The Epiphany of our Lord
January 10, 2021
“Open to the Public”
Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the sermon is based on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 2.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
For those who live in Sarasota, I have a question. Where do you go for vacation when you live in a vacation destination? Good question, right? Recently I found a work-around by vacationing on the East Coast near Vero Beach. It was awesome…all except for the trip home. Sure, coming home after vacation is never fun, but I had a new dilemma. I was driving on New Year’s Day. Not every business I needed or wanted was open. Some were closed for the New Year’s holiday. Thankfully the PGA Superstore in Orlando was open; nothing says “new years” like new golf stuff! On the road, I found myself peering for a lit-up “OPEN” sign before stopping for anything.
Well, I bring that up because some 2000 years ago, God hung a very similar kind of sign in the sky. The bright star that led the magi to the baby Jesus shone bright enough to call these wise men from the east all the way to Jerusalem. It’s as if God had put a huge sign over Bethlehem that read “Open” and these gentile wise men came in response to this significant sign (2:2).
This Gospel text is familiar to us because we naturally consider it part of the Christmas celebration; every nativity scene always includes the 3 wise men. It seems so familiar and so straight forward, but the thing is problems abound with the scholarly interpretation of Matthew 2:1-12.
First of all, scholars debate about the star itself. It could have been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which occurred in 7 BC, which actually just occurred again a few weeks ago. It was neat, sure, but enough to coax the wise men to make a lengthy, dangerous journey? Doubtful. Others have suggested it was a comet, perhaps Halley’s Comet, which did appear in 12 B.C. And just who are these “wise men?” By the end of the 6th century, they were given names even though Matthew did not name or even number them: Melchoir, Balthasar, and Gasper. But who are these guys? They were not kings (I know we sing “We Three Kings of orient are…) but they were the best of the intellectual community in their cultural world. The stars were a part of what they studied. Then there is the question of when did they actually arrive? The night of Jesus’ birth or more like 2 years later? So many questions! The fact remains that a divine star led them first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem. This star was a supernatural event; it was God’s handy work and not a cosmic coincidence. The “Open to the Public” sign had been hung in the heavens for all to see.
Let’s consider the reaction of those already in Jerusalem. King Herod’s reaction is typical; he is jealous and paranoid. Judea had been attacked many times from east (Assyria, Babylon), and he feared a future attack from Persia. Herod loved power, inflicted incredibly high taxes on his people, and resented the fact that many Jews disliked him. In fits of jealousy and rage he killed close associates including his own wife and two sons. Herod was jealous and afraid of what this child might become.
The chief priests and scribes, or experts in the law, were surprisingly indifferent. These religious leaders, who no doubt had heard why the wise men had come, show NO interest in joining the wise men in their worship pilgrimage! The Magi, Gentiles, are the ones who worship the new born king. God has hung his bright light, his “OPEN” sign, in the sky for all to see but not everyone realizes the implications of what’s going on.
In the Christian Church, our sign still says “Open for business.” But not everyone wants it, do they? Many are not interested in a faith that demands that you forsake yourself and care for others. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, many are completely indifferent to the message of the Gospel. There is such a prevailing attitude of “I’ve been to church – my grandma goes all the time – and I’m a good person so that means I’m going to heaven.” People want connection to church without commitment to cross-bearing, they want religion without relationship, they want deliverance without attendance. In their mind, Salvation is a fringe benefit of twice-a-year church attendance on Christmas and Easter or maybe God will give everyone a “pass” because of COVID. But that’s not how it works!
So, how does it work? The wise men knew. They knew that salvation was found in Jesus the Messiah. Driven by that truth they walked across the Middle East so they could bow down and worship him. They were right. Salvation is not a bonus for good behavior. As a part of God’s plan, Jesus came to be the ultimate sacrifice; to pay the blood price we could not pay. Salvation is found in Jesus Christ for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. The birth of this child makes God’s glory “Open to the Public” for both Jew and Gentile alike through faith. What a marvelous bright star that has come into our dreary and dark world!
Now…let me ask you another question. How does God’s “OPEN” sign change you? How does his “OPEN” sign affect those suffering from the “Coronavirus blues?” How does his “OPEN” sign help someone who is sick, lonely, or impacted by disease and death? How does the coming of the Messiah change those facing a difficult time financially? This sign to us and for us, the gift of our Savior, is a gift that gives hope – and hope is in short supply these days. Our response is like that of the wise men. We worship our king born to save us not just during Christmas or just one hour every week but every day of our lives!
This gift of our Savior Jesus Christ is given to ALL. His free gift of salvation opens the kingdom of God to us by our faith in Christ. “Open to the Public” was the message of the star that night above Bethlehem and “Open to the Public” was also the message as Jesus died on Calvary’s cruel cross. 3 days later the message would be repeated because Easter’s tomb was open and is still open. The Savior has come to save his people. The wise men knew it. We know it. That’s what Epiphany is all about. Come, let us follow that sign to worship; let us behold Him in Word and sacrament, and bow down before our king.