My wife tells a funny story that reveals her Mexican Catholic roots. Her grandmother on her dad’s side had a tradition of hiding a baby Jesus figure inside the cake she would make for her grandchildren’s birthdays. Eventually, as the cake was divided up and eaten, someone would stumble across the figure in their slice. The baby Jesus was “revealed” for all to see. Everyone had to be a little careful as they ate, not to take bites that were too big. The one who found the figure was said to receive special blessings.
This tradition, called a King Cake, is practiced in many Hispanic Catholic cultures and is normally connected to Epiphany, which we observed last week on January 6th. The word Epiphany means to “reveal” or to “make known.” This celebration remembers the Wise Men who, in bringing gifts to the young Jesus, revealed that he was the King come into the world.
Epiphany carries with it another significant aspect. Not only is Jesus here, and not only is Jesus the King, but he is King for the world. All of the world. The Wise Men, or “Magi,” were the first examples of this as they are considered to have traveled from the East, from a distant land. This would have been shocking to the Jewish community at the time of Jesus, (and it did take them a while to get it) but God had in mind for Jesus to be the savior not just for the people of Israel, but for all people and all the nations.
Isaiah references this in chapter 49 where the prophet writes:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:6-7)
This promise is something that we see now in part. Jesus has come for all people and it was promised that the good news of him would be spread by the church to the ends of the earth. We are privileged to see that promise coming true today as indeed the gospel message has reached many countries and more people than ever before. We now share our faith with those around the world.
I cherish a visual reminder of this on Sundays at the church where I serve as pastor. In my unique vantage point during the communion distribution – as people come to the rail and kneel before the Altar – I often focus on the outstretched hands, ready to receive the bread/body of Christ. As I see these hands I am often struck by the differences, some young, some old, some light, some dark, some manicured, and some rutted and marked by the years. When I see these hands I see the promises of Isaiah fulfilled as God gathers his people unto himself. We gather at his table from many places and backgrounds eager to receive the gifts of the King who has now been revealed.
As our hands receive from him – the gifts of a God-King come to earth – our hands are also sent out. Sent to share the news, to work for the good of others, and to feed the mouths of those in need. Epiphany is the revealing of the Christ King with us, and the sending of his people to tell the nations.