An Epiphany Tsunami
A sermon by Nathan Nettleton, 6 January 2005 ©
preached in response to the South Asia Tsunami disaster
Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7,10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

The revelation of what God is on about in Christ will always upend our expectations and disrupt our lives.


An appearance
A revelation
Deep truth suddenly becomes visible
The lights go on

A massive wave
A wave of destruction
An all-powerful surge of chaos and death
But perhaps too, an event where truth suddenly becomes visible
Perhaps too, this can bring light to bear

An appearance
A revelation
A star rises in the West
Who’d even notice
A million stars come out every night
throwing their light in all directions
But they notice these things, those magi
those mystics from the East
from Iraq
To them it’s a sign
A revelation
The lights go on
Deep truth beckons them from the western sky
The plan of mystery hidden for ages in God is emerging
The chosen one is born
The one for whom all the world has been longing
The one before whom the rulers of the earth will bow
The light beckons from the western sky
A journey begins

A wave of power and death
Totally unexpected
Spreading out
East and West, North and South
Awesome, unstoppable, all-conquering
One before whom all bow
or flee
or fall
And after whom all are changed
all are weeping
all are grieving

An appearance
A child is found
Nothing marks him out as special
Nothing you’d notice anyway
This upsets expectations
At the gates of the palace
they thought they had reached their destination
Surely the one born to rule would be there
But the star went on
Out into the backblocks
To a two-horse town
To an ordinary house down an ordinary street
To an ordinary mum and dad
at home minding their own business
with their new baby boy
Could the star have been wrong?
There doesn’t seem to be a world ruler here

But then it happens
An epiphany
A revelation
Deep truth suddenly becomes visible
The lights go on
The magi recognise that they have found
the goal of all their searching
These suspect outsiders
so obviously alien to the people of God
wrong race, wrong religion
practisers of superstition and occult
these outsiders see what no one else has seen
that this little no-one
holds the destiny of the world in his hands
This insignificant fragile child
will unleash a powerful wave
that will turn the world upside down

A massive wave of fear and confusion
Upending and smashing confident faith
Anxious preachers
me included
flee for the high ground
flee to a theology of God vulnerable and suffering
of God known in acts of sacrifice and mercy
Any willingness to speak
of the powerful God who rules over everything
of a God whose nature is revealed
in nature’s awesome majestic power
is sucked from our arms
and carried off on the black torrent
of death and despair

A revelation
The lights go on
The things of God are almost never what we expect
When we finally see them
we understand why we couldn’t see them before
They are so contrary to what we expected
We looked for a higher power
and we thought we knew what power meant
We looked for a prince of peace and a righteous judge
and we thought we knew what peace and justice meant
We looked for God
and we thought we knew what God meant
But when the truth comes
it comes like a massive wave
and turns our world upside down
The truth comes at us from an unexpected direction
and with devastating power
An epiphany

How many of us have ever stood on the shore
and seen an epiphany in the rolling ocean?
A revelation of the vast, timeless, unfathomable, mysterious
Even in the waves themselves
a revelation of the restless, unstoppable, relentless
energy and love of God
But we have recoiled from such imagery this week
The waves got too big and too dangerous
What if God got big and too dangerous?
What if we really had an epiphany
and it smashed to pieces
all we knew and treasured and clung to?
What if we really had an epiphany
and it stripped us of all our cherished delusions
our pretensions
our comfortable securities?

Perhaps that’s what sent the magi back
by a different road
The road they had previously travelled
was a nonsense to them now
the road they had travelled
confidently sure they knew what they were looking for
But when they found what they were looking for
it was nothing they could have imagined
Ruler of the nations?
Couldn’t even reliably communicate his wishes to his own mother
Ruler of the cosmic powers?
Could barely make his own cradle rock?
And yet there is an epiphany
They fall to their knees
They open their gifts
the gift one gives to a king
the same incense we burned tonight
the gift one gives to a God
rising with the prayers of God’s people
the gift one adds to the oil when anointing a high priest
but also a sorrowful gift
used to embalm the dead

Only an epiphany
could make sense of these gifts
could make these powerful symbols
seem right
for this ordinary seeming child
in his ordinary little home

Only a tsunami-like revelation
could turn our worldview so completely on its head
that we would see a needy child
and speak of him as the sovereign of the world
that we would see a helpless child
and worship him as the all-powerful God
that we would see a simple child
and recognise him as the high priest
who even in sorrow and death
brings about the reconciliation of heaven and earth

Perhaps there is truth in the imagery we have fled to
and truth in the imagery we have fled from
Perhaps God is once again
holding together opposites
which seem like nonsense to us
Perhaps it is true that God is as weak and helpless
before a tsunami
as we are
quite unable to do anything to stop it
But perhaps it is also true
that within that very weakness
so despised by the world
lies a power so vast and awesome
that the tsunami is a barely adequate symbol

Let us pray that the magi were right
because if the truth of God’s presence and power
begins and ends with solidarity in suffering and compassion
then the world is doomed to continue
a never ending cycle of catastrophe
and never-quite-adequate relief
But if God is also a God of awesome power
albeit a power utterly incomprehensible to us
a power which rises like a tsunami
from what we can see only as
weakness and brokenness and failure
then there is still the promise of a day
when God’s power will catch us completely unaware
crashing over us
sweeping away all our idols of wealth, status and security
upending all the predictabilities of our world and our lives
tearing down the strongholds of fear and death
and bringing forth from the grief and devastation
a new day of peace and justice
such as we have never known
a peace and justice born of weakness and suffering
but so awesome in power
that it will raise the dead
and heal even the fault-lines of the earth itself.

O for such an epiphany
Come, Lord Jesus, come

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