Sermon Ephiphany Jan 3, 2016
2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2:2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 2:5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 2:6 '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.'"
2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 2:8 Then 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." 2:9 When 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. 2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
2:11 On entering the house, 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. 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer. Amen ( Please be seated)
I was very excited to be asked to preach on this Epiphany Sunday. First of all, look at the manger scene
at the back of the church….. it is now completed with Shepherds, critters in the stable, Mary, Joseph,
Baby Jesus, Angels and now the wise men and their camels. Just as I imagined it, just as our old hymn
“We Three Kings of Orient Are” paints the picture in our mind. Today I will focus on main points of
the gospel story while acknowledging that not all pieces of the image mentioned above are a perfect fit.
The three wise men bring their gifts to honour the Christ Child, (gold, frankincense and myrrh).
Very fitting gifts for a King. Very fitting gifts for Persian Wise Men to bring with them on their search
for the one that the Star from the East has led them too.
I saw a very clever secondary made up scene on Facebook, it said: After the three wise guys left, three
wise women came to see the Holy Family with three very practical gifts, (Diapers, Formula and
Casseroles) . Not biblical, but it did make me chuckle. As a mom of four, the realities of life with a
newborn never leave you - it is a time of great excitement, much appreciated help by family and friends,
but no question, it is always a challenge. I think of young Mary and Joseph. Wow! And now Wisemen
with gifts – Stars aligning to announce the birth, No matter how many times I read this section of the
gospel and look forward to the continued recorded biblical narrative unfolding, I rest in this moment with
great delight…. A Star of Wonder that has helped the Wisemen wander to Bethlehem.
A Theologian named John Piper who was a Baptist pastor for more than 30 years in Minneapolis
Minnesota teaches that there are at truths that Matthew wants us to see in this story about Christ and
worship: I would like to highlight three:
- Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and should be honored as such.
Even though he is a baby. So just think, when we think of the next generations of Canadians, we
probably have young people under the age of 18 who will strive to become Prime Minister of Canada
someday. Nobody really cares about this, or sets out to find them or honor them. In the scripture
today, the Kings know the Old scripture, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God
and the word was God.” This Babe, this little King was not to be limited to the realm of Israel but
rather greater than this - to the ends of the earth.
Jesus is to be worshiped not just by Jews, but by all the nations of the world, as represented by the wise men from the east.
This gospel does not mention the local shepherds but focusses on the foreign Kings, not just for the
Jews of Israel, but for all. Note that the Wise Men are called “Magi from the east.” That’s all we are
told about them. The term “Magi” is ultimately a Persian word that referred to a special class of
priest in the Persian Empire. They are mentioned in the book of Daniel so we know that from
generation to generation they had a role and purpose in this part of world history.
Who were the Magi? They were the professors and philosophers of their day. They were brilliant and
highly educated scholars who were trained in medicine, history, religion, prophecy and astronomy. They
were also trained in what we would call astrology. The ancients studied the skies in order to find the
answers to the great questions of life–Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?
Do we know their names? Well, history says that their names were Caspar, Belthizar and Melchoir, but
this may just be legend, but it helps us grasp the meaning of the story. Being from Persia, they probably
didn’t ride camels or come by themselves. We know that historically it’s more likely that they rode
Persian horses and were accompanied by Persian cavalry. Is their mode of transportation important? No.
The important fact for us to know is that they were highly influential in Persia. They were in fact advisors
to the king. They were highly-educated men who thought deeply about life and consequently it is
perfectly legitimate to call them “Wise Men.” Wise Men from the East who sought the answers to great
questions of life. I like to remember that Jesus Christ answers all those three questions for me.
- Who am I? – I am a Child of God. That is Good News!
- Why am I here? – God has a purpose for me (Each of us as individuals and as a member of the Body of Christ has the opportunity to contribute to the here and now each day) Exciting!
- Where am I going? – I rest in the promise of Jesus that someday I will have eternal life in a new heavenly home when it is my time. This is a blessed assurance!
God wields the universe to make his Son known and worshiped. This is his great goal in all
things - that his Son be known and worshiped.
Even though there have been many people who have tried to explain away the Star of Bethlehem, the
bottom line for me is that a Star cannot be a sign on its own - our Creator God is using global and I
would like to say “Universal” power to mark this time in history. This is not just any babe born in
Bethlehem in Judea, it is God’s son.
These wise men came to Jerusalem, the capital city, seeking help. They assumed that everyone
must know about this baby. But a great surprise awaits them – their search continued. This Star of
Wonder – his star in the east – did not lead to Jerusalem. To worship him they had to go to a little
place called Bethlehem in Judea. Remember that they would not have been frightened or put off by
anything unusual that suddenly appeared to them. The star would make perfect sense to them and
would in fact perfectly fit what they already believed. It has been said that if God wanted to get a
message to these pagan priests, he picked the perfect way.
In regards to Herod in the Gospel account, it would reason that he probably did not react with joy to
the sight of these wise men, no doubt on fine horses and accompanied by Persian cavalry. He was
disturbed - because if God was sending a new King of the Jews that meant that he was about to lose
his position of power and prestige. And so the Christmas story of Jesus, and now Epiphany, this
innocent babe in Bethlehem is already stirring things up just by being born in a humble stable to
humble parents in humble circumstances. We will hear more about the story in this regard soon.
The truth of the text today confirms that God is awakening in us to acknowledge the gift of the Christ
Child. He is with us. All Nations will bow down before him. Even the Wise Men of Persia found him
because they followed that Star, trusted their instincts, and did not assume anything.
As Benjamin Hanby wrote in his hymn Who is He in Yonder Stall? 1833-67,
‘Tis the Lord, O Wonderous story,
Tis the Lord, the King of Glory,
At His feet we humbly fall,
CROWN HIM, CROWN HIM
Lord of All.
Not in Jerusalem, not in a palace with the local King and birthplace fitting a King:
That week I have a challenge for you:
If you get a chance to go out under the stars, away from the lights of the city, or in a green space that is wide open, get some quiet time under the heavens. Let the stars surround you.
- Remember the words of “We Three Kings”, or at least the chorus : Sing it out loudly or quietly ..
- Remember that you are part of a magnificent universe, where God is active.
- This same Creator God loves YOU.
- With God, all is possible. This is the GOOD NEWS!
Let us pray:
O God, Who by a star guided the wise men to the worship of your Son
we pray that you lead the wise and great of every land and each person who is seeking you
to your loving light.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
Sermon Topics: Epiphany