The Epiphany of our Lord
January 7, 2018
Grace to you and peace this New Year and always from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today for our celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord is the assigned Gospel lesson read earlier from Matthew 2.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
We now begin the season of Epiphany. The Day of Epiphany is the day that our attention turns on the Magi, coming from the East to bring gold and frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. You know the story, right? The Wise Men (we assume 3, but do not know the real number) travel a great distance – perhaps as far as 900 miles – to Jerusalem to find the newly born King of the Jews. They consult with wicked King Herod – that’s what visiting dignitaries do – and Herod pretends that he desires to worship Jesus too. Then, leaving Jerusalem, the Magi complete their journey to Bethlehem and reach their goal.
That’s Epiphany. The Christmas angels have gone away into heaven; the shepherds have returned from the manger glorifying and praising God. Now the Wise Men are the stars of the show. But I’ve got a proposition for you. May I suggest that Herod was just as much the superstar of Epiphany as were the Wise Men?
Wait one cotton-pickin’ minute! How can that be? You know what the Wise Men were like. They were shining examples of faith: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem…wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who
has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'” (w 1-2). The Wise Men seem well-suited to be THE superstars of Epiphany, don’t they? They were educated, rich, respected, and sophisticated. The Wise Men were well-studied in the wisdom of the world, but apparently they had a working knowledge of the Old Testament. It is likely that they were astrologers; that was usually part of the job of men who advised the kings of the ancient East. That, of course, is no example for us. God prohibits astrology, horoscopes, fortune-telling, because He tells us everything we need to know in His life-giving, sin-forgiving Word that makes us wise unto salvation.
But it wasn’t through astrology that the Wise Men understood the meaning of the amazing new star that had appeared in the sky. Most likely it was through diligent study of the Old Testament Scriptures. The captivity of the Jews six centuries before Christ had spread God’s Word to Babylon, Persia, hence “the East.” In Numbers 24:17, God had promised, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” It’s likely the Wise Men had studied or heard that passage from local Jews who after the exile had not returned and interpreted it to mean that a star would mark the birth of the One who would hold the scepter of Israel, that is, the new King of the Jews.
The Wise Men were also men of wealth and position. And yet, they were humble. When their quest was finally completed, “going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold; perfect gifts for the perfect prophet, priest and king. These Magi are rich men…important men. But here they are, bowing down to a child! A beautiful example of faith, isn’t it? That’s a “Superstar” kind of faith!
On the flip side, Herod was an example of darkest evil. He was nobody’s star. Using a Greek play on words, even Caesar had said it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son, because the sow had a better chance at survival than Herod’s son. Herod was a crazed murderer. He had his favorite wife and his son executed because he thought they wanted his throne – a preemptive execution of his own family. Herod would also order the murder of the 2 year old infants in his region; that’s a whole kind of crazy. Yikes!
“When Herod the king heard [about a new King of the Jews], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (v 3). You think? No wonder all Jerusalem was troubled! There was no telling what Herod might do! Herod had only real one intent, but he concealed it under the guise of religious piety. Herod sent the Wise Men to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him. Wow…that’s low. It’s the worst kind of wickedness, isn’t it? Herod used the religious teachers and the sincere, naive faith of the Wise Men for his devilish plan. Herod was the worst!
So, then, how in the world could Herod be just as much the superstar as were the Wise Men? Herod was just as much the star as were the Wise Men because neither of them are the star; the star is the superstar of this show. The star is the superstar of the Epiphany show because the star is God’s invitation inviting all people to the Savior, and that is what Epiphany is really about.
Not the Wise Men, not Herod, but the star is the superstar because it announced Christ, the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the One who would be born and live and suffer and die and rise to save all people. God put the star in the sky where all could see. That was God’s way of announcing that Jews and Gentiles alike, people of all lands and languages and backgrounds, are included in those promises. We, even though we never saw the star and never met the wise men, are included…you and I. All people. The star shined in the East over the Wise Men. You know what else? It shined over Jerusalem too. Over Herod. Yes, the star of Epiphany included him too.
The star itself bears the message of Epiphany: Christ Jesus is our Savior no matter who we are, where we are, how sinful we’ve been. We’re all people who aren’t worthy to be superstars before God – we’re outsiders – sinners – on whom the real Star has shone with the bright light of salvation for all to see and believe. What a glorious show indeed!
With that being said and in conclusion, how can you be a Superstar of the faith in 2018? No, you don’t have to walk great distances from the east (900+ miles to Dallas, TX), but maybe you’ll walk across the driveway to help your neighbor. You don’t have to bring gold or frankincense, but maybe this is the year you challenge yourself to further develop your stewardship and consider giving your time in addition to your treasures. You don’t have to dodge a maniacal, murderous king, but maybe it’s time you took head-on that position or task that you’ve been avoiding. With the light of God’s love and grace shining upon you, is there anything you cannot do? Gabriel told Mary that nothing is impossible with God…do you believe that for your own life? God’s inviting and forgiving light has shone on you. You are a superstar in the faith as you repent, love God, and love your neighbor. You’re a superstar whose forever has been changed because of God in Christ. That star makes all the difference.