Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Gentiles Worship the King - January 6, 2013 - Epiphany Sunday - Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Today is Epiphany Sunday. The last time that Epiphany fell on a Sunday was back in 2002. And, unfortunately, Epiphany is not one of our big holidays and so, unless it falls on a Sunday, it usually gets shorted. For those of you who do not know, Epiphany is considered the Gentile Christmas, that is, Epiphany is your Christmas and mine. It is considered the Gentile Christmas, because it was at this time that the Christ Child was first visited by non-Jews, Gentiles. The word “Epiphany” literally means manifestation, or appearing. And so, on this Epiphany Sunday we celebrate the manifestation or the appearing of Jesus, the one who came to save the world, to the Gentiles. Jesus is our Savior too.
The only Epiphany account we have in Scripture is this account of the visit of the Magi as described in our Gospel reading from Matthew. The Gentile Magi came to pay homage to the new born King of the Jews, the Messiah. And so we ask, who were these Magi? These Magi were astronomers, not astrologers. An astrologer is a fortune teller and one who tries to read the future in the stars and the planets. An astronomer is one who is a scientist and who studies the stars and the planets in order to learn more about the solar system and even our own planet, the times and seasons and the like. These Magi were astronomers who were studying the heavens, looking for signs in the heavens.
These Magi were also Gentiles. They were not Jewish. They were not a part of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, however, someone, somewhere along the way through their lives, must have shared with them the message of the promise of a Messiah, a Savior. Having heard the message, perhaps having gained access to copies of the sacred writings of the Old Testament, these Magi studied the Word of God, believed the Word and were looking for the coming of the one who was promised, the Messiah, the Savior of the world even their own Savior.
And these Magi were from the east. By all indications, they traveled a long way in order to bring gifts and to bear homage to a stranger. They traveled following the star which God placed in the heavens in order to lead them to this Christ Child. They first traveled to the place of Kings, Jerusalem, the capital city of the Children of Israel. And there in Jerusalem they met King Herod.
Which brings us to King Herod. Herod was King in Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus. When the Magi came to Jerusalem and announced that they were seeking the one who was born as King of the Jews, we are told that Herod “was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod was disturbed because he was afraid of a rival king. All the people were disturbed with him because they were afraid of what he might do, in other words they knew Herod’s jealousy and wondered how far he would go in his attempt to get rid of this child that he believed might challenge him for his throne. Interestingly enough, how often do we find ourselves acting like Herod. Jesus wants first place in our lives, yet we dethrone Him because we want to be the rulers of our lives. We want to do things our way and so we look for ways to rid ourselves of Jesus ruling over us. The question we would ask ourselves is how far will we go, at what cost or expense will we spend, in keeping Jesus from bring the sole ruler of our lives?
Herod’s problem, though, was that he did not know about this king, nor of His whereabouts. And so, the search for truth was on. Herod called in his best men for the job, the chief priests and teachers of the Law. They diligently searched the Scriptures until they found the proof passage, Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Now here, I just want to make an aside. If these chief priest and teachers of the Law had searched the Scriptures and found these passages which tell about the birth of this Christ Child, the one who would be the Savior of the world, why did they not believe that Jesus was the Savior, the Messiah when thirty years later He came into town and began preaching and teaching?
But, getting back to our narrative. Now Herod knew the place but he still needed to know the time, in order to properly dispose of the problem. So, he called the Magi in secretly and found out from them when the star appeared, when the child was born. This information he later used in order to rid the country of any possible rival kings, by using this time frame for killing any child which might grow up to be king in his place. Of course, this was not told to the Magi. Herod simply asked them to find the king and then to return and tell him, “so that he might worship Him also.”
And so the search continued. The Magi left Jerusalem and continued to follow the star which went ahead of them, leading the way until it came to the place where the child was. Now, please understand, although we tack on the visit of the Magi to our yearly children’s Christmas program and although the Magi are prominently displayed in most of the manger scenes around town, the Magi did not get to Bethlehem until about a year later. By the time the Magi arrived, Jesus is no longer a baby, but a child. One question that does come to mind is, “Why did Mary and Joseph stay in Bethlehem for so long, why did they not go back to Nazareth?” One explanation might be that since Mary and Joseph left when Mary was an unwed, pregnant woman perhaps they did not go back to avoid any further scandal, but that is only a suggestion. Anyway, upon following the star, and here let me make another aside. Some believe the star may have been a coming together of three planets. The problem with that hypothesis is that the three planets would have to remain in that alignment for more than a year. I think the best explanation is God’s Word, that God Himself placed a special star in the heavens and it did as He commanded it. Now, getting back to our narrative, the Magi left Herod and as Matthew reports, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
Another minor note and word of clarification. Although there are many legends concerning the Magi, we do not know how many there were. We usually see three and I would suggest that is because of the gifts they brought. The three which are mentioned are the three gifts of gold, incense and oil. The Magi did come and worship and they did present Jesus with gifts. And the gifts were of significance.
The Magi presented Jesus with the gift of Gold, the gift for a King. And rightfully so, because Jesus is the King of the Jews, the King of Kings, the King of the Universe, the King of all.
The Magi presented Jesus with the gift of incense, the gift for a priest. And rightfully so, because Jesus is our priest. He is the one who intercedes for us before His Father in heaven. He is also the one who makes sacrifices for us on our behalf and the ultimate sacrifice He made as our priest is that He sacrificed Himself for us on the cross.
And the Magi presented Jesus with the gift of Myrrh, which is an anointing oil, the gift for a prophet. And, again, rightfully so, because Jesus is our prophet. He is the one who continues to come to us through His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments in order to proclaim to us the Good News of forgiveness of sins and salvation by grace through faith in Him.
After worshiping Jesus and presenting Him with the appropriate gifts, the Magi returned to their home land. However, after being warned in a dream, they returned by another way than through Jerusalem. After a time, Herod realized that the Magi were not going to return and here is where the time of the appearing of the star was important. Herod used this as a way to calculate how old the child might be and so he had put to death all the children under two years of age in order to make sure that any rival to the throne might be disposed.
Now, here on January 6, 2013 we continue to celebrate this event. We celebrate this Epiphany, this manifestation of God in flesh, this appearing of the Savior to the Gentiles, because this means that we too have a part in Jesus’ work of salvation. Even though we are not physically born of the family of Israel. Even though we too are sinful human beings. Even though we rightfully have no claim on salvation, even though we are not entitled to salvation, it is ours.
Today we celebrate that we can be sure that Jesus is who He said He is. Jesus is the one promised by God back in the Garden of Eden, the one promised before there was a Jew and a Gentile, when there was just people, Adam and Eve. Jesus is the one promised throughout the Old Testament by the prophets, that a Savior of the world would be born. Jesus is the one who was born for one purpose, to give His life as a ransom, to pay the price for our sins.
Today we celebrate that we have life, even eternal life. Yes, very often we try to dethrone Jesus in our own lives, yet, He continues to call us back to Himself through His Word and His Sacraments. He has already accomplished our forgiveness. He has called us to faith. He gives us all these gifts and blessings, faith, forgiveness and life and we celebrate.
I want to summarize this great Epiphany Event with these words: The prophets, by the power of the Holy Spirit, foretold of this event, which the Magi read and believed and went in search of the newborn King, which the chief priests and the teachers of the law attested to the validity of the Scriptures which Herod also believed and was terrified, so we too believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Savior of the world. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.