Epiphany Observed – Jan 2/3, 2016 – Matthew 2:1-12
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Although technically we are only on January 2nd/3rd, the 8th/9th day of Christmas, today we are going to celebrate and observe the 12th day of Christmas – January 6th, the day of Epiphany – the season of the Church year which we are about to enter. Epiphany means to shine upon, it is a season of revelation – where we see and understand more and more just who this Christ Child is whose birth we have been celebrating these past few weeks. And to start off the season of Epiphany, we have a lesson of vital importance for each and every one of us in this room – the coming of the Wise Men.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, 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." We are used to this story. We are familiar with it. We tend to just toss out some wise men with our nativities without much thought, we sing “We 3 Kings” because it has such a fun refrain. And so we forget just how strange it would have been for the people in Herod's court to have these wise men – and no, Scripture doesn't say how many of them - to have these wise men simply show up. And by rights they shouldn't be there – they don't fit in. Think on your classic Nativity scene. The stable – well, okay, there's no room at the inn. That explains the animals, that makes sense too. And shepherds – well, Bethlehem was kind of rural, so the fact that folks in fields right on the outskirts of town might show up, there's nothing strange about that. But these Wise Men showing up – from the East, they stand out like a sore thumb. They had to travel a long way – and more over, they were Gentiles – they weren't Jewish – and yet they knew that this Jewish Boy who was born was important – and not only important – but that this One who was born King of the Jews, was True God whom they ought to worship.
That's astounding – that these Gentiles would seek to find the young Jewish Child whom they know is God. This, dear friends, is really where you fit into all this Christmas pageantry. This is the wonder of Epiphany – that this Christ Child who comes really is for all people – not just all classes of Jew, not just for the rich and the poor of Jerusalem – but for all people – even those strangers and foreigners. Even those people from the East – even those Germanic folk from the north, even for folks even further afield. That's part of the reason why in a classical nativity the three Wise Men will be three different skin colors – all peoples of the world will be saved by this Christ Jesus, all nationalities – red and yellow, black and white. It does not matter a hill of beans where you are from, Christ is for you. (It's Saturday Night here, but Sunday morning to the East, and we worship at the same time as folks over there) (Already this Sunday our brothers and sisters in Christ have worshiped our Lord in Asia, in Europe, in Africa. My friend who is a Missionary in Peru is probably preaching right now as well.) You fit in now – you are a part of the story – even the Gentiles, even non-Jews – they have a Savior.
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet. Herod is a nasty sort. If we had done the readings for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, we'd hear how Herod kills off all the baby boys in Bethlehem. He's a piece of work. We would expect wicked Herod to be troubled by this news – but all Jerusalem as well? The chief priests and the scribes, even the people who knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, they are troubled too? Why? Well, sadly, it boiled down to earthly things. If you are King, and someone else is born to be King, it means your reign will be cut short. It means that maybe it won't be all about you or your kids. It may be that, like John the Baptist, you must decrease that Christ may increase. Herod didn't like that idea. It made him unhappy. You've heard the phrase, “If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy”? Same thing with kings. If the King ain't happy, heads tend to roll – and that makes us afraid. This coming of Christ is met with such fear – fear of how it will impact King Herod.
Allow me a few moments of bluntness. When you hear these words, when you hear of Herod's fear, of Jerusalem's fear – know that this is precisely how Satan will try to tempt you, that this is same sort of fear the Devil will try and raise up in you. Why is Herod afraid? Because Herod’s focus is on his kingdom, his power, his stuff. Why are the people afraid? Because angry kings might mess with their lives, their power, their stuff. They are afraid of their stuff being disturbed – and they did not seek to worship Christ Jesus as the wise men did. Oh, you wise men, just go ahead with out us – come back when you've found Him, we can't be bothered now. . . we have emergency plans to make. Instead of beholding God – Herod's eyes and the eyes of Jerusalem are firmly faceted on earthly politics and pomp and power.
This is the way in which Satan will try to attack you. What you have to remember is that you also can be compared to the people here in Herod's Jerusalem's. If I were to ask any of you, “Where was Jesus born” - is there anyone in this room who can talk who wouldn't be able to tell us that He was born in Bethlehem? These were people who knew who the Messiah was, who in theory where those who were looking for His coming. . . but when it comes down to it, when He comes, there's just not that much interest – other than what chaos and trouble it might cause. We've got to focus on the hum drum things of life.
Isn't that the temptation that Satan levels at us Christians, we who know who the Messiah is, even today? How many are not here because they cannot be bothered? Too much stuff going on, too many things coming up? But as you know, God's Law is not given to us so that we can point fingers at others – rather the Law is applied to us. How easy would it be to fall into that habit, to slide away, to become worn down with cares or worry? Or even for us here – how many of us felt joy and wonder at being allowed to come to Church? We are invited into God's House to hear His Word – in fact, God Almighty will give us His Body and Blood today – and did any of us this evening/morning look like kids on Christmas day ready and excited to go? Or was it more of, “Well, we probably oughta get to Church today”? Did we approach this evening/morning thinking more that it was the end of vacation with a little bit of dread of heading back to the normal slew of things now that the holidays are done – or thinking that Monday is going to bring the new slate of 2016 business, or another crop to worry about? We too, each us of here – even as we are here, we can be worn down the weight of this world, our responsibilities here and now – where our eyes become focused mainly on the things of this life, jobs, bills, weather, the economy. And that's heavy. That comes with fear.
This is why God calls us to worship – to have us rest from the responsibilities of this world and instead be in His care, be served by Him, be refreshed by Him. We are told in Scripture that perfect love casts out fear – and Worship is where we see, where we receive God's perfect love – where once again He applies it to our lives through our ears, where He places it upon our tongues. The heart of worship is that God gathers us to focus upon what He does for us, the rest and forgiveness which He gives to us. Those people whom we rightly call the wise men knew this. See what they brought to their worship of Christ the King - And 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, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We can miss this today, but Gold and frankincense are part and parcel of worship. When Moses builds the tabernacle, when Solomon builds the temple – gold is used - the idea of a precious metal shows that what is going on is something precious. There's a reason why we take care with the things we use in God's House – they demonstrate the importance of what goes on here. The stuff we use in worship shows that. Frankincense was also part of worship – the tabernacle and temple were always filled with smoke – smoke of incense. The incense, the smell was a reminder, a confession that God was present at worship for the benefit of His people. Gold and Frankincense were things that were present at worship, that let you know you were at worship – so the wise men brought them to be present at their worship. But then, they also bring myrrh. Myrrh is used to anoint the dying – myrrh was the chief spice that is used to cover the stench of death. On Easter morning when we see that the women are hastening to the tomb with spices to anoint the body – the chief spice of that mixture is myrrh.
This Christ Child whom the wise men worship, whom we ourselves worship, is the God who becomes Man to stare into the face of death and win us life through His own death and resurrection. The wise men see and know this – it is part of their worship. When we gather here for worship today – the center, the focus of our worship is that Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, and thereby wins us forgiveness and life – and that what He has done trumps and enlightens everything in our life – that His love drives away the shadows and fears of this life – that in the light of Christ we face all things confidently seeing the proof, the depth of His love for us – knowing that nothing can separate us from Christ our Lord.
This is what our Lord brings to us here in His House – the Lord who comes to serve His people with life and Salvation, the Lord who comes and gives of Himself to bring us unto Himself and enfold us with His love. And He continually pulls us unto Himself. He is our God – He comes even to bring the Gentiles into His Kingdom – to pull us away from the world of sin and strife and to give us Life in His name. All praise and glory be unto Christ Jesus, our God who wins for us salvation. Amen.