A Light to the Gentiles – January 6, 2019, Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-3, Matthew 2:1-12
January 6, 2019
This title comes from the passage we read last week. They are the words of Simeon. Do you remember him? He was the man Mary and Joseph met in the Temple when they brought Jesus for dedication. If you remember his story, God had told him he would not die before he saw the Messiah. And when he held the baby Jesus he said,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
Again, this is one of those passages that sound nice when we read them, especially when we read them in our “Bible voice!” But when we look closer, we might see some alarming things. Like I asked last week, would the people have been hushed when Simeon spoke? Do you remember the old E. F. Hutton commercials? Somebody would mention E. F. Hutton, and the room would go immediately quiet, and everyone would be listening! And then the line, “When E. F. Hutton speaks, everybody listens!”
So, was this like that? And what about when they heard these words about this child being “a light to the Gentiles,” how do you think they felt at that moment? Would that have added an air of tension to this scene? Would that have made them “squirm” a bit? (Would they have gotten verklempt?)
I ask that, because that’s our story for today! Here are these “Kings,” these “Magi,” these “Wise Men,” these “Gentiles!” And they’re coming to see Jesus. This is the prophecy of Isaiah 60 coming true! “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising!” How do you think Mary and Joseph felt when they came in? Do you think they thought of Isaiah, or Simeon? Or did they just think “oy veh!” (They were Jewish, right?)
So much of the story of Jesus is “not what the people were expecting when the Messiah came!” And, I have to say, it wasn’t what they were expecting because it wasn’t what they were wanting! That was what happened throughout the ministry of Jesus! He wasn’t saying the right kind of things. He didn’t hang out with the right kind of people. He “ruffled the feathers” of the wrong people. And of course, as this story tells us, he didn’t so much acknowledge the “chosen” nature of God’s people as he did show God’s love to all people! “For God so loved…” who?
This was the big “Aha” moment. That’s why it’s called “Epiphany.” Do you remember what that means? It means a “Sudden revelation.” It is something suddenly being revealed, or in this case confirmed. But did that matter? Did the whole world get this? Did it all make sense now? Or would people continue to resist the plan of God, until finally they wrote off this Jesus. He just wasn’t fulfilling their desires for the Messiah!
And I ask you… Do we ever have the same kinds of feelings? Is the Messiah ever “not what we want him to be?” When we pray “Thy will be done,” (and I’ve heard all of you say that!) do we really want it? And if we discovered something that was God’s will for us, what would we do if it was something we didn’t want?! This whole nation had a real problem with Isaiah 60 and the words of Simeon! What about us?
That’s the hard part for us, isn’t it? Over the years I’ve heard people ask me “How do I know what God’s will is for me?” And my answer is usually, “Talk to him about it!” “Talk to him as much as you can about it!” But as hard as it seems to determine God’s will, following his will can be even harder, if you think about it!
Do we ever think, or even pray, “Dear God, please don’t let such and such be your will.” Actually, there’s nothing wrong with praying such a prayer. It’s honest! It’s us sharing our heart with God. Even Jesus himself prayed, “Let this cup pass from me.” Even he struggled with doing God’s will. And that struggle is ok with us, too – as long as we are willing to follow God if he answers, “Sorry, it is my will!” Then we have to finish Jesus’ prayer, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” Then we have to trust and obey. (As the old song says.) And I think that’s often the hardest part!
Next week, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. And it has been our tradition in recent years to think about our own baptisms, and even more importantly, to reconsider our commitment to our Lord.
As we do, we remember that, as Christians, we “follow” Jesus. That means he is our leader. Not the other way around. That means we don’t make all the decisions. That means we strive to say, “Thy will be done,” and mean it! And that doesn’t sit well with all people. That’s not easy!
So, here we have these Gentiles coming to worship the King of the Jews. If that doesn’t seem incongruous to you, it should! But the Epiphany here, the “Aha,” the “sudden revelation” is that it was God’s plan all along! What would the world say? what would God’s people say in the next 30 years or so? What do we say when we grow ever closer to God and discern his will for us?
Eternal God, help us to grow closer to you this New Year. Help us to hear your voice, and to know your will for us. Help us to have the strength we need to follow where you lead us. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.