Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Epiphany Is for the Riffraff Like You


Epiphany is your reason to celebrate the life of Jesus.  Without it there is still good reason for any descendents of Abraham to rejoice, but for anyone else, no dice.

                Christmas is really for the Jews, not for Gentiles, as most of us are.  We see this repeatedly in the Gospel readings following Christmas.  There are the Jewish shepherds on Christmas night, the people of Bethlehem, Simeon and Anna in the Temple.  What do all these have in common?  They all have the same ancestors, the same pedigree.  They were on the inside track for salvation.  They were Jews.

                But tonight is different.  It is startlingly different.  Epiphany is not for the Jews.  It is for gentiles, and not just any gentiles, but the worst kind that you can think of.  Magi.

                “Wise Men” is an awful translation of what these guys really were.  They were not wise at all.  They do not seek Jesus because they were really smart, but God leads them to Jesus in spite of their stupidity.  They were psychics, palm readers.  And in the minds of the Jews they were about on the same moral level as drug dealers and prostitutes.  

                But this is precisely the type of person that Jesus came to save.  We have become really comfortable with the idea of outreach in the American church, as long as we are reaching out to the right kids of people.  We know that the Gospel is for everyone, but everyone really refers to people who are mostly like us.

                You know what I mean.  Good people.  Family people.  White people.  Clean, self-reliant, emotionally steady, preferably of German descent, but English-speaking people.

                But Jesus came for the Magi, the wannabe fortune tellers.  He came for outcasts and exiles.  He came for the ones with the green spiky hair, the tattoos, and all those things pierced into their face.  This night is for the homosexuals, child molesters, gang bangers, drug addicts, and anyone else who comes to mind when we think , “Boy, I’m glad they are not sitting next to me.”

                Jesus is revealed on Epiphany as the Savior of the Undesirables.  Anyone who has been rejected by God in the past for any reason, as well-deserved as it might have been, will now be welcomed with open arms into the kingdom of God.

                Wait a minute.  What kind of a place is this?  The Church is for Magi?  For rejects?  For sinners?  Well, then maybe I want to rethink my membership.  

                Perhaps the reason this is such a difficult realization is that it means something for who we must admit that we are.  If we could find ourselves sitting next to a drug addict in church, well then maybe that means I am just as bad as they are.  

                And it does.  You and I and the Magi and the prostitutes and the punk rockers all belong in the same exact category: sinner.  We are all equally guilty before the judgment seat of God.  

                And on this night Jesus Christ is revealed as the Savior of all those sinners.  So you have a decision to make.  Do you belong with them or not?  Do you need Jesus or not?  Yeah, I think you know what the right answer is.  We all need Jesus, so we are all part of the riffraff.   

                But when we come to that realization, dragged kicking and screaming by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is time to rejoice, for Jesus has come precisely for the riffraff.  

                Jesus eats and socializes with the rejects of society.  Look at His eating habits and you will see that Jesus shared table with both prostitutes and tax collectors.  He would share a meal with the likes of drug dealers and porn addicts.  He would share a table with you.

                Jesus dies for sinners.  He died for the thieves on His right and left, although one rejected Him.  He died for the liars who perjured themselves to get Him convicted.  He died for the Gentile soldiers who beat Him and nailed Him to the cross.  He died for the worst of the worst.  That includes us here tonight.

                Jesus rises for sinners.  His resurrection is not for the living, obviously, but for the dead.  Living men don’t need to be raised.  Only the dead do, the worst of the worst.  Dead in sin.  Dead in trespasses.  

Now, baptized into Christ we are raised with Him, from death to life, from sin to righteousness.  The worst of the worst are given the best of the best, guaranteed life in the world to come.  This is our hope.  This is our comfort.  

                Jesus is the only source of hope for people like the Magi, like us.  Other sources try to give hope in tragedy and disaster, but Jesus shows them all to be grasping at straws.   The news media has made a valiant attempt, but they fail.

                Have you ever noticed, especially recently, how the news, whenever there is a tragedy, tries to end their coverage on what they think is an uplifting note?  If there is a tornado, then the focus on what was not blown away.  If there are several fatalities, they focus on the lone survivor.

                Why?  Because they don’t know how to handle the reality of death and destruction.  They know that people want and need hope, but they just don’t know where to look for it, so they give a half-hope, a false hope.

But it rings hollow to us.  We know that it is not really all that good of news that one building out of ten survived the tornado.  While it may comfort us to know that one little girl survived a plane crash, what about her?  Is she comforted by that knowledge?  Do we not think that that 7-year-old would give anything, anything, to see those family members again?  Of course she would.    

                Only the Christ of Epiphany has that kind of hope for the entire world.  He has given everything, everything, to ensure that disaster can and will be transformed into triumph.  The dead can and will be raised to new life. 

                Today He gives that hope to Jews and Gentiles.  He promises forgiveness, life, and salvation to those who look like us and to those who do not.  Today we know that Jesus is the hope of sinners, the hope for us, and for all those who in that way are exactly like us. 

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