When I was growing up in a Lutheran parsonage on the prairies of North Dakota, our congregation hosted mission festivals during Epiphany. One week our family entertained two missionaries: a missionary to Japan who’d been born in China to Lutheran missionaries but then forced out by the communists, and a missionary who’d worked in Taiwan after the closing of the bamboo curtain.
The Old Testament and gospel readings for Epiphany
function as point and counterpoint. Isaiah offers a word of great comfort to
those who have been so long in darkness. Impoverished as the hearers have been,
honor and fortune are on their way. It's a message of rejoicing: the light that
has dawned will make all who see it radiant.
For a preacher, the challenge of Epiphany is that it comes every year.
The story unfolds as it always does: King Herod, the wise men from the
East, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. By now, the pageant is
overplayed. The star of wonder has lost its awe. How, in this
over-handled text, can anything new break through?
At Epiphany, the feast of the shining, we come to the end of the journey that began six weeks ago with the portentous announcement of the coming of the Lord, the streaming of the nations toward Zion, and the invitation to walk in the light of the Lord. We find ourselves with an array of kings—Herod, David, the Magi—and a newborn child. We have become accustomed to understanding that the One coming in will do so quietly, in vulnerability, in the midst of violence, prepared for suffering. So it's easy to forget that the whole point is that all of these kings were left in the shade by the radiance of the King of kings.