Sunday, January 8, 2017

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.
The Christ child was born into a world very much like ours today, full of political strife, fear, racial and cultural suspicion and jealousy, covetousness, greed, and apostasy. Herod was a pretender king, an usurper of the throne of Israel by force and by fear. Religiously, Herod feigned to be a Jew. Culturally, he was a Greek. And, politically, he was a Roman. All this goes to show that Herod was a man of few convictions, save those that served his own interests, which he guarded in paranoid fear and hatred of any and all perceived threats to his power and throne. Thus, when wise men, Magi from the East, came to him seeking a newborn king of the Jews, Herod immediately set his mind and heart to discover and to destroy this new threat. Though he cared nothing for the Scriptures and faith, he was nevertheless quick to utilize them to serve his own interests, consulting with the chief priests and the scribes of the people. Likewise, these men, though they knew the Scriptures, did not believe them. As for the people, they were more afraid of Herod and what he might do than they were of the LORD and His Word. Truly, darkness covered the wholeness of the earth. But, the primordial Light of creation had just pierced the darkness of the world and of men’s hearts, the Light of the world no darkness can overcome, though it might desperately try. The wise men saw that Light and they came to worship the true King of heaven and earth. And, as the saying goes, “Wise men still seek Him.”
St. John wrote of Jesus saying, “The true Light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to his own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” We do not know what the wise men heard or knew of Jesus, or how they came to know the prophecies of the Christ, but however it came to be, they were seeking light and knowledge and release. That is to say, they were not simply comfortable and content in this world with its values, pleasures, and material possessions. Were they wealthy? Were they kings? Were they astronomers or astrologers? We simply do not know. But, it doesn’t really matter. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, pagans of one sort or another. What the children of Abraham had all but completely forgotten and rejected, save a promised few, a remnant, these men from the east, and countless others, were ready to seek and to receive in fulfillment of the prophecy: “And nations shall come to Your Light, and kings to the brightness of Your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to You; Your sons shall come from afar, and Your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then You shall see and be radiant; Your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to You, the wealth of the nations shall come to You. A multitude of camels shall cover You, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring Good News, the praises of the LORD.”
All the world would come to this Good News, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, the Light of the world who shines His Light upon all those dwelling in the darkness of sin and death. Jesus was God’s gift of love and mercy and grace and forgiveness for all the world, for all who would receive Him and not refuse and reject Him. The promise of the Christ was always for all the world, not for the Jews only, but, as Moses spoke to Israel before they entered the Promised Land, for “whoever is standing here with us today before the LORD our God, and [for] whoever is not here with us today.” Just as the light of the sun shines upon all the world, so too is Jesus Christ for everyone, for the Jew first, and then the Gentile. Truly, the only way to escape the Light of His justifying grace is to flee from it, to deny it, to refuse it, and to reject it – that is, unbelief.
Herod, the Chief Priest and the scribes, and even the people of Jerusalem were all troubled by the Good News. They were like those whose deeds were evil, and so they were terrified by the Light and hated it, they sought to hide from it that they might carry on in their wickedness unabated. The wise men, however, stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ own people. When they heard the Good News, they received it with joy and relief and thanksgiving. They set out on a long and likely costly and dangerous journey towards Light, towards the true King of the Jews and of heaven and earth, even if they didn’t know or understand completely who or what they were seeking. They could not be deterred, not by distance, cost, and hardship, and not by wicked, paranoid, and power-hungry Herod, not by the self-righteous, legalistic, and faithless religious leadership of Israel, and not even by the indifferent, complacent, and largely unbelieving people upon whom the Light of Christ first shone in the Word of the LORD, the Word made flesh, born in Bethlehem as prophesied long ago. Indeed, this is one of the chief themes of the Epiphany season: when the Messiah appears His people are those who receive Him in faith.
Many have speculated that the gifts of the magi each have a specific meaning, however, the point is not the individual gifts, but rather that they came and worshipped this Child as the King. They believed the Holy Scriptures, they followed the star, and they gave honor to Jesus with their worship and gifts. I want to stress here that it is not your knowledge of the Scriptures that saves you – nor is it your lack of knowledge of the Scriptures that damns you – but it is faith, and faith in Christ alone, that justifies and saves you. Therefore, let us always be on guard to not set up roadblocks and obstacles to those walking in the darkness of sin and death that prevent or prohibit them from seeing the Light of Christ and coming to worship Him with us. Let us not be pumped up with pride and self-righteousness and behave as hypocrites before each other and the world, but let us humble ourselves and consider ourselves nothing but beggars who have, nonetheless, received the richest and most valuable of gifts – forgiveness of our sins, mercy, compassion, and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Truly, we Gentiles are “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” As much as the Jews were the children of Abraham and the chosen people of God in the promise of the Messiah, so now are all who believe and trust in Jesus Christ sons of Abraham and “children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The Word epiphany means, “to make manifest” or “to make known.” We, along with St. Paul and all believers, the Church of Jesus Christ, are prisoners for Jesus Christ on behalf of the Gentiles, that is, those who do not yet know the True Light Jesus Christ. We, the Church, have stewardship of the great and holy mystery that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Let us never think that the Light of Christ has shone upon us merely for the benefit of ourselves, no! But, the Light of Christ must shine through us in our lives, words, deeds, and worship, that all the world might be enlightened by His Light and be saved. That is why we are here. That is why the Church of Jesus Christ is here. That is why the Lord has not yet returned: The LORD is patient and longsuffering, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
“Arise, shine, for your Light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” Yes, wise men still seek Him where He may be found – here, in His Church, with His Word and Wounds, to forgive you anew, to restore you to brightness, to equip you and to send you bearing His Light in love, mercy, grace, compassion, charity, and forgiveness that those walking in the darkness of sin and death may come to His Light and join us in His Family. Come eat. Come drink. And, go forth shining with His Light. This is according to the eternal purpose that the LORD has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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