“Epiphany: Where to Find Jesus and Why” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Thursday, January 6, 2011

“Epiphany: Where to Find Jesus and Why” (Matthew 2:1-12)

What’s the big deal about Epiphany? I mean, why do we come out for a special service on a weeknight in January? Why does this rate a place as a “major festival” in the church year? And after all, a lot of churches have dropped the historic practice of having Epiphany service on January 6–even some Lutheran churches, sad to say. I guess they figure it’s too much bother. Easier to stay home and not make the trip.

Well, thank God, the wise men from the east didn’t stay home and not make the trip. They figured it was kind of important to go and find the one born king of the Jews. So they traveled hundreds of miles, at great expense, to go and find the Christ and worship him.

But where? And why? Where would they find him? How would they know? And why? Why was it so important to find him? Well, that’s what this Epiphany festival is all about: “Where to Find Jesus and Why.”

You know, Epiphany is kind of like Christmas in this respect. You see, there’s the birth itself, but then there’s the matter of people knowing about it, knowing where to find the child and why it’s so important that they do. At Christmas, it was Jewish shepherds who were told where and why. At Epiphany, it’s Gentile wise men. Both groups were in the dark until the light of God’s word broke in and told them where to go and who it is they would be finding. That’s like us, and all men, really. We were in the dark, clueless, until God’s word broke in upon us and shone the spotlight on Jesus.

That’s why we call this festival “The Epiphany of Our Lord.” The word “Epiphany” literally means a “shining upon.” And literally, there was a star shining over the place where the child was. Epiphany puts the spotlight on Jesus. It is the manifestation, the revealing, of our Lord as the divine Son of God come in the flesh as the Messiah. That emphasis will mark this entire season, from now through Transfiguration. By the way, this year we will have an unusually long Epiphany season, going into March, since Easter will be about as late as it possibly can be this year. So we’ll have a long season of Epiphany light shining this winter.

But now getting back to the similarities between Christmas and Epiphany. In both cases the birth itself needed to be followed up with letting people know where to find the child and why. At Christmas, the angel told the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people”–and by “the people” he means the Jewish people. Then the angel goes on. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

So the Christmas angel told the Jewish shepherds about the birth of the Messiah: “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” As Jews, the shepherds were familiar with the ancient promise of a Davidic Messiah. It was in their Scriptures. So they had an idea that it really would be good news of great joy when that Messiah would finally come. God’s word told them the why.

But then there’s the where. “In the city of David,” the Christmas angel told them. That would be Bethlehem, the little town outside Jerusalem where King David himself had been born a thousand years earlier.

OK, so far, so good. Those shepherds were out in a field not far from there. But when they go into town, how will they know which baby will it be? There could be several. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Well, that would really narrow down the field, wouldn’t it? There couldn’t be too many newborns lying in a manger, an animal’s feed trough.

But, think about it: Is that where you would expect to find the great messianic king promised for ages and announced by angels? No, not at all! Such a humble, lowly birth for such a great and glorious king! Not what you would expect. So the shepherds at Christmas needed a word from God to find their Savior, since he wasn’t where they would expect.

Now all that was at Christmas. Now we fast-forward to Epiphany, and we find similar things going on, only this time with Gentile wise men from far to the east. They too need to know the where and the why, in order to find this child.

How did these Gentiles even know about, or care about, the birth of a king of the Jews? Here we’ve got to back up a little bit. Hundreds of years earlier, the Jews had been taken into exile, into the pagan land of Babylon, which was located hundreds of miles to the east of Judah. While in exile, some of the Jews living there came to serve in the Babylonian court–a man like Daniel, for example. He would have had contact with the Babylonian wise men–court scholars, if you will–and those Gentile courtiers would have learned about the Jewish culture and religion. Wise men were interested in that sort of thing. So wise men in the east could very well have learned of the Jewish hope of a coming Messiah, and they would have heard of the Hebrew Scriptures that prophesy his coming.

And perhaps that is how these wise men came to associate the birth of the Messiah with the appearance of a star. For in Numbers 24, there is this intriguing prophecy: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Here the rise of a ruler in Israel is linked to the appearance of a star. And so when these wise men, who did study the stars–when they observe this unusual star, they connect it with the arrival of the Jewish Messiah and thus they travel to the land of the Jews.

In any case, these wise men from the east knew about the coming of the great Messiah on the basis of the Scriptures. That’s how they knew it would be so very important. So it is for us. We need God’s word to point the way and tell us the why. Otherwise, we’d be in the dark.

But even when the wise men get to Israel, they still need further direction. For this king they’re looking for will not be where they would expect. Oh, they go to where they think they will find a king–to Jerusalem, the capital–and they do find a king there, Herod, but he’s not the one, no way.

Where to find the little king? To the Scriptures to find the answer: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” The Messiah will be found were they didn’t expect. Not in Jerusalem, the city of kings, but in Bethlehem, a little podunk town a few miles away.

Now all of this comes home to us. You and I need the direction of God’s word in order to find our Savior. Otherwise, we would be in the dark. And God’s word does tell us where to find him and why.

Why is it so important that we come to find Jesus? Because he is our Savior and our king. Not just the Savior and the king of the Jews, but of us Gentiles also. This is good news of great joy for us too! Notice, the Gentile wise men do a whole bunch of rejoicing when they find Jesus: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

Why we need to find Jesus is because he is our only Savior and our only hope. This title, “king of the Jews”–this will come around again, years later, when that title is nailed over Jesus’ head as he hangs on a cross. This is how Jesus will accomplish his messianic mission: by dying on the cross for the sins of the world, Jews and Gentiles alike. He is your Savior and your king. Jesus pays for, and takes away, your sins. And so with your guilt removed, and with Christ’s righteousness credited to your account, you have new life and eternal life in his name. Being connected to Christ is your sure and only hope of salvation. That is why you need him.

But where to find him? Here again you have a guiding star in God’s word. Where the good news of Christ is proclaimed, there you will find your Savior. Where the gospel is taught in its truth and purity and where the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution–these are the marks of the church, meaning, this is where you can be sure to find Jesus.

But this is not where people may expect to find something grand and glorious. It doesn’t look so grand and glorious to go to a small, old church, where there’s not a whole lot of people or a whole lot of programs. But I tell you, this is the place where the Epiphany star is shining. It may not seem so fancy and spectacular when a man says some words over some bread and a cup of wine for you to eat and drink. But this is where you will find the very body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. God gives his magnificent gifts in lowly places, where you might not expect to find them. A baby lying in a manger. A child in little Bethlehem. Eternal life and salvation right here in little Bonne Terre.

Epiphany is all about where to find Jesus and why. The spotlight is shining on Christ tonight, and throughout this Epiphany season. Wise men still find him, not by their own wisdom, and not in the glitzy, glamorous places the world might expect, but we find Christ our Savior where the guiding star of God’s word points us.

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Published in: on January 6, 2011 at 6:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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