Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.
No new truth comes into view on the festival of the Epiphany, for we are still by the Manger of Bethlehem. What is to-day insisted upon is rather the whole truth. There is to be no narrowing of the infinite scope of the Incarnation. We are no longer in danger of supposing that Christ belongs exclusively to a single race or nation, but we must ever remember that the Babe of Bethlehem is the world’s own Babe, not only the Saviour of those who believe as we believe, but of all mankind. The gift of God is absolute, and its reality is not affected by ignorance or want of appreciation, though that which we are capable of receiving must ever depend upon our faith. Christ was truly given to the world in the Incarnation, and is truly given to all who receive the Sacraments; but whether for our condemnation or salvation must ever depend upon the recipient.
THE EPISTLE — Ephesians 3:1-12
To S. Paul was committed the assertion of the infinite scope of Christianity, and as the chosen messenger of the King, “to bear His Name before the Gentiles.”
A. The Commissioned Messenger.
S. Paul did not come upon his own errand, and, in answer to those who doubted his commission, he appeals:—
(1) To his Sufferings.
His chains are a proof of the reality of his mission, a mark of his devotion to the cause of Christ, and more especially of his championship of the Gentiles. No man would have sought bonds and imprisonment, and thus they were a proof of a dispensation committed to him, and of a necessity laid upon him.
(2) To his Knowledge.
It is the mark of a messenger to know, and to know at first hand. S. Paul lays claim to direct revelation, and points to his writings as a proof of his knowledge in the mystery of Christ, and this proof remains. The denial of Christ leaves S. Paul unexplained, but accept Christ and S. Paul is fully accounted for.
B. The Contents of his Message.
The sum and substance of S. Paul’s message is contained in the baptismal formula, which by Christ’s command was to be administered to all nations. By baptism into the name of the Father the Gentiles became “fellow heirs” with the Jews as children of God. By baptism into the name of Christ they became “of the same body of Christ.” By baptism into the name of the Spirit they became “fellow partakers” of Christ’s promised Comforter. The mystery of Christ is, in short, the baptismal covenant.
C. The High Importance of this Message.
S. Paul is overwhelmed at his own unworthiness compared with the freedom and fulness of this wide Gospel, and with its vast importance, as witnessed by—
(1) Its long preparation—“hid in God from the beginning of the world.”
(2) Its intended scope—as wide as creation.
(3) Its still wider issues—as part of the eternal purpose of God for the whole universe.
The work of the Church is the application of the Incarnation, and the history of the Church is to be one Epiphany. So unspeakable is the grace of the baptismal covenant that to S. Paul it appeared the very “mystery of Christ.” We often regard the Incarnation as a mystery of nature, but to S. Paul it appeared as a mystery of grace. To him the Virgin birth was of less wonder than the love of Christ, and the point of the mystery lay in what he knew rather than in anything yet kept secret. To us mystery increases with ignorance; to S. Paul with knowledge, for the more he knew the greater need of adoring wonder. It would be well for us to extend this thought to our view of nature, of miracles, of sacraments. These are all mysteries of love, and their mystery is their witness to a love that passeth knowledge. It is little mystery that God can do everything; it is a great mystery, or “revelation,” that He can love everything and everyone that He has made.
THE GOSPEL — S. Matthew 2:1-12
This is the central chapter of the season, and the first unveiling of the mystery, the open secret of God.
A. The Seekers after Christ.
They were seeking truth, and no path that leads to truth can ever lead away from Christ. Let any man follow the truth at all hazards, and regardless of consequences, and he will be on the road to Bethlehem. The wise will ever follow the star, but there had been no star unless God had put it there. God was seeking the wise men, and lit His star-candle to find them. Man cannot by searching find out God, but there is hope when God searches that He will not miss. Only let us not hide among the trees of the garden.
The Jews searched the Scriptures, but they did not find the Christ, for they had no mind to seek Him. They knew when He should be born, but they would not go to find Him. Herod searched, but with an evil motive, and he did not find. God will not reveal Himself to His enemies. Those that love lies shall find lies. Those that love the truth shall find the truth, and even if, like S. Paul, they seek amiss, the Truth Himself shall go after them till He find them.
B. The Seekers Directed.
They were eager in seeking direction, and came to those who should have known the way, to the guides of God’s Church. Let these never lose the key of knowledge, or how can they open the door to others, and how can they know the door who go not in thereat? When God’s ministers have ceased to guide, God will guide without His ministers. He will light the star of truth, and guide earnest seekers from the darkness of sin and ignorance into the full knowledge of His Son.
C. The Search Ended.
“He that seeketh findeth” is the promise of Christ. We learn from the wise men three marks of true religion—
(1) It is ever a discovery, or, better still, a succession of discoveries, and is, therefore, rich with the joy of finding. The “wise men rejoiced with exceeding great joy,” and in proportion as we find Christ shall we find joy.
(2) It is known by worship—“they fell down and worshipped Him.” When we fail to find truth upon our feet, we may often succeed better upon our knees.
Christianity is more of the heart than the mind, and its deepest expression is worship.
(3) It is known by sacrifice—“they opened their treasures.”
What we have received from Christ is best measured by what we are ready to give to Christ. We cannot do better than give our gold to God’s Kingdom, our hallowed incense to His Name, our myrrh of submission to His Will; but every gift is appropriate if we each give of our treasures that which we love best. He Who has our treasures will have our heart.
A prayer that our history may be like that of the wise men.
A. We walk now, like them, by the starlight of faith, in our Father’s Being, love, faithfulness, word, and in His Son, that personal Word by whom in human form He has spoken to us.
B. We pray to pass, as they passed, from the starlight into the full sunshine of the Divine presence, of our Father’s love, beauty, glory, person, and home.
C. Our sure passage to the sunshine is to follow the starlight, which is very comfortable, though sometimes clouded, mostly by our own fault, yet, when visible, gives light enough to walk by, joy enough to make our night journey anything but dreary, as we pass from the Epiphany of faith to the Epiphany of sight.