An appearance that transforms. That’s an epiphany. Seeing who Jesus is transforms us. Every person and every community that sees who Jesus is and places him at the centre of their life takes on for themselves a new identity and a new purpose: Participating in the revelation to the world of who he is.
C. S. Lewis is a person who was famously transformed by such an epiphany. He converted from atheism to Christianity and went on to become one of the most widely-read Christian writers of the 20th century. A decisive moment in his conversion came through a conversation he had with another very famous author: J. R. R. Tolkien. It was one of those conversations that lasted into the early hours of the next day. And it was a conversation in which Tolkien was able to show Lewis how everything, every story ever told points to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
C. S. Lewis was a professor of literature, and something that had puzzled him about the Christian faith were the apparent similarities that existed between what he had read in the bible and the stories he’d read in Greek and Norse myth. From the outside, these parallels, these echoes of pagan myths had seemed like a barrier that prevented Lewis from believing in the truth of the Scriptures. What Tolkien was able to explain was that from the very beginning, even before the Scriptures were written down, this has always been the world of God’s creation. And from the very beginning, God’s creation has pointed toward its fulfilment in and through his son Jesus Christ.
This was an eye-opening moment for Lewis. Some years later, in Meditation in a Tool Shed, he would write about the dramatic difference in how a person of faith sees the world. Upon seeing a beam of light breaking into the shed he was standing in through a crack in the boards, he compared the difference between seeing faith from the outside and seeing it from the inside to the difference between looking at the beam of light and looking into it.
From the outside, the beam of light looked like just another thing among many. But once he stepped into the beam, it transformed the way he saw everything. From inside the beam, he saw how it illumined everything it touched. And from inside the beam he could clearly see the source of this light.
The season of Epiphany, which we enter into today, is a season that’s all about looking to the source of the light. To seeing who Jesus is and how who he is transforms the world. And seeing this transforms us. The Magi that we heard about in today’s gospel reading are drawn to Bethlehem to pay homage to a king, they are drawn by the light of a star to the source of God’s light in a tiny, infant child. Their identity is important. They are outsiders. On Christmas Eve, we heard how Jesus’ birth began drawing outsiders toward him by being announced first to poor shepherds. The Magi are outsiders too. They’re the first gentiles, the first non-Jewish people to see Jesus. And they are called. They are called by God from the ends of the earth to receive this revelation of his salvation. With the visit of the three wise men of the east, we see the first signs of how Jesus, the Messiah, will draw together all the nations of the earth. Because they saw who Jesus is, the wise men pointed toward his identity with their actions.
And because they saw who Jesus is, they were transformed. Their identity became inextricably connected to this revelation. They became people whose purpose was to point to Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of prophecy, and as the centre of God’s plan for salvation.
And these wise men from Parthia, from a different culture with different traditions are drawn to Jesus as a first sign of the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies like the one we heard Isaiah speaks to Israel: “nations will come to your light . . . kings to the brightness of your dawn.” It’s the first sign of the fulfillment of the prophecy that the nations will “bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.”
When the Magi see Jesus, they see who he is. They fall to their knees and worship him. They recognize him as Lord. They give him gold because he is their king. They give him frankincense -incense – because he is their high priest. And they give him myrrh for anointing because he is the anointed one, the Christ. The Messiah. Whose anointing marks him not only as a king but as the sacrifice that will accomplish reconciliation between us and God.
The arrival of the Magi is a sign that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” through his descendants. These wise men from a foreign land are drawn to the source of this light, to the source of this blessing. And their coming, in turn, shines a light for us. It reveals to us, 2000 years later, how the whole course of history, and the whole story of God’s people points to Christ’s entrance into the world and to the transformative power of his presence then and now.
“Then you shall see and be radiant” the prophecy in Isaiah continues. And these nations that gather are described as “sons . . . come from far away” and “daughters . . . carried on their nurses’ arms.” Christ is the source of the light that draws the world together. He is the aim of the entire course of our human history. Because our history is God’s history. From the very beginning, it has been the story of the reconciliation of God with all of his sons and daughters. This reconciliation of the entire world is, as Paul calls it in the reading from Ephesians, “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” This previously unknown mystery is revealed by the Spirit in Jesus Christ.
To see this is to see from within the beam of light. Christ at the centre of our lives is our epiphany. Our vision is transformed. We are able to see how everything is illumined by the light of God’s love. How God’s purpose is to transform the whole world, to draw the whole world together in and through Jesus Christ, and to reconcile the whole of his creation, us with one another, and us with him.
Jesus is the beam of light that breaks into the world. He is the means of this reconciliation. He shows the way in his earthly ministry, in which he receives request after request, question after question, challenge after challenge. And all of these requests he hears for healing, all of these questions he is asked aim the same thing. How can I be whole? How can my community be whole? How I and everything around me be reconciled?
Even the challenges of the Pharisees, which are meant to catch Jesus breaking the law, these challenges are based on a system of regulations that, as distorted as they sometimes appear in the hands of misguided officials, were designed in order to help guide people into a right and proper relationship with God. They are, at their core, meant to be an answer to the question: How can I be right with God? How can I be whole? But the greater answer, and the one that Jesus gives over and over is “through faith” and “through him.” Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
To see by this light is a great blessing. To be able to see a world with Jesus at the centre is to be able to see our own selves clearly. We are blessed with the revelation of our own identity and our own purpose. And we are given the gift of knowing that we are called to reflect this reconciliatory light to one another and to the world . C. S. Lewis came to know this blessing. Once he had seen who Jesus is, he was able to trace God’s call to him back to his early childhood – in his experiences of beauty in the natural world, and in his relationships – and he used this understanding to point others toward Christ in his writing. Paul too, as we heard today, even in prison, was able to see his place in God’s plan to reconcile the world through the church and through the spread of the gospel.
We too have inherited this gift. We have been given a guiding light to follow on the journey of our lives. We have been given the gifts that we in turn are meant to give. Obedience for our king. Worship for our high priest. Love and reconciliation with the entire world for our saviour, Jesus the Christ.
“Arise” as Isaiah says, “shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Amen.