The Epiphany of Our Lord [Matthew 2:1-12]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Up to this point Jesus’ identity had only been revealed to the Jews. On the night of Christ’s birth the angel appeared to lowly shepherds dwelling in the Hill Country of Judea. The angel told those men about the savior born for all people, not just the Jews. Last Sunday St. Luke told us that Jesus identity was revealed to elderly Simeon and the aged Anna. Simeon holds the child in his arms and says, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 3:20-32). The Holy Spirit had revealed this to Simeon so Simeon confesses that this child is the salvation promised by the Lord. Today Simeon’s words come true. The Lord has prepared this salvation “before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles.” That’s precisely what the Church celebrates on the day after the twelfth day of Christ: Christ is revealed to the Gentiles.
Wise men from the East travel to Jerusalem, being guided by a literal “light to lighten the Gentiles.” The wise men aren’t Jews. They’re from the Eastern lands of Babylon and Persia. They aren’t descendants of Abraham. Yet they know that from the Jews the Savior of the world would come. The Babylonians and Persians were surely acquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jews had been exiled to Babylon in 586 B.C. When Persia conquered Babylon forty-seven years later, the Jews lived peaceably under Persian rule for many years. The wise men of Babylon and Persia would have heard of the long-promised king of Jews who would be king over all nations. Perhaps they knew the prophecy of Numbers 24:17, “A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,” so that when they watched the heavens and saw this new star appear, they felt compelled to go and worship the long-promised king foretold in Hebrew Scripture. Though they were not sons of Abraham, but the Lord had promised Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The Lord had chosen Israel to be the incubator for the Messiah. Moses’ laws separated Israel from the other nations and prepared them to receive the Messiah of all mankind. From Israel the Messiah for all nations would come so that through faith in Him all families of the earth might be blessed with forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.
Because the wise men believed the Scriptures they men travelled the distance to Jerusalem. By following the light of the star these men fulfilled the Scripture which we heard in the Epistle this today. “The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. The multitude of camels shall cover your land, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:3, 5-6). They come in search of the king who was announced by the star, the king foretold in Holy Scripture. It’s just as important to know why they come. That much is shown by the gifts they bring; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They come to give kingly gifts to the newborn king. When they do finally get to Bethlehem where the child is, they “fell down and worshiped Him” as their king. They didn’t travel all that distance to figure out an astrological oddity. Nor did they go on a political mission of peace. They came to worship. They saw His star in the East and recognized the fulfillment of ancient prophesy that pointed to the birth of the Messiah King who would save all people from their sins, from death, the power of the devil.
But first they had to go through Herod the king. The Star only leads them to Judea. Since they’re searching for the one born king of the Jews, they assume the capital is their destination. “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod is troubled because there is a rival king of the Jews and wise men from another country knew about it before He did. All Jerusalem is troubled along with Herod because when Herod was troubled people typically died and Jerusalem just didn’t want that kind of trouble, even if it was because of news of their long-awaited Messiah. The Jews were troubled because of Herod’s insanity but also because they loved their sins. John writes, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Why? Jesus says in John 3:19-20, “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” The Jews, the people through which God would bring the Messiah, don’t even want Him when He shows up. Herod’s reaction to the one born king of the Jews is no different from the world’s reaction to inconvenient children in any age: kill them. The world still responds this way, persecuting Christ by persecuting His body, the church, because the world sees the church as it did Christ: it is an inconvenience because it preaches a different king that demands repentance and faith in Him.
The wise men are once again led by the light, not the light of the star, but the light of God’s Word. The prophet Micah told them the way. “When they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” By their gifts they show their faith in Him. They give Him gold because He is their king. They give Him incense because He is their God, and incense is only offered to God. They give Him myrrh because although He is true God He is also true man who will die and be buried, which is how myrrh was used even at the burial of Jesus by Nicodemus and Joseph (John 19:39). Then they return home, not through Jerusalem where they will have to meet Herod and feed his rage, but by another route.
Dear saints, these wise men show us how we are to worship our Lord. Like them, we are to be led to Christ by the light, though not of a star in the heavens. We are led to Christ by the light of His Word, for His Word is lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Peter tells us that “we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Like the wise men we are to hear God’s Word and let it direct us Christ. As the wise men confessed Christ with their gifts, so we should do the same. Instead of gold we come to Him in true faith which trusts His goodness and promises, because as St. Peter says faith is “more precious than gold that perishes” (1 Peter 1:7). Instead of physical frankincense we should offer to Christ our heartfelt prayers, for the Psalmist says, “Let my prayer be set before you as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2). Instead of physical myrrh, which the wise men gave as a confession of Christ’s death and burial for the sins of the world, we should offer to Christ the myrrh of the modification of our flesh, for “those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24), so that we fight against our sinful flesh. Rise. Shine. Your light has come. In Christ you see the glory of God and your salvation. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.