-52)
“How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”
Epiphany is the Church’s celebration of the manifestation of Christ to the world. The Light has come into the darkness, and we have seen His glory. He has filled us with His light and made us to be lights in the world. And the Season of Epiphany calls us to go out into the darkness and shine. As the 17th-century Anglican divine John Cosin puts it: “[Christmas] has been indeed a feast of joy to us all this while … but our fullness of joy comes not [until] now, for the Angelic tidings of joy came first to the shepherds, to Israel, to those near at hand, but upon this feast it is omni populo (to all people), news which the star brought to all the world, and to us too, that now salvation was come unto the Gentiles.” The word Epiphany means manifestation or shining forth, and refers to the manifestation of God’s glory in the Incarnate Son, Jesus. Epiphany is more than just Christmas’s final blaze of glory, it ushers in a season of teaching. We move, as it were, from meditating upon “His coming in the flesh that was God” to “His being God that was come in the flesh;… to turn ourselves from his humanity below to his divinity above [Cosin].” Epiphany celebrates, as St Paul says, the making known of “the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph.3.11), and the Epiphany season abounds with the stories of Christ’s miracles as teachings about His divinity. God is revealed in the words and deeds of Jesus. This First Sunday after the Epiphany manifests Christ as the Wisdom of God, the true source of all human teaching and learning.
Nestled between the visit of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ at the age of 30 marking the beginning of His public ministry, we are given this vignette of the otherwise hidden childhood years of our Lord’s earthly life. Today’s Gospel gives us the story of a visit by the Holy Family to a festival in Jerusalem. It was customary for every Israelite family to go up to Jerusalem three times a year for the major feasts (Deut. 16.16). One of these was Passover, and it was the habit of this Holy Family to make the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, a distance of about 75 miles, every year, walking all the way. Children could stay at home, but Jesus was now twelve years old. At thirteen, He would be bar mitzvah and considered a young man, and required to attend, but here He is still a child, but attends the feast for the first time. The city would be teeming with people, with caravans arriving and leaving all the time. Mary and Joseph fulfilled the prescriptions of the Law, but when the feast was over and they began the journey back home, Jesus stayed behind. They were travelling in a large group, with the women and children ahead of the men, since they travelled a bit more slowly. By the evening when they made camp, the men would have caught up. So Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph, and Joseph thought He was with Mary. They had travelled a whole day’s journey before they realised that they had misplaced Jesus. So they quickly retrace their steps, and search the streets of Jerusalem frantically looking for Him. After three anxious days, they find Him in the temple. But He really wasn’t lost, was He? His parents lost Him, but He knew where He was. He had to be in His Father’s house.
Jesus knew what His priorities were. There is no indication that he was being rebellious by hanging back in Jerusalem. He had just been so consumed with this desire to learn the things of God that He lost track of time, but it is also evident that He was beginning to awaken to His true identity as the second Person of the Holy Trinity—a fact that necessarily had lain dormant during His childhood. Now, on the verge of adulthood, Jesus knew in some sense that He was God’s Son, and that He was here on a divine mission. He realised that His first priority in life was His heavenly Father, and so, at His first opportunity to sit at the feet of the teachers and rabbis and learn about His Father and His own mission as the Messiah, He immersed Himself in their wisdom and teaching. Does it not make sense that He would be here?
This was the second temple appearance of Jesus, the first being when He was forty days old at His redemption (which we celebrate as Candlemas). He was in His Father’s house, doing His Father’s business, a fact that had, at least momentarily, escaped His mother Mary. Mary and Joseph find Jesus where they least expected Him to be. Jesus looks just like any other twelve-year-old boy. But when the rabbis question this ordinary-looking lad, they are amazed. Like Mary and Joseph, we can easily forget who Jesus really is, and trip over the seeming weakness of His humanity. The mystery of the Incarnation, the reason for the season of Christmas, truly does fill the mind with wonder. How can God become Man? How can the infinite and holy become the finite and lowly? And whether we ponder the baby in the manger, the twelve-year-old in the temple among the teachers of Israel, or the man on the cross bearing the sin of the world, we are confronted with this same wondrous mystery – the eternal Son of God has taken on our human flesh to save us.
After this, Luke tells us that “he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.” Jesus knew His duty to His heavenly Father, but He also knew His duty to His earthly parents. He truly lived as one of us. In every way He submitted Himself to obey Joseph and Mary. He submitted Himself to God’s law, and consecrated His earthly life to God by fulfilling its obligations. And, St Luke tells us, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” That is what the Incarnation is all about. Jesus became one of us that we might be one with Him.
St Luke shows us how Jesus manifested Himself in the ordinary things of life. St Paul reminds us in the Epistle that we need to do the same: “I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service [or as the RSV and other translations have it, your spiritual worship].” That is our Christian duty at its most basic: to present ourselves—our souls and bodies—as living sacrifices to God. But this is not just our “duty,” Paul says, this is our “worship.” We are so used to thinking that coming and singing and hearing the Scriptures and receiving the Sacraments is worship, but those things are only one small part of worship. The most basic and essential act of worship is the continual offering of ourselves to God. Long before He offered Himself on the Cross as the once-for-all and perfect sacrifice for sins, Jesus offered Himself to His Father. The service we offer to God on Sundays is the result of our offering God our whole selves the rest of the week as an act of real-life worship.
Joseph and Mary regularly fulfilled the obligations of the law—worshipping—submitting to the things they knew were pleasing to God, and being faithful in doing them. The Scriptures lay out for us the things that are pleasing to God—His precepts and commandments. But it is easy to fall into the trap of doing right things for the wrong reasons. We live in an age where many Christians have abandoned God’s law (the technical term is “antinomianism”), and look on any attempt by the Church to hold her members accountable as “legalistic.” But that is not what legalism means. Christians have always struggled with legalism—the belief that we are saved by doing or not doing certain things. But the Church’s discipline and teaching and exhortation is not for the purpose of telling people how to earn justification and salvation; but to give us a clear picture of what it looks like to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Our obedience to God is the evidence of a true faith, because the one who has experienced the loving grace of God will always have an overwhelming desire to love God in return—to give Him our worship. St Paul tells us here that the real motive for offering ourselves to God is a sense of “the mercies of God.” Melville Scott put it this way: “We are to act from the motive of love; not our love which is so weak, but from the realisation of God’s great love towards us. Duty is not the price to purchase love, but a thank-offering for love received; not a thing of dreary necessity, but of gladness, its only sorrow being its own imperfection.” Jesus humbled Himself and submitted to the will of the Father out of love for His Father and for His people. We ought likewise to submit ourselves humbly to God, as we follow the example of Jesus.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Being conformed to the world is the very opposite of being a living sacrifice to God. Thus St Paul calls us to active renewal of our minds. The indwelling Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts, turning our desires away from the things of the world and focussing them on the things of God, making us more holy and Christ-like. The better we know the Word, the better we will be able to submit ourselves to God’s will. And yet, as human beings, we are also prone to twisting our submission into something in which to take pride: “Look at me! I’m such a good living sacrifice!” or “My offering to God is better than yours!” And so Paul continues: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to everyone that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” The Christian life is a life of humility. There is no “Look at me!” in the Church; only “Look at Christ!” Jesus gave up everything. He humbled Himself to become one of us, and He who knew no sin took our sins upon Himself and died for our salvation. As living sacrifices, we know that we are righteous based solely on the merit of Jesus, and by the grace of God, and so we offer ourselves in humility and thanksgiving.
But if Mary and Joseph can take Jesus for granted, there is every reason to suppose that we can too. We can drift away from Him as we go off on our own business. How far would you have travelled before you realised that you had lost Jesus? Do we give Jesus any thought throughout the week? Or are we so consumed with the hustle and bustle of life that we ignore Him? Do we pray and read the Bible regularly? Have doubts crept into our faith? Do we think more like the world than like a Christian? And when we realise that we have lost Jesus, when we sense the lack of His presence with us, where will we find Him? The Good News of Christmas is that when we thought we had lost God, God Himself comes down and takes on the weakness of human flesh to find us. And He is always with us, even though we may forget Him. But when we remember His presence with us, in thanksgiving for His great love and mercy, we dedicate our lives to God and to His kingdom. “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature,” humanly speaking, that we, too, may grow in wisdom and stature, provided we are attentive to Him. May everything we say and do be a conscious act of worship, an opportunity to be epiphanies, to manifest Christ to the world.
Collect: O God, whose only-begotten Son hath been made manifest in the substance of our flesh: grant, we beseech thee, that, like as we have known him after the fashion of our outward likeness, so we may inwardly be made regenerate in him; who liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
May Christ, the Son of God, be manifest in you, pour upon you the riches of his grace, and perfect in you the image of his glory; And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.