Isaiah 60:1-6 | Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 | Ephesians 3:1-12
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, household, etc, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. January 6th was "Christ's Birthday" until the 4th century, when Constantine moved it to just after the solstice to correlate with the Feast of the Unvanquished Sun. At that time January 6th became the day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus, as it still is in Eastern expressions of Christianity. Next Sunday we'll celebrate Baptism of Jesus.
"epi," upon / epistructure, epilogue, episode, epicure
"phany" appearance, visibility / Fantasy, Tiffany,
With the Baptism of Jesus, next week we'll talk about a theophany, an appearance or manifestation of God.
This is Luke's lectionary year C. In each lectionary year, we get some passages from John's gospel interspersed; today, for Epiphany (which actually is January 6th) the gospel reading is from Matthew. Matthew wrote to what audience?
Matthew is the only gospel writer who brings us the visiting Magi and the flight into Egypt. Because Matthew wrote to a mostly Jewish audience, he demonstrated Jesus' fulfilling predictions and typology we find in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Matthew 2:13-23 and the flight into Egypt = a type of Moses, also delivered from a cruel tyrant. Moses and Jesus, the New Moses, both called out of Egypt, who both liberated people from slavery into freedom. Jesus as the New Israel who remains faithful in the wilderness despite temptations. Jesus as the new King David and the new Human David.
In Luke's Christmas accounts we read about Jesus revealed to the shepherds, and now in Matthew, Jesus revealed to the "nations," to non-Jews.
• Revealed? But how? Signs/stars in the heavens!
• Revealed? But how? Scripture, MIcah 5:2 and its reference to Bethlehem!
• Revealed? But how? Dreams!
People who recorded and passed along the words and concepts in the scriptures were doing theology just as much as they wrote history, created poetry or composed prose.
We'll be singing "We Three Kings," but there are only two kings in this narrative, King Herod. King Jesus.
Herod's big public works project? The Jerusalem Temple! Jesus is the new Temple (John's gospel reports, "destroy this temple and in three days...") and now we live as the Temple not build of stones.
The Magi probably were Zoroastrians who studied the stars and placed high currency on sky signs. Most likely from Persia!
The Western Church says there were three; the Eastern Church says twelve. Scripture doesn't tell us, but tradition names them Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar. Matthew list three gifts, so that's where we got three bringers of gifts. Barbara explained the meaning behind each gift: Myrrh = embalming a body after death; gold = kingship, royalty; frankincense = temple rituals, Jesus' priesthood. But it's also about all the gifts God gives us!
First reading from Isaiah 60: "arise, shine, for your light has come!" Our light has come! It take so little light to blaze through a dark space. How about us?
Stars all over the place in the Matthew passage. East, east, star, star (and please notice, magi in the room, not in the stable). East, anatolia, the rising, as in the rising of the sun. Light imagery: salvation. "East" is huge here. "from the east" is anatolia, the rising of the sun. Not Bruce Springsteen's The Rising! Oriens, orient, latin word with same meaning as the Greek anatolia. Birth and death of great people featured a star in the heavens. Stars as a messianic sign in Numbers 24:17.
"Paid him homage, worship." Worship only God, but this is the infant, the human person, in whom God fully dwells, God is fully present, therefore Jesus is worth worshiping! Charlene reminded us worship is "worth-ship" worthiness!
Among other emphases, Epiphany is basic evangelism, but beyond the ways we've "always done it." Especially during this interim time, God revealing Jesus in different ways with a star, a scripture passage, and a dream, forms a model for our imaginations and our outreach.
God does whatever it takes to reach out to and embrace all people. A star for people who knew the skies and the stars and trusted sky signs; a scripture passage for people who were biblically literate and trusted those texts; dreams for those who relied on less conscious, rational, cerebral information. Skies and scriptures and dreams all point to the very same Bethlehem Baby!
Epiphany is a time to consider how we can do whatever it takes in our outreach as the church, to embrace all people. How can we be a truly welcoming, inclusive congregation. Truly welching people wherever we are, wherever we go (not only inside and on the environs of the church campus). How about us? inviting people to church (of course), to food events, but how else do we relate to the experiences of others? Barbara mentioned being as sensitive as possible to everyone's needs, desires, and experiences.