THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD (OBSERVED) AD 2022
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
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 peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
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.
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 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.
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 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, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel. ’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they 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. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
I don’t know where I’d be without the GPS app on my iPhone, when it comes to getting around to places where I have never been before. I know that there is a lot to be said for getting around the old fashioned way, with maps and verbal directions, but getting to where I’ve got to go is a whole lot easier, when I can just type in an address and that voice on my phone guides me, turn by turn right to where I need to be. I’m old enough to remember earlier days, when a map would be lying on the seat beside me and I’d be trying to read streets signs as I went past them or be on the look out for the blue barn on the corner just past the cornfield. Yes, that woman’s voice on my phone might be kind of bossy, but she sure does make getting around a lot easier.
Needless to say, the magi two thousand years ago didn’t have Siri or Google or any other digital voice to tell them where to turn or go, when they headed out to look for the one who had been born the King of the Jews. All that they knew from their stargazing and trying to read the signs of the heavens was that a special star announced the birth of this special King. Scripture doesn’t tell us how they knew, that this star meant the birth of a special king or how they knew that this King was the King of the Jews. They had simply read it in the stars. Somehow, someway they figured out by where or how this star appeared in the eastern sky that it meant that this special King had been born to the Jews.
What we need to be clear about here, beloved, is that these magi were not Astronomers who studied the stars like scientists. Without question they knew the stars of the night sky and knew their paths across it, but they studied them not to try and figure out the mysteries of our galaxy but rather the mysteries of life on earth. They read the stars to read the signs of the times and to try to predict the future. They were Astrologers - in other words the people who write those columns in the newspaper or webpages on the internet, that will tell you that you will meet a tall handsome stranger on January 23rd because the moons of Jupiter are rising.
Wise men? That’s the way that it’s been translated into English, but the word is actually Magi - which is closer to Astrologer or Magician. Certainly in the lands where they came from people thought that they were wise and they often gave advice to their kings and leaders like they did in Babylon. They weren’t stupid, they knew a thing or two about the patterns of the stars, something that I have no clue about myself, but they weren’t University professors either. It wasn’t actually until the last few centuries, when we’ve come to think that being smart and that science was so important, that we’ve taken to thinking of the Magi as wisemen.
That is not, however, how the Jews would have thought of them and so neither the early Christians either. Its is not what St. Matthew had in mind when he recorded these words in the Gospel and it is not the true meaning of the text. I know the other way of seeing it makes a catchy phrase for Church signs, “Wise men seek Him still.” But it’s just not so, and to be honest with you, I don’t find it very comforting for myself, because most of the time I feel that I don’t fit into the wise men category. In a world that’s been attacking the Christian faith for so long by saying that it is unscientific and foolish, it is tempting to hold up the magi as wisemen to try and counter it. But it just won’t work, beloved.
Contrary to what the world would say, the evidence in creation fits with the Christian faith, it is rational and reasonable, more so by a long shot, then so much of what “so-called” modern science tries to claim about that evidence. But the Christian faith is not about the wisdom of men but about the foolishness of God after all, which is far wiser than any wisdom that we can come up with. The Christian faith is about faith. It is about taking God’s word for it. It is not about our figuring of things out, but about hearing and believing what God has to say about it all. In this faith we see the evidence in the light of God’s Word, rather than putting the evidence over it.
No, I don’t find a lot of comfort in seeing the magi as really smart men, whose wisdom leads them to Jesus, because I know if I tried to rely on my wisdom I’d never get to Him, which sadly, is the case with many of the so-called wisemen we have in our world today. But seeing the Magi for what they actually were, as poor lost men looking up into the night sky for answers, who are led by God through a miraculous star to the Saviour of the world, yes, there is a lot more in them for me in this way. I can relate to such men. I can see myself in such men. I can hope that God would mercifully do the same thing for me as He did for such men.
Yes, beloved, there is a lot of comfort for poor lost sinners like you and me in such Magi, who head out into the great unknown of tomorrow after the Christmas star appears in the sky to announce the rising of the star of Jacob. They headed out toward Jerusalem without any GPS apps on their iPhones, without Siri or Google to tell them where to go. They headed to Jerusalem because it’s the Jewish capital, but when they get there no one knows what they are talking about or where to find this King. The Word of God points them to Bethlehem, but it's not a lot to go on. They head out again and God puts His star up in the sky to lead them to the very house where the Christ child is sitting on His mother’s lap.
Again and again these poor Magi head out, not knowing exactly where they are going or how they will get there, but ever journeying onward, being led by God toward Jesus, who lies before them. Yes, beloved, such Magi are very comforting to me, and perhaps, to you too in a time like this where the unknown of tomorrow looms so large before us. Whether it’s the unknown of this endless pandemic, the unknown of our growing years and uncertain health and well-being or the unknown of a journey ahead without someone that we have loved walking beside us, the journey ahead for each of us is far from clear, but the good news of this day, is that the star in God’s Word makes it perfectly clear to all of us that though the way ahead may be unknown, it is a journey toward Jesus.
And the God who faithfully led the Magi to that little house in Bethlehem is your God who is also leading you faithfully by His Spirit through His Word to that same Son who sat on His mothers lap long ago. That you might believe this and walk into your unknown tomorrow in faith, the Son sets Himself before you in His body and blood on the altar today. “Behold,” He says to you, “ I am what lies ahead for you just as I stand ahead of you today. The journey ahead may be unknown but it’s end is not, I determined that on the day that I came to you in the waters of baptism and washed away all your sins so that you might have the gift of eternal life. So do not fear the unknown of tomorrow, I was born, I lived, I died and I rose again so that I could be with you now and be what lies ahead for you tomorrow and forever. Amen.