Epiphany Year B Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
And just like that, it was over.
Christmas is supposed to last 12 days in the church because we have Christmas all the way through Epiphany on January 6th, which is this week. That’s when we commemorate the visit of the Magi to the Christ child just as we heard in today’s gospel lesson from Matthew. However, the reality of our celebration of Christmas in this day and age is that…well…. it is over. It was over more than a week ago.
All the planning and preparing and shopping and decorating. All the parties and get togethers and celebrations and gifts. All the joy at seeing family and friends, the sadness at not seeing those we miss and the anxiety of broken relationships that are all the more vivid in the holidays. There is the great onrush of it all and then…. it is over. The visitors, both the heavenly host and not so heavenly guests, have all gone home. The Christmas carolers and shepherds alike have all returned to work. The gifts, both those in pretty paper and ribbons and that in the manger, have all been unwrapped. And just like that, it is over.
Throughout Advent and Christmas we spend a lot of time looking at the prophecies of the Old Testament that foretold the birth of the Messiah and the amazing and dazzling things that happen surrounding the birth of Jesus. Angels singing over the rolling hills, a brilliant star with a tail as big as a kite, shepherds keeping the faithful night watch over their wooly sheep. Kings with shining gold filled chests, the exotic smell of incense, mysterious and strange travelers riding on camels who have searched high and low for this child.
What a special child this must be! What a special and holy night it must have been! Yay Christmas! Now, it’s over so let’s move on.
But the truth is, it is just getting started.
Epiphany—a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple occurrence or experience. From the Greek word epiphaneia meaning “manifestation, striking appearance”. An epiphany is an ‘a-ha!’ moment.
So, what’s the difference between this and Jesus’ birth? Isn’t Christmas about the manifestation of God fulfilling his promises? Isn’t it a striking appearance for God to be Immanuel; to be born as a human child to us? Christmas seems like a significant A Ha moment doesn’t it? Then why do we have a separate day for this Epiphany business? What’s the difference?
Good question! Glad you asked!
Epiphany shows us that this baby born in the manger as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy matters to all of us as well.
In the gospel lesson for today we hear of wise men, or Magi, coming from the East searching for the child who has been born king of the Jews. Sometimes these wise men are pictured as three kings, such as in the hymn We Three Kings. Sometimes they are pictured as religious holy men from eastern traditions. Regardless of how they dressed or how many of them there were or whether or not they rode camels, the significant piece of it is that they came from somewhere else.
These men and the cultures from which they came were not Hebrews. They were what Jesus’ family and his entire culture would call Gentiles which means everyone who is not Jewish. They did not come from families like Mary and Joseph that had descended from Abraham and knew they were part of a covenant with God. They did not come from faith traditions that spoke of a King in the line of David. If they knew of King David at all, he was merely a leader of a foreign people centuries ago. Their faith did not tell them to look for Immanuel, the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World, the Christ, the Suffering Servant, the Good Shepherd, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, much less to look for such a person amongst an oppressed group of people living under Roman rule.
It is so easy to be blinded by the specialness and flashiness of this holy season. Much like being outside on a bright sunny day, when we move away from the brightness we may be unable to see other less sparkly things that are very important. We are temporarily blinded by the glitter and pageantry of the holidays. This story about the Magi is like that, too. It is easy to see this as another group like the shepherds who have come to see the new baby with shiny and strange gifts. But these are very different people from very different lands who had no reason at all to care one bit about this child. And yet they came. Not only did they come, they came to honor him.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes that the Gentiles, which would be the Magi and you and me and everyone else in the world who was and is not Jewish, have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. In other words, Jesus was both the fulfillment of God’s covenant with his people, the Jews, and the way in which God makes everyone else able to be part of that fulfilled promise, too.
This story about the wise men coming to bring gifts to the child Jesus is a reminder that when we say that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, that ‘US’ is all of us. Jesus did not come for just the Hebrews or just the Christians but for all of us. For the whole world. The hope that he brings to the world is for the whole world.
In our first reading we heard the words of Isaiah: Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen up on you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” 60:1-3
This light, Jesus Christ, is indeed the light of the whole world.