Isaiah 60:1-7, Matthew 2:1-12
December 31, 2017
Throughout Advent this year, we’ve been focusing on the words of the Prologue to John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We’ve been remembering and thinking about the great imagery John used to describe that “Word” which “became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
On Christmas Eve, we talked about John’s imagery of “Light in the Darkness.” “In him was life,” he wrote, “and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it.” Those are wonderful words!!!
Well, today, we’re talking about that light going out to the world. Because we’re thinking about the story of the Magi, the Wise Men, who came to see the child Jesus. And we’re thinking about the prophecy of Isaiah. “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
All of that is because this is the Sunday we celebrate Epiphany. And if you remember, an “Epiphany” is “a sudden realization.” It is an “Aha” moment! That’s what “Epiphany” means. And this is the great “Aha moment” of history. This is a “new revelation” of the power and purpose of God! God’s light was for all the world!
And this is a weird year! You might remember me saying that this year was the shortest Advent season possible. With Christmas falling on a Monday, that made Christmas Eve also the fourth Sunday of Advent!
Well, that makes for a weird Epiphany, too! Because Epiphany is always January 6th. It is the Twelfth day after Christmas. (I believe that’s the day of the drummers drumming!) And January 6th is this coming Saturday! And since Epiphany rarely falls on a Sunday, you always have to pick an appropriate Sunday to talk about it. And this coming Sunday, the 7th, is the Sunday we celebrate “The Baptism of our Lord.” So, if we’re going to think about Epiphany, we have to do it today!
I know that’s weird. The Sunday we celebrate Epiphany is usually the Sunday after New Years day. But this is the way it all falls this year. As you’ve probably heard me say, I, for one, am ready to standardize Christmas! “Dear Pope Francis, could we please have Christmas the same day every year?” (Sigh… Oh well…)
Well, here we go! As I said, this event is the story about how “the Light” went out to the world. Remember, the people of Israel were the “chosen people.” But they were originally “chosen,” not so they could have an exclusive relationship with God, but so that they could be the ones to show God’s light to the rest of the world. The problem is they didn’t. They made it all about an exclusive relationship with God! They separated themselves from everybody else.
Now, that was about to change! The angel told the shepherds that night that the “Good news of great joy” was to be “for all people.” I wonder if those shepherds understood that message that night. I wonder if they, being good Jews, knew what it meant for the Good News to be “for all people.”
That was the first thing. Then there was this visit from these Wise Men – which scholars believe could have been up to a year later. And let me tweak your mental image here again. We picture these men traveling alone – just the three of them. But people, especially the important people we believe them to be, probably wouldn’t have traveled like that. They would have a caravan. They would have had a lot of people around them. They would have needed help. They would have needed protection. (They were carrying gold!)
Remember also, that Matthew really doesn’t tell us how many of them there actually were! Over the years, traditions have arisen about them. Some have given them names. Some have even given them separate countries of origin. They say they were Balthazar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India. Have you ever heard that?
Well, we know none of that from Matthew. The only thing we know about these men – number-wise – is that they brought three gifts. They brought Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. But don’t worry, those traditions are nice. You don’t have to go out and buy more wise men for your nativity set! (Or take one of them away! Because the plural is used here, so there has to be at least two of them, right?)
Again, those traditions are nice. But instead, I want you to think about what these men represent. The word was going out to the world. Isaiah’s prophecy was happening. Nations were coming to the light, “and kings to the brightness of its rising.”
The anticipation of Advent was happening. And it wasn’t just happening in Israel! There are stories in other religions in the area, stories about prophecies and omens that pointed to a significant event that was about to happen in Israel. This story in Matthew is just one of them. The whole world was getting wind of something important that was about to happen! And it was so important that we talk about it today, as though we were part of it!
I think all of that gives this story great depth and power! And I think one of the things we need to take from this is that we, in our lives of faith, should always be open to God’s “Epiphanies.” Think about that. What new revelation, what sudden realization, what “Aha moment” might God be trying to give you? Because the lesson of history is that, in Jesus’ time there were people who were not open to that. They were stuck on that “We’re the chosen people” thing. If God was showing them something new about that, something they didn’t want to see, they closed their eyes to it!
It’s too easy for that to happen, isn’t it?! We get “comfortable” in our way of thinking about things. We get set in our images and our understanding of things. We are too quick to say, “That’s not how I see things.” Well, maybe God is trying to show you some new things. Or maybe God is trying to show you things that are not so new, but you haven’t been open to seeing before.
And so, we think of Epiphany today. And I ask you, as you are about to embark on a new year, what might be your Epiphany? What might God reveal to you this coming year? Will you be open to him? Will you follow where he leads?
Eternal God, help us to always be open to what you might be trying to tell us. Help us to seek your will in the coming year, to strive to see things with your vision. Help us to be the people you have called us to be, and are calling us to be! For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.