THE service at Crediton Methodist Church on Sunday, December 31 was led by Rev Paul Collings. His theme was "Full of Eastern Promise".

On the eve of a new year Paul would combine the mystery of the Epiphany with the mystery of God’s Covenantal gift of grace to us.

Who were the mysterious foreigners who visited the Christ-child? Where did they come from? What was their star?

Were there even three of them, since Matthew never gives a specific number, he only tells us that they brought three gifts?  

Their coming, their arrival and their going again remains a mystery. What was the significance of foreigners worshiping the disputed King of the Jews? Were they perhaps the first spiritual migrants – full of Eastern Promise?

In today’s language a promise could mean a contract, a guarantee, an agreement.  Many of today’s agreements seem to come with so many clauses that we seem to ignore the small print.  

Then there are insurance policies. The Lord did not establish a contract with Israel or with the church.  He created a covenant.

There is a difference. Contracts are broken when one party fails to keep their promise.  In God’s economy it is not insurance that is made available – but assurance.

Remembering the promise – the first was God’s promise to Abraham that was not just for him and his clan but for all peoples.  The covenant of God did contain conditions – "if my people will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land". 

The Bible talks of covenant renewal – Moses recalling the wayward children of Israel. Ezekiel and Jeremiah telling the nation of their need for change in behaviour. 

In the letter to the Ephesians we can discern a clearer understanding of the promise, the covenant and its connection with the epiphany. 

So, what is an epiphany? It is an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity. In Ephesians we read "this mystery is that through the gospel the gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and together share in the promise in Christ Jesus". The mystery of God’s amazing grace is manifest in the seeming weakness of a baby.

Let us look at the characteristics of God’s gracious and loving covenant. 

First, He declares us as fellow heirs – sharing the promise through Jesus Christ. No singular inheritance. In the covenantal will of God can be found the responsibility we hold of being heirs of the kingdom. And because we are heirs, we have the joy of knowing that what we do, we do because of the gracious gift of salvation our Father has given us.

Second, through the covenant we are fellow members of the Body of Christ – a full gospel share – no half measures. We are fully connected, fellowship orientated, gospel fulfilled.  

What does this inclusive gospel mean for us – what does the covenantal call mean for us? The question for us today is how do we express the shared covenantal gospel in our self-centred world?

Third, through this divine promise we are made fellow-partakers of the promises of God – we exist on a level praying field – living together as co-inheritors.

We are to be people of promise – our lives should fulfil the covenant, the promise and purpose for which we were created.

We are to be people of prayer and a people practicing the full presence of Christ.

Paul told the story of Sir Christopher Wren designing a new town hall in Windsor in 1689 above the existing corn market.

Wren had used a new technique for supporting the floor/ceiling below the meeting space and above the corn market that did not require pillars.

To the town officials it seemed obvious that the ceiling would soon fall under the weight of the meeting room. Eventually Wren reluctantly agreed to build four pillars.

Some years later the ceiling needed decorating. As workmen built scaffolding they noticed Wren’s pillars did not actually touch the ceiling.

Like Wren’s deceptive pillars, we try to shore up our salvation, our favour with God, by subscribing to the "Sinatra creed" – I’ll do it my way.

We are often so uncomfortable with the gospel of free grace that we demand something to support our sense of worth in God’s sight.  Or we are so uncomfortable promoting the gospel of grace that we add "grace boosters" that we must perform to keep God’s favour. 

In fact, all our good works fall short and detract from the beauty of the unsupported grace, the free gift of God’s favour in the cross of Jesus Christ – "for by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves".

This is the promise, this is the covenant, ours is to respond to such amazing grace.

When the wise men had worshiped and presented their gifts they returned to their homes in the East by a different route. How differently will you travel home today because you have met and worshiped the one born to be King – Jesus Christ the covenantal gift of God?

Bronwyn Nott