Sunday, January 4, 2015
Homily for The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord (observed)
Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth and everything in them, and it was good. Then He made man, male and female, and He blessed them that they would be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have dominion over it, and it was very good. And then, the tempter came, then woman sinned, and then the man sinned, and together they plunged all of God’s very good creation into sin and death. And so, God destroyed His creation and started over? No, wait! That’s not what He did at all! God didn’t do what you and I would do. Rather, He did the unthinkable, the unimaginable; He began to recreate His fallen, broken, rebellious, and sinful creation. God made a promise that very day, the day of man’s rebellion and fall. God made a promise, not to the man or to the woman, but God made a promise to Satan saying: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That promise was extremely broad, embracing all people of all times and all places, even all of creation. However, from that point forward, God proceeded to narrow down the promise from all of creation, to one people, to one nation, to one family, to one man, Jesus, only then, at Jesus’ birth, to reveal that, in the one man Jesus, all the families, peoples, and nations, even all of creation have been redeemed, recreated, renewed, and restored.
Thus, the angels proclaimed to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Indeed, this is what we celebrate at Epiphany. The Son of God was born as one of us that He might fulfill the Law of God for all people and take away the punishment for our sin, restoring us to a right relationship with our Creator and God. The narrowing down to one people, one nation, one family, and ultimately to one man, Jesus, had not been to exclude the nations, but it was to reveal clearly and plainly that Jesus was the promised Seed of the woman, the promised heir of Abraham, the promised Son of David, the Messiah and Christ, Redeemer and Savior of all. Christ was born, not only for the House of David, not only for the nation of Israel, not only for the Jewish people, but Christ was born for all people.
And so, Magi from the east came to find the newborn King of the Jews. They were astronomers and astrologers; they studied the heavens for astrological signs, not so much to predict the future like a horoscope or a palm reading, but in the sense in which our Lord Jesus speaks: “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars.” And, they were Gentiles, most likely from Arabia, nations like Midian, and Ephah, and Sheba prophesied of by Isaiah. And, the LORD gave them a sign, a brilliant star, to lead them to where the fulfillment of His prophetic Word lay, to lead them to Jesus.
The Magi, however, were not so very unlike us, they were distracted by their fleshly and worldly wisdom. They traveled first to Jerusalem, to the palace of the King, King Herod. After all, the child they were seeking was to be the King of the Jews. King’s are found in palaces, in royal cities, right? And, when they came to Herod and told him that they were seeking the newborn King of the Jews, Herod was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. For, Herod thought to himself, there is only one King of the Jews around here, and I am he! Therefore, Herod consulted with the chief priests and the scribes to ascertain where the child was to be born. And, they consulted the Scriptures with all the passion and expectation of a first year confirmation class. “Uh, yeah, He’s to be born in Bethlehem, I guess?” And so, that snake Herod instructed the Magi to go and find the child and to send him report so that he could come and worship Him too. However, when they departed Jerusalem, the star appeared once again and guided them, not to Bethlehem, but to “the place where the child was.” You see, it had been nearly two years since Jesus was born before the Magi arrived. The Holy Family was no longer in Bethlehem, but had returned home to Nazareth. How do we know this? Because Herod calculated the time of the star’s appearing to the arrival of the Magi. That is why Herod murdered all the male infants in Bethlehem and the surrounding area that were two years old or younger. Herod was bound and determined to murder the newborn King of the Jews, so he furiously and indiscriminately murdered any and all that were a candidate simply because of the time of their birth.
And, when the Magi arrived at the home of Joseph, they went “into the house and 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.” Strange gifts for a newborn child, but fitting gifts for a Prophet, a Priest, and a King. Gold, because Jesus is the King of heaven and earth. Frankincense, because Jesus is our Great High Priest. And, myrrh, because Jesus is the Great Prophet and Word of God in human flesh who was born to lay down His innocent life as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. Indeed, these Gentile astrologers from the east were wiser than the priests and the scribes in Herod’s palace, for they believed in the Word of the LORD and followed the sign He provided them. The Wise Men represent a longing for God that exists in all people. There is wisdom in seeking Him. That is why the Magi studied the stars. That is why we study the Holy Scriptures.
And, as the star guided the Magi to the Christ Child, so is the Word of the LORD a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. First the LORD guided the Magi to where Jesus was, and then He guided them away from wicked Herod. Likewise, for you, the Word of the LORD is both a guiding Word and a protecting Word. Still, the overarching theme of Epiphany is that Jesus was born for all people of all times and of all places. The LORD had narrowed down His covenant promise from all of creation, to one people, to one nation, to one family, to one man, Jesus, so that all men, all families, all nations, all people, and all of creation might receive Him in faith as God’s Christmas gift of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. It is for this reason that, in some Christian traditions, the Feast of the Epiphany is known as “little Christmas” or “Christmas of the Gentiles.” For, Christ was born of a virgin mother in Bethlehem in Judea in fulfillment of messianic prophecy given to the Jews. However, the LORD provided Gentiles from the east, the Magi, a star for a sign, that they might seek and find and worship the same gift of Jesus who is the Good News for all people. As St. Paul has put it, “this mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
After their encounter with the Christ Child, the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they departed to their own country by another way. So, likewise, after you encounter the Christ Child, you are no longer the same, and you must not return the same way that you came, but you must return home by another way. That other way is the way of humility and repentance. That other way is the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is Jesus Himself. Indeed, Jesus is the bright shining Morning Star and the Word of God who guides your feet into the way of Truth and Life. Therefore, as the popular billboards and bumper stickers say, “Wise men still seek Him,” let us still seek Him in the place where He is found, wrapped in bread and wine and lying upon the altar, that His people may receive Him and live. And, let us offer Him our gifts, the gift of our lives and of our hearts laid down in service of others to the glory of His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.