The Epiphany of Our Lord
Friday, January 6, 2012
“Friday Night Lights” (Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12)
“Pastor, have you lost your mind? What are you doing, dragging us out here to church on a Friday night, for goodness’ sakes! And in January, no less!” And my answer to that would be: The reason I’ve asked you all here tonight has to do with the “Friday Night Lights.”
Friday night lights. Let me explain. Today is the Epiphany of Our Lord, a major festival of the church year. Epiphany is always January 6–it’s what we call a “fixed-date festival,” determined by the date on the calendar, regardless of the day of the week. In that respect, it’s like Christmas. Christmas is always December 25. Then you have the twelve days of Christmas, which concluded yesterday. And now today, January 6, is Epiphany. And January 6 could fall on any day of the week. This year it’s a Friday. And so we have church tonight. That’s why we’re here.
But the bigger “why” is because of those lights I mentioned. The “Friday night” lights, this year. It’s the light that is shining that brings us here. It’s the light that we see once we get here. And it’s the light that we will take with us that will send us on our way.
First, there is the light that brings us here. The story of the wise men sets the pattern. The wise men, the magi, were most likely court scholars from a land far off to the east somewhere–Babylon, perhaps. They were not Jews, they were Gentiles, but they had had contact with Jews, and they knew something about the Hebrew prophecies. You see, centuries earlier, many of the Jews had been taken captive from the land of Judah and brought to the land of Babylon–people like Daniel, for example, whom we read about in the Old Testament. Daniel knew the prophecies about the Messiah to come, a great king to arise at some point in the future. And Daniel, who served as a foreigner in the courts of Babylon, would have shared that knowledge with the Babylonian scholars. And so that wisdom would have been handed down over several centuries, so that the wise men we read about in our text would have been familiar with it. A scenario like that is most likely. In any case, our wise men, the magi, do know about the expectation of one to be born “king of the Jews.”
The wise men would have also known that the birth of the Messiah was associated with the appearance of a special star. This goes back to a prophecy from the Book of Numbers: “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.” So in God’s providence, and on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, these Gentile wise men were familiar with the messianic prophecies, about a great king to come, who would be the hope of the whole world, and that when he comes, a special star would herald his arrival. They knew that their gods, the pagan gods, weren’t cutting it, but the Messiah, the king of the Jews, would offer real hope. And so they came searching.
So that is the light that is bringing the wise men to look for the great king. It is the star, yes, but it’s really the Scriptures that link that star with the birth of the Messiah. And then, even when they get to the land of Judah, they need more Scripture to get them to the right place: “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.’”
Dear friends, you and I need God’s Word to alert us to our need for a Savior and then to lead us to where we can find him. That’s why you’re here tonight. Oh, you may have come tonight out of habit, or maybe because your spouse bugged you to go, or maybe you came for the cookies and cocoa after the service. But deeper than that, you came really because God had arranged for the star of his Word to lead you here. God’s Word has told you that you need a Savior. God’s Word has told you that he has sent a Savior. And God’s Word has told you that this is where you can find your Savior.
You need a Savior. God’s Word tells us that we all are sinners, lost on our own, lost off far away in the darkness. We were worshiping other gods, gods of our own making, the false gods of this world–pride, sex, money, pleasure, the good life. But God’s Word has worked in our hearts to tell us that those gods aren’t cutting it. They offer us no real hope. They cannot deliver us from a guilty conscience. They cannot save us from ourselves, the bad conduct that we keep on doing. They cannot rescue us from disease or death. You are going to die, and what will become of you then? A whole lot of darkness enshrouds our future. Darkness clouds our minds in the here and now. We need some light, light from above.
But now God’s Word also tells us that God has sent us a Savior. The word of Christ has gone out into the world. The gospel, the good news, is there, even if it’s stuck in the back of our heads as a dim glimmer. But we know, we have heard, that there is this promise of one who can rescue us from our predicament.
And God’s Word points us to where we can find him. At church, here, tonight. You’re not going to hear about Christ out there in the darkness of this world. The world isn’t interested, they’re happy sitting in the dark. But here, this is where we tell you about your Savior. Indeed, this is where you can find him.
As it was for the wise men, so it is for us. The star of God’s Word is the light that brings us to the place where our Savior is. And so that’s the first of the “Friday night lights” tonight.
Then there is the light that we see once we get here. It is the Savior himself. To the Christ child–that’s where the star led the wise men: “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”
The Christ child–he is the real “star” of the show. He is the true light that was coming into the world. God in the flesh, the Son of God incarnate. Here is the Savior you’ve heard about. Here is the Savior you’ve been looking for. The one born king of the Jews is your king, too. He it is who brings light and life to those who are sitting in darkness.
The Savior of the world is here. Not just for Jews, but for Gentiles also. All of us sinners, in such great need of a Savior–this is the one God has sent. There is no other. God has pinpointed this very one, this Jesus, the Christ, leading Jew and Gentile alike to find him here where his gospel is preached. You have come to the right place. This is where Jesus is.
Here you find the one who goes to the cross for you, to suffer and die in your place, so that you would not die eternally. Christ Jesus, the king of the Jews–why, that’s the very title that was placed over his head on the cross. That was the Friday when the lights went out, and darkness came over the land. For Christ himself suffered that darkness, in order to bring you into the light. And then when he rose on Easter morning, the light burst forth, the light of life shining in the darkness, assuring you of resurrection and eternal life in him.
There is light here tonight. Here is where you find Jesus, the real star of the show. When God’s Word lead us to the place where he is, with the wise men we rejoice exceedingly with great joy and we fall down and worship him.
Friday night lights. The light of God’s Word that leads us here. The light of Christ that we find here. Finally, there is the light that we take with us when we leave here. You know, we as God’s people, the church, our congregations, and we individually, as Christians living in the world–we are lights too in a sense. Of course, Christ alone is the source of light, but we as his people–the light of Christ shines through us into a sin-darkened world. God’s intent is that people will see us, and we will be those stars that lead more people to find their Savior.
This has always been true for God’s people. Isaiah prophesied to Israel: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” The church is like a beacon, shining her light so that people will come to the Christ.
Likewise, St. Paul said that, by preaching to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, he was bringing God’s plan to light for everyone, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known.” The church now is acting like that star did for the wise men: leading people from all over the earth to discover their Savior.
And not only in Babylon and Persia and the Far East, but also in Bonne Terre and Potosi and the Farmington Circuit. Far away and close to home, there are people sitting in darkness all around us, and God will use us–our congregations, our pastors, our people–to shine the light of Christ in those places. Friends, Jesus himself is the light of the world, but he also says to us: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Paul says that as the children of God we “shine as lights in the world.” Did you know that we are stars? Oh, we may not be famous, but God has placed us in the world to shine as his lights for people who need light. By your life of good works, your works of love for others done in the name of Christ, and by your verbal witness, the testimony you give to others about Jesus, you are acting as a star for someone else, leading them to find their Savior. Let your light shine, my friends.
Friday night lights. The light of Christ is shining, Epiphany light, yes, on Friday nights, but also on Sunday mornings, and Tuesday afternoons–indeed, every day the light of God’s Word leads sinners to find their Savior, and, having found him, leads them back out into the world where they–where we–will shine for others.