The Mystery of Epiphany
January 6, 2015 [Epiphany] Matthew 2:1-12 J.D.Roekle
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “ ‘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.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Mystery of Epiphany
Dear Friends in Christ,
The day that we celebrate today is about things being revealed. Isaiah reveals: “your light has come.” Out of the darkness of this sinful world, comes the light of the Gospel. The Gospel that is revealed in the form of a child. Today, we continue to celebrate the Christmas truth that John revealed: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” God became man and took on the name Jesus. The purpose of Jesus’ coming is revealed in his name. He came to save. Matthew reveals that he came to be king of the Jews in order to save the Jews. But Matthew also reveals that he came to be king of the Gentiles in order to save the Gentiles. Epiphany tells us that Jesus came for all people. And so, on Epiphany, we celebrate God revealing things to us about himself. And actually, we do that through the entire Epiphany season.
But even with all that God reveals, there is so much that is unknown. What is especially unknown is God’s motive for coming in the flesh to save all people. We could call that the Mystery of Epiphany. Let’s take some time know to reflect on what we cannot understand, but what we can only accept through faith.
We know some details about the first Epiphany. Three kings riding camels from the Orient followed a star to the stable where Jesus lay in a manger in order to worship Jesus and give him gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.
If you followed that closely, you will recognize that there are some facts mixed in with fiction. When it comes down to it, the Epiphany account is filled with a lot of mystery.
Who were these men, called Magi, which is simply transliterated from the Greek word magoi? From what history tells us, they weren’t kings. They have often been called Wise Men. That is because it is thought that they may have been like university professors and scientists of their day who especially studied the stars.
Where did they come from? Some say Babylon. Others say Sheba as Isaiah spoke of in our reading earlier. How many were there? Every crèche that I’ve seen have three Magi. But Scripture doesn’t say. It is thought there are three because of the 3 gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. But we simply don’t know how many there were. And they weren’t visiting Jesus in a stable, but in a house.
And what about that star. There is much mystery around it as well. What was that star? Some think it may have been a comet or a meteor, or a special alignment of planets. All we can really say is that it is a special creation of God for a specific time, place, and purpose. How did the Magi know enough to follow it? How did they know what the star was pointing to? Since they were clearly not Jews, but Gentiles, how did they learn of the one born king of the Jews and his significance?
The mysteriousness of the whole account continues to build as you look into it more. When the Magi left Jerusalem after inquiring where Jesus was, they left alone. We hear nothing about any of the chief priests or teachers of the law tagging along. Remember, these are the men who studied Scripture and knew what it said. Yet, none of them apparently were curious enough to check things out.
It is also interesting to think about the fact that paranoid King Herod didn’t send along his army to follow the Magi to Bethlehem so that he could take care of this perceived threat to the throne. He could have at least secretly sent a small contingent along. Why didn’t he?
I’m just touching the surface of things that we don’t know about concerning the visit of the Magi to Jesus. My questions may be prompting questions from you. The fact is, there is much mystery surrounding Epiphany. We may question why the Lord left so many gaps in this account. So many unknowns. We may wonder why the Lord didn’t choose to reveal these things to us.
The answer to those questions is rather simple. The Lord didn’t reveal those things because he wants us to concentrate on the bigger mysteries that he reveals to us!
A big mystery in all of this is: what was it that caused these Magi, these men of importance in their land, to follow the star all the way to an obscure village in Judea, to a house where they would find a young handmaiden, a carpenter, and a small child? And what was it that caused them to bring their finest gifts to him, to kneel down before him and worship him? Think about what that must have looked like. What did they know that so many others didn’t? What did they have that others apparently didn’t?
The answer is simple. Faith! They believed that they were bowing before the promised Messiah. The promised Savior. The Magi couldn’t have known all the details of what Jesus would do. To them, this child’s life from that time on was a mystery. But what wasn’t a mystery to them was the fact that Jesus came to save them from their sins.
The faith of the Magi is your faith. Across the pages of Scripture, you have seen things that the Magi didn’t. You have seen how Jesus went on to live a perfect life after his entrance into the world in Bethlehem. You have seen how Jesus preached the Gospel and did miracles. You have seen how Jesus went on to suffer for you. You have seen that the one the Magi called the King of the Jews is the same one who would die for you on a cross with those same words inscribed above it. You have also seen that this Jesus didn’t remain dead. He rose victoriously to assure you that he is living up to his name, and to assure you of your resurrection one day.
This is the faith we have. This is the faith we profess. And this faith is made possible by another mystery. The love of God. God does not want to see any of us suffer, but instead to come to a knowledge of the truth. And it is God who brings you to that knowledge by planting faith.
Born in sin and headed for a life of sin and condemnation, through water and the Word you were washed and made whole. Your sins were wiped away and the seed of faith was planted in you through the Spirit’s power. His word and his meal strengthen you in your faith.
And it is this faith that enables us to believe the most mysterious thing about God. Why does he love us? Why does he love us so much that he would send his one and only Son? Why would he love us to the degree that he would bring us to faith and to heaven with him one day? The answer is not that we are loveable by nature. Just the opposite is true.
That’s the most mysterious part of God. We give that mystery a name. We call it grace. That, my friends, is the greatest mystery of the Epiphany.
With that mystery in mind, how do we react? Question God and be suspicious of him? Refuse to think that God could love us just because? Thank him for his goodness, but then trample all over him with our sinful thoughts, words, actions and motives?
How can our reaction to God’s grace in Christ not be like the Magi! Come and trust in the forgiveness he brings. Come and worship. Come and lay your treasures at his feet. Come and wonder and be in awe about the great things he has done. And then get ready to see and hear more of the details of this mysterious grace unfold before your eyes throughout this season and throughout your lives. Amen.