Sunday, January 3, 2016
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.
If you think about it, Christmas was really about the gift of a savior and a king for the Jews. He was born to Jewish parents in fulfillment of prophecies made to the Jewish people. He was born to be their king, of David’s house and lineage, in the king’s hometown of Bethlehem. Jewish shepherds were the first to hear the proclamation of His birth. Yes, Christmas was really about the gift of a savior and a king for the Jews. However, Epiphany is about the gift of a savior for the Gentiles, for you.
The truth is, of course, is that Jesus is God’s gift of a savior and a king for everyone, for all the world. For, while the Jews were chosen to be the first to receive the gift, the gift was never intended for them alone, but that God’s gift would shine within them a light of hope and salvation for all the world. That is precisely what was prophesied by Isaiah: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations, Gentiles, shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
The LORD’s covenant promise to Abram was that, through an heir from his own flesh, all the nations of the world would be blessed. That covenant was fulfilled, in part, in the birth of Isaac, and then Jacob, and then Judah, and then David, and then Joseph and Mary, and then finally and fully, in their son Jesus, who is rightly the son of David and the Son of God. Thus, the covenant promise made to Abram, the father of the Jewish people, was a son through whom the Gentiles, all the nations of the world, would be blessed. Though Jesus was promised and given first to the Jews, He is God’s gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation for all people of all times and all places.
For, the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, were once a people who walked in the darkness of sin and death. Upon them, the Light of Christ shone forth. The LORD intended that even the promise of that Light, before its fulfillment in Christ, would shine through His people, providing a guiding light for the Gentile nations to the hope of Israel. And, there were times in which the Light shone brightly through them, and the Gentiles were attracted to the God and hope of Israel. But, there were other times when the Light could not shine forth because the people had strayed into self-righteousness and idolatry. The same is true for God’s Christian people, the Church, today.
By the time of Jesus’ birth, precious few in Israel, a remnant, were waiting and watching for the coming of the LORD’s salvation. Still, there were those who were faithful, who studied and kept the LORD’s Word and Promise dear to them. And, there were others, far away in Gentile nations, who also had heard the LORD’s Word and Promise through various ways and means whom the LORD had alerted to the wondrous work He was about to do. To those afar, the LORD provided a special light, a star, to guide them to the Christ child. These Gentile Magi were lead by the LORD’s light to the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem. Far they journeyed from the East following both the light of God’s Word and the light of the star God provided as a sign, seeking the one who was born King of the Jews.
Why a star? The LORD knew that the Magi watched the stars and read them as signs to mark the seasons and natural occurrences. Therefore, He gave them an unusual star, one that would capture their notice and attention, and through its light guided them to the Light of the world, Jesus. However, the Magi also had the light of God’s Word, and that Word told them the Jewish King they looked for would be for all people. And so, they set out West, to Jerusalem, to the city of the King of the Jews, with gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Both Jews and Gentiles are saved in the same way, through faith in Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians – words we heard on New Year’s in connection with Jesus’ circumcision and name – “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” The Light of God shines on all the same, uniting all as one in Christ who will not refuse and remain in darkness. Those weary and burdened by their sin and guilt are drawn to the Light for comfort and peace, but the wicked flee from the Light and try to hide themselves in the darkness because their deeds are evil.
Such a man was King Herod. When the Magi came to him looking for the King of the Jews, Herod deceived them, telling them to go and find the child and then report back to him that he might come and pay homage. Herod was filled with fear and hatred and jealousy for his throne. He was one who willfully turned away from the light of God’s Word and tried to hide himself in the darkness because his deeds were evil. Herod had the Word of the LORD. His scribes rightly shared with him the prophecy of the Christ, but he willfully rejected it. He chose darkness and evil, and he even used the Word of the LORD in an attempt to murder the LORD’s Christ.
But, the LORD sent the star before the Magi and guided them to the place where the Christ Child lay. There, before their Lord, did they bow down and worship Him. And, they presented Him with their gifts of gold confessing His royalty, incense confessing His deity, and myrrh confessing His priestly sacrifice. They were filled with joy at this fulfillment of prophecy, which was for all people. Then the LORD warned them in a dream of Herod’s nefarious plans and they returned home to their own country by another way. Imagine the news they brought back to their countrymen: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” – just as was told the Jewish shepherds by the angel.
Truly, St. Paul ties it all together in his Epistle to the Ephesians saying, “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. […] To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”
Thus, while it may be that Christmas was really about the gift of a savior and a king for the Jews, and Epiphany is about the gift of a savior for the Gentiles, nonetheless, we see that Jesus was God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world from the very beginning. Indeed, before there were Jews or Gentiles, there was God in the beginning, and His Word which was with God and which was God. All things were made through the Word of God. And, to our First Parents was God’s first Gospel Word spoken: “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.” This was God’s promise to our First Parents, before there were Jew or Gentile, and this is God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus, the Word made flesh.
Jesus has come to bring Light and Life to you this day. In Him, there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, for all are one body, flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bones, of which He is our Bridegroom, our head, and our Lord. Let us never hide His Light, but let it shine through us in all we do and say that others might know and glorify our Lord and God. Come, let us worship Him. The highest worship we can give is to receive His gifts.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.