"This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee,
and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him."
John ii. 11.
THE Epiphany is a season especially set apart for adoring the glory of
Christ. The word may he taken to mean the manifestation of His glory, and
leads us to the contemplation of Him as a King upon His throne in the midst
of His court, with His servants around Him, and His guards in attendance.
At Christmas we commemorate His grace; and in Lent His temptation; and
on Good Friday His sufferings and death; and on Easter Day His victory;
and on Holy Thursday His return to the Father; and in Advent we anticipate
His second coming. And in all of these seasons He does something, or suffers
something: but in the Epiphany and the weeks after it, we celebrate Him,
not as on His field of battle, or in His solitary retreat, but as an august
and glorious King; we view Him as the Object of our worship. Then only,
during His whole earthly history, did He fulfil the type of Solomon, and
held (as I may say) a court, and received the homage of His subjects; viz.
when He was an infant. His throne was His undefiled Mother's arms; His
chamber of state was a cottage or a cave; the worshippers were the wise
men of the East, and they brought presents, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
All around and about Him seemed of earth, except to the eye of faith; one
note alone had He of Divinity. As great men of this world are often plainly
dressed, and look like other men, all but as having some one costly ornament
on their breast or on their brow; so the Son of Mary in His lowly dwelling,
and in an infant's form, was declared to be the Son of God Most High, the
Father of Ages, and the Prince of Peace, by His star; a wonderful appearance
which had guided the wise men all the way from the East, even unto Bethlehem.
This being the character of this Sacred Season, our services throughout
it, as far as they are proper to it, are full of the image of a king in
his royal court, of a sovereign surrounded by subjects, of a glorious prince
upon a throne. There is no thought of war, or of strife, or of suffering,
or of triumph, or of vengeance connected with the Epiphany, but of august
majesty, of power, of prosperity, of splendour, of serenity, of benignity.
Now, if at any time, it is fit to say, "The Lord is in His holy temple,
let all the earth keep silence before Him." [Hab. ii. 20.] "The Lord sitteth
above the waterflood, and the Lord remaineth a king for ever." "The Lord
of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." "O come, let us worship,
and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker." "O magnify the Lord
our God, and fall down before His footstool, for He is Holy." "O worship
the Lord in the beauty of holiness; bring presents, and come into His courts."
I said that at this time of year the portions of our services which
are proper to the season are of a character to remind us of a king on his
throne, receiving the devotion of his subjects. Such is the narrative itself,
already referred to, of the coming of the wise men, who sought Him with
their gifts from a place afar off, and fell down and worshipped Him. Such
too, is the account of His baptism, which forms the Second Lesson of the
feast of the Epiphany, when the Holy Ghost descended on Him, and a Voice
from heaven acknowledged Him to be the Son of God. And if we look at the
Gospels read throughout the season, we shall find them all containing some
kingly action of Christ, the Mediator between God and man. Thus in the
Gospel for the First Sunday, He manifests His glory in the temple at the
age of twelve years, sitting among the doctors, and astonishing them with
His wisdom. In the Gospel for the Second Sunday He manifests His glory
at the wedding feast, when He turned the water into wine, a miracle not
of necessity or urgency, but especially an august and bountiful act—the
act of a King, who out of His abundance gave a gift to His own, therewith
to make merry with their friends. In the Third Sunday, the leper worships
Christ, who thereupon heals him; the centurion, again, reminds Him of His
Angels and ministers, and He speaks the word, and his servant is restored
forthwith. In the Fourth, a storm arises on the lake, while He is peacefully
sleeping, without care or sorrow, on a pillow; then He rises and rebukes
the winds and the sea, and a calm follows, deep as that of His own soul,
and the beholders worship Him. And next He casts out Legion, after the
man possessed with it had also "run and worshipped Him." [Mark v. 6.] In
the Fifth, we hear of His kingdom on earth, and of the enemy sowing tares
amid the good seed. And in the Sixth, of His second Epiphany from heaven,
"with power and great glory."
Such is the series of manifestations which the Sundays after the Epiphany
bring before us. When He is with the doctors in the temple, He is manifested
as a prophet—in turning the water into wine, as a priest—in His miracles
of healing, as a bounteous Lord, giving out of His abundance—in His rebuking
the sea, as a Sovereign, whose word is law—in the parable of the wheat
and tares, as a guardian and ruler—in His second coming, as a lawgiver
And as in these Gospels we hear of our Saviour's greatness, so in the
Epistles and First Lessons we hear of the privileges and the duties of
the new people, whom He has formed to show forth His praise. Christians
are at once the temple of Christ, and His worshippers and ministers in
the temple; they are the Bride of the Lamb taken collectively, and taken
individually, they are the friends of the Bridegroom and the guests at
the marriage feast. In these various points of view are they presented
to us in the Services during these weeks. In the Lessons from the prophet
Isaiah we read of the gifts and privileges, the characteristics, the power,
the fortunes of the Church—how widely spreading, even throughout all the
Gentiles; how awful and high, how miraculously endowed, how revered, how
powerful upon earth, how rich in temporal goods, how holy, how pure in
doctrine, how full of the Spirit. And in the Epistles for the successive
Sundays, we hear of the duties and distinguishing marks of her true members,
principally as laid down in the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of St.
Paul to the Romans; then as the same Apostle enjoins them upon the Colossians;
and then in St. John's exhortations in his General Epistle.
The Collects are of the same character, as befit the supplications of
subjects coming before their King. The first is for knowledge and power,
the second is for peace, the third is for strength in our infirmities,
the fourth is for help in temptation, the fifth is for protection, and
the sixth is for preparation and purification against Christ's second coming.
There is none which would suit a season of trial, or of repentance, or
of waiting, or of exultation—they befit a season of peace, thanksgiving,
and adoration, when Christ is not manifested in pain, conflict, or victory,
but in the tranquil possession of His kingdom.
It will be sufficient to make one reflection, which suggests itself
from what I have been saying.
You will observe, then, that the only display of royal greatness, the
only season of majesty, homage, and glory, which our Lord had on earth,
was in His infancy and youth. Gabriel's message to Mary was in its style
and manner such as befitted an Angel speaking to Christ's Mother. Elisabeth,
too, saluted Mary, and the future Baptist his hidden Lord, in the same
honourable way. Angels announced His birth, and the shepherds worshipped.
A star appeared, and the wise men rose from the East and made Him offerings.
He was brought to the temple, and Simeon took Him in His arms, and returned
thanks for Him. He grew to twelve years old, and again He appeared in the
temple, and took His seat in the midst of the doctors. But here His earthly
majesty had its end, or if seen afterwards, it was but now and then, by
glimpses and by sudden gleams, but with no steady sustained light, and
no diffused radiance. We are told at the close of the last-mentioned narrative,
"And He went down with His parents, and came to Nazareth, and was subjected
unto them." [Luke ii. 51.] His subjection and servitude now began in
fact. He had come in the form of a servant, and now He took on Him a servant's
office. How much is contained in the idea of His subjection! and it began,
and His time of glory ended, when He was twelve years old.
Solomon, the great type of the Prince of Peace, reigned forty years,
and his name and greatness was known far and wide through the East. Joseph,
the much-loved son of Jacob, who in an earlier age of the Church, was a
type of Christ in His kingdom, was in power and favour eighty years, twice
as long as Solomon. But Christ, the true Revealer of secrets, and the Dispenser
of the bread of life, the true wisdom and majesty of the Father, manifested
His glory but in His early years, and then the Sun of Righteousness was
clouded. For He was not to reign really, till He left the world. He has
reigned ever since; nay, reigned in the world, though He is not
in sensible presence in it—the invisible King of a visible kingdom—for
He came on earth but to show what His reign would be, after He had left
it, and to submit to suffering and dishonour, that He might reign.
It often happens, that when persons are in serious illnesses, and in
delirium in consequence, or other disturbance of mind, they have some few
minutes of respite in the midst of it, when they are even more than themselves,
as if to show us what they really are, and to interpret for us what else
would be dreary. And again, some have thought that the minds of children
have on them traces of something more than earthly, which fade away as
life goes on, but are the promise of what is intended for them hereafter.
And somewhat in this way, if we may dare compare ourselves with our gracious
Lord, in a parallel though higher way, Christ descends to the shadows of
this world, with the transitory tokens on Him of that future glory into
which He could not enter till He had suffered. The star burned brightly
over Him for awhile, though it then faded away.
We see the same law, as it may be called, of Divine Providence in other
cases also. Consider, for instance, how the prospect of our Lord's passion
opens upon the Apostles in the sacred history. Where did they hear of it?
"Moses and Elias on the mountain appeared with Him in glory, and spake
of His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." [Luke ix. 30,
31.] That is, the season of His bitter trial was preceded by a short gleam
of the glory which was to be, when He was suddenly transfigured, "and the
fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering."
[Luke ix. 29.] And with this glory in prospect, our Lord abhorred not to
die: as it is written, "Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured
the Cross, despising the shame."
Again, He forewarned His Apostles that they in like manner should be
persecuted for righteousness' sake, and be afflicted and delivered up,
and hated and killed Such was to be their life in this world, "that if
in this world only they had had hope in Christ, they had been of all men
most miserable." [1 Cor. xv. 19.] Well then, observe, their trial too was
preceded by a season of peace and pleasantness, in anticipation of their
future reward; for before the day of Pentecost, for forty days Christ was
with them, soothing, comforting, confirming them, "and speaking of the
things pertaining unto the kingdom of God." [Acts i. 3.] As Moses stood
on the mount and saw the promised land and all its riches, and yet Joshua
had to fight many battles before he got possession, so did the Apostles,
before descending into the valley of the shadow of death, whence nought
of heaven was to be seen, stand upon the heights, and look over that valley,
which they had to cross, to the city of the living God beyond it.
And so again, St. Paul, after many years of toil, refers back to a time
when he had a celestial vision, anticipatory of what was to be his blessedness
in the end. "I knew a man in Christ," he says, meaning himself, "about
fourteen years ago, caught up to the third heaven ... And I knew such a
man ... how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable
words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." [2 Cor. xii. 3, 4.]
St. Paul then, as the twelve Apostles, and as our Lord before him, had
his brief season of repose and consolation before the battle.
And lastly: the whole Church also may be said to have had a similar
mercy vouchsafed to it at first, in anticipation of what is to be in the
end. We know, alas, too well, that, according to our Lord's account of
it, tares are to: be with the wheat, fish of every kind in the net, all
through its sojourning on earth. But in the end, "the saints shall stand
before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and
the Lamb shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of
waters," and there shall be no more "sorrow nor pain, nor any thing that
defileth or worketh abomination," "for without are dogs, and sorcerers,
and whore-mongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and
maketh a lie." Now was not this future glory shadowed forth in that infancy
of the Church, when before the seal of the new dispensation was opened
and trial began, "there was silence in heaven for half an hour;" and "the
disciples continued daily with one accord in the temple, and in prayers,
breaking bread from house to house, being of one heart, and of one soul,
eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God,
and having favour with all the people;" [Acts ii. 46, 47.] while hypocrites
and "liars," like Ananias and Sapphira, were struck dead, and "sorcerers,"
like Simon, were detected and denounced?
To conclude; let us thankfully cherish all seasons of peace and joy
which are vouchsafed us here below. Let us beware of abusing them, and
of resting in them, of forgetting that they are special privileges,
of neglecting to look out for trouble and trial, as our due and our portion.
Trial is our portion here—we must not think it strange when trial comes
after peace. Still God mercifully does grant a respite now and then; and
perhaps He grants it to us the more, the more careful we are not to abuse
it. For all seasons we must thank Him, for time of sorrow and time of joy,
time of warfare and time of peace. And the more we thank Him for the one,
the more we shall be drawn to thank Him for the other. Each has its own
proper fruit, and its own peculiar blessedness. Yet our mortal flesh shrinks
from the one, and of itself prefers the other;—it prefers rest to toil,
peace to war, joy to sorrow, health to pain and sickness. When then Christ
gives us what is pleasant, let us take it as a refreshment by the way,
that we may, when God calls, go in the strength of that meat forty days
and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God. Let us rejoice in Epiphany
with trembling, that at Septuagesima we may go into the vineyard with the
labourers with cheerfulness, and may sorrow in Lent with thankfulness;
let us rejoice now, not as if we have attained, but in hope of attaining.
Let us take our present happiness, not as our true rest, but, as what the
land of Canaan was to the Israelites,—a type and shadow of it. If we now
enjoy God's ordinances, let us not cease to pray that they may prepare
us for His presence hereafter. If we enjoy the presence of friends, let
them remind us of the communion of saints before His throne. Let us trust
in nothing here, yet draw hope from every thing—that at length the Lord
may be our everlasting light, and the days of our mourning may be ended.