The Epiphany of Our Lord
January 6, 2019
“One Wild Ride”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon on our celebration of the Epiphany of Our Lord is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 2.
My dear friends,
Many of our snowbirds are back after their annual “White Christmas” up north and everything that comes with that: cold, snow, ice, frost, bad roads. Oh…FUN! One of the wonderful features of where we reside in south Florida is that we don’t have to deal with snow packed, icy roads. As someone who has driven on some pretty dangerous roads in all my years spent in Minnesota, I can tell you that is what I miss the least about the upper Midwest. That and the mosquitoes. But that doesn’t mean that driving is always easy peasy on the Suncoast. You ever been caught out on traffic during one of our torrential downpours of rain? They are brutal! Traffic slows to a crawl and it is downright dangerous to be on the roads. Whether it’s ice or rain or some other nasty condition, it always feels good to safely reach our destination and the comfort of home after a wild ride in difficult traveling conditions.
Today is the annual celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord. Epiphany is one of the oldest seasons in the Christian Church Year. The season emphasizes the revelation of Jesus as both God and man to Jew and Gentile alike. And every year we initiate our Epiphany season with the re-telling of the visit of the wise men or Magi from the east to newly-born Jesus. Boy…talk about a WILD ride!
As Matthew chapter 2 opens, the time frame of Jesus’ birth has jumped ahead upwards of two years. The baby is now a “child” (2:8-9); He is no longer a “babe/infant” like in Luke 2 and these are 2 very different Greek words. Additionally, the family lives in a house in Bethlehem in Judea (2:11), six miles south/southwest of Jerusalem.
The term “Magi” (magoi) was originally used in early records to refer to a priestly class in ancient Persia. Tradition has dictated that there were three wise men who came to see Jesus and their names were Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior, but we don’t know for sure their names or even number. Regardless, these Magi were leading advisors in the religious court life of their country of origin. Since a large colony of Jews remained in the east after the Exile, espe¬cially in Babylon and Arabia, these Magi apparently had been exposed to Judaism from those Jewish colonies.
If the Magi came from the vicinity of Babylon, they would have traveled approximately 900 miles. Since they would have had to make arrangements for the jour¬ney and gather a traveling party, it could have taken several months from the time they first saw the star until they arrived in Jerusalem. That’s easy to figure out.
The average person can walk 2.5-3 miles per hour over normal terrain. The terrain between the area of ancient Babylon (modern day Iraq) and Bethlehem (modern day Palestine) is not the easiest ground to walk. Also consider this is a caravan of people and materials. If you’re going on a long journey in the ancient Near East, you’re going to take a lot of stuff: clothing, food/water, weapons, tools, money, medical supplies, charts/map, and anything else they would need. If the caravan could travel 2 miles per hour, and the distance to travel was 900 miles, it would take 450 hours or 19 days of non-stop walking. Factor in stopping for meals and sleep, it would have easily taken 30+ days through harsh terrain into a foreign land. Talk about a WILD ride!
But imagine their joy upon finding Jesus at the end of their journey! They had been walking across the desert for a month or more following this holy star, and now the end of the journey was finally upon them. Relief! Joy! Matthew 2:10 says they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy,” and that’s a good translation. They were overwhelmed with excessive joy! Their elation was without measure! Upon seeing Jesus they did what came naturally when you see God…they prostrated themselves; they fell down upon their faces not as a Yoga pose but in an act of total contrition and worship. They then presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were HIGHLY symbolic, and then they, like Simeon from last week’s Gospel lesson, disappear from the pages of Holy Scripture. Wow…talk about a WILD ride!
Well, I told you all of that so that I can now tell you this. Friends, you and I are also on a wide ride in life. It has its ups and it has it downs. It is not always easy. There are plenty of moments in life that make us smile and just as many that make us cry. As the people of God we are on one wild and crazy ride – this thing we call life – and the only way we get through is by and through faith in our born, lived, crucified, died, and risen Savior Jesus Christ.
In His Word, God has given us more than few reminders for confident, daily living because of who we are in Christ: “Be strong and courageous…for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6 ESV). “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20 ESV). “…the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4 ESV).
2019 is going to throw things at you that you don’t expect – maybe it already has. There will be unexpected highs, and confidence-shattering lows. As you go forward into a new year – 365 days of wild riding – know and remember that it is God who goes with you; loving you so you can love others, forgiving you so you can forgive others, providing for you so you can provide for others, and show you compassion, mercy and grace so you can do the same each day.
And just imagine the joy when you reach the end of this wild ride! Just imagine how good it will feel when you reach the eternal glory of heaven! Talk about relief! Talk about rejoicing exceedingly with great joy! Sure, it’s going to be a wild ride, but what a glorious finish awaits us! May that hopeful promise sustain and keep you throughout 2019 and into eternity.