Epiphany

January 6, 2019

Summary

In the liturgical calendar, today, January 6th is Epiphany.  It is the Sunday in which we remember the Christ child being revealed to the Magi, whom were gentiles, and thus to the world. In Greek, epiphany means, ‘revealed.’

Epiphany is also called by other Christian denominations; Theophany, meaning, ‘God appearing’, Little Christmas, or Three Kings’ Day.  Last evening, which is known as Twelfth Night is the end of the Christmas season for many Western Christians, although the Eastern Orthodox Churches, operating in the Julian calendar are 13 days behind us, thus different dates for the celebration of these holy days.

We in the West though, have over the centuries have focused upon, and remembered the bearers of the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the Magi, or as we often call them, the  wisemen, or the three kings.

We remember them throughout the Christmas season by; placing three figures whom look like oriental kings next to the manger in our nativity scenes, depicting them upon cards, and making ornaments of them to hang upon the tree.

We honor them with such songs as, (sing) “We three kings of Orient are bearing gifts, we traverse far, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.

Oh, star of wonder, star of might, star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.”

A beautiful hymn.

The only thing though is that there are some problems with the “facts” surrounding these mysterious magi.  As you have read this morning, we do not know how many Magi came from the East to worship Jesus.  No number is given, other than the plural form of magi, so, we do know there were more than one.  The Western church probably identified the number of Magi by assigning one per gift.  Interestingly enough the Eastern church at some point in time decided there were twelve Magi!

We also are pretty certain that they were not kings…though as probable Zoroastrian court astrologers, they would have been advisors to the Persian Emperor.

These two facts help us to understand that the bearers of these very valuable gifts, no matter the number of emissaries would have traveled through the modern lands of Iran, Iraq and Jordan to Bethlehem in probably a large caravan protected by soldiers, and waited upon by servants.  This would have thus, taken months of travel.

We also need to let go of the idea that the magi visited Jesus on Christmas in the stable, for at the beginning of this morning’s reading from Matthew it says, “…after Jesus was born in Bethlehem…magi came from the East.”  And later in these verses Matthew writes, “On entering the house, they saw the child…”

Theologians think that Jesus could have even been over a year-old by the time the magi arrive to worship him, for he is spoken of as a child, not a baby.

Okay, so, you might be asking yourselves, “Now why is Pastor Joel ruining my long-held beliefs about the three kings?  Why is this important?”

Well, because it is important, very important they we try and understand what the gospel writer of Matthew wanted to communicate, rather than simply hold on to probable false beliefs that have grown up from tradition.

You see, today’s reading might truly be about kings, but two kings, rather than three.  The Kings Herod and Jesus.

In his gospel Matthew wants to tell his readers something important about Jesus, the Christ child.  What he wants us to understand is that he was, and so, he is the long awaited Chosen One.

Matthew does so in this story by telling us who came to visit Jesus, what they brought, and how they acted upon meeting the child, not because they or what they did were so important, but because by doing so, we understand the importance of Jesus.

The Zoroastrian magi, according to their own beliefs, were also waiting for the birth of the true Savior.  So, it is important that the reader understands they were Zoroastrian magi from the East.  By describing the contents of the gifts as gold, frankincense and myrrh, Matthew helps the reader to understand that the receiver of the gifts can only be a king.  And, in his description of their entrance into the house, “…they knelt down and paid him homage” which should really be translated as, “…they worshiped him.”

So, through Matthew’s words, the readers, you and me, come to understand that Jesus is not simply any old king, but as the Reverend Niveen Sarras writes, “The magi’s gifts could be an allusion to King Solomon the son of King David (he received similar gifts from the Queen of Sheba). Matthew uses the story of the magi to emphasize that Jesus is the true king of the Jews and he is the descendant of King David.  In Matthew’s eyes, Jesus is superior not only to King Herod the great but also superior to King Solomon, the wisest King in Israel.  Jesus is the incarnated Son of God.”

To back up Reverend Sarras’s point, we notice that it says nothing about the magi paying homage to King Herod, whom they also met.  No, it was the Christ child whom they worshiped.

Matthew is thus showing us that it is God who chooses who is king.  It does not matter what humanity might think.  Herod might have been called the Great, because he built a few buildings, but Jesus was the true king.

The question that we need to ask ourselves though is, what does this mean for us today?

Well, there is much, but two important points that I see in Matthew’s story, and which are supported in the psalm are; Jesus is the king, and secondly, Jesus came for all people, not simply the Jewish nation, or those, certain humans declare are worthy.  Jesus revelation to the magi, is his epiphany to the world!

When I say that Jesus is the King, I mean in contrast to every king the world has ever known, even David and Solomon.  To show this point we simply need to compare Jesus and Herod, the two kings of today’s scripture.

Herod was not a nice man, but in comparison to others who have ruled as king, queen, emperor, kaiser, caesar, president or whatever other name humans have declared their leaders, he was not anywhere near the best, but neither was Herod anywhere near the worst.  Yet, when we contrast Herod or any other human leader, with the ideal set out in today’s psalm for what a God-made King looks and acts like, he or she, pales to invisibility in comparison.

Listen again to the words from Psalm 72.

1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. 3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. 4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. 5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. 6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. 7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. 12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

Reading those words all I could think of was…Jesus.  Jesus is righteousness, and gives righteousness to all who believe.  Jesus is peace, and gives peace into the hearts of his followers.  Jesus defends the poor and the needy, and delivers all who call upon his name from the eternal oppressor.  And that last line, “From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.”

Does it not declare to the world the role of a true king?  And do these words not declare to the world, in their own way, Jesus has come for them, and for you, and for me too?

It does, and he has, he truly has come to redeem life for we are precious in his sight!

Amen.

Bible References

  • Psalm 72:1 - 7
  • Psalm 72:10 - 14
  • Matthew 2:1 - 12

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