“Finding Jesus: A Joyous Epiphany” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Sunday, January 6, 2019

“Finding Jesus: A Joyous Epiphany” (Matthew 2:1-12)

Today is January 6, and that means today is Epiphany. The Epiphany of Our Lord is a major festival in the church year, a big one, almost on a par with Christmas. And, like Christmas, Epiphany is a fixed-date festival, meaning it always falls on the same date, regardless of the day of the week. So most years we celebrate Epiphany with a special service on a day other than Sunday, and we have to make a special effort to get here. But this year January 6 happens to fall on a Sunday, when we’re here anyway. Most years we have our Epiphany service in the dark, and the weather might be bad. This year we’re here in the daylight, and the weather is no problem. All of which makes our Epiphany service this year very easy and convenient.

But that’s not the way it was for the first Epiphany service! It was by no means easy or convenient. The worshipers at the very first Epiphany service had to travel an extremely long way to get there. Plus, they didn’t even know exactly where the service would be until they got there! And to get there, they had to cross paths with a very dangerous and deceitful man. Then there was the offering they gave at the service–talk about costly! Well, even with all those obstacles, the first Epiphany worshipers still thought it was worth the effort. In fact, they were overjoyed! And so are we. Thus our theme today: “Finding Jesus: A Joyous Epiphany.”

Why does finding Jesus make for a joyous Epiphany? Today we’ll hear several reasons. First, Epiphany is the Gentile Christmas. What do I mean by “Epiphany is the Gentile Christmas”? I mean that Christmas–the first Christmas, the birth of Jesus–was, in a sense, a Jewish holiday. Remember what the angel said to the shepherds: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” And “the people” there refers to the people of Israel, the Jews. Christ’s coming at Christmas was first for the Jews, to be their long-expected Messiah. But now at Epiphany the circle definitely gets expanded. Now the good news goes out to include the Gentiles, the non-Jews. Those wise men from the east were almost certainly Gentiles, probably from a place like Persia or Babylon. Even their question, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” indicates that they themselves were not Jews.

You know, God’s plan all along was to include the Gentiles, ever since he told Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The Old Testament has many prophecies about how in the messianic age the Gentiles would come running to get in on the blessings bestowed upon Israel. And remember how, when the infant Jesus was presented in the temple, Simeon called the little baby, “a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” Well, now at Epiphany here he is, that Light to lighten the Gentiles. And to mark the occasion, God has some Gentiles come, led by the light of a guiding star, to behold the true Light, who gives light to every man. Epiphany is the Gentile Christmas.

Now most all of you here today are Gentiles, not Jews. Your parents and grandparents did not come from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They came from tribes of pagans and barbarians and had names like Bjorn and Brunhilda. They worshiped trees and stars and bowed down to idols made of wood and stone. But at Epiphany the Gentiles get included in the act. God brought them the light of the gospel, and you and I are the beneficiaries of that blessing. And it all began with the first Epiphany, the Gentile Christmas.

So that’s the first reason to celebrate Epiphany: We Gentiles are included in God’s plan. Secondly, another reason why Epiphany is so joyous: It points us to the person of Christ. We learn how and where to find him. Just like the star pointed the Magi to the Christ child, so Epiphany points us to the person of Christ. The readings, the hymns, the Word preached, the Sacrament delivered–all point us and lead us to Christ.

The first Epiphany certainly focused on Christ. The star directed the Wise Men, first to the land, then to the town, then even to the exact house where they could find him. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” That’s what they wanted to know. Where is the Messiah, the great deliverer promised by God many centuries ago? The person of Christ is the one they seek, because God was pointing them to him.

Now this raises a couple of questions: How did these Gentiles know about the Messiah promised to Israel? And how did they connect the appearance of a star to the birth of the King of the Jews? The answer here, in both cases, is through the Word, through divine revelation. They would not have known about the Christ and his birth otherwise. These wise men from the east probably served in the court of the king of Babylon. And six hundred years before Christ, the Jews, the Judeans, had been taken captive and deported to Babylon. Among them were Jewish wise men who then served in the courts of Babylon, most famously, Daniel. There the Gentile scholars would have come in contact with the religion of Israel, learning the prophecies of a Messiah to come.

Some of those prophecies compare the coming of the Messiah to the rising of a great light that will even attract the nations. You heard one such prophecy from Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. . . . 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.” Or this 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 there was a certain biblical tradition that the coming of the Messiah would be marked by a sign in the heavens, a bright light or a star. The Gentile wise men would have learned of it from the Jewish wise men, and then God connected the dots for these particular wise men by revealing to them that it was this unusual star.

But that only gets them as far as the land of Israel. And so they go to Jerusalem, the capital, where they logically think they would find the one born King of the Jews. Here again, they need the Scriptures to take them farther. Where is the Christ to be born? “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet,” quoting the prophet Micah. You see, it wasn’t a star by itself that could tell them about the Christ and where to find him. The sign had to be accompanied by the Word. But with that word, God then directs them even to the very house where they can find the Christ.

So it is for us. We would not know of a divine Savior, born to deliver even us Gentiles, except that God has revealed it to us in his word. But with that word, we have as sure a guide as the Wise Men had. We know who the Christ is, and we know where to find him, even down to the exact house.

We know who Christ is. He is that baby born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the prophecies of long ago. He is the King of the Jews, born to bring salvation also to us Gentiles. He is God come in the flesh, worthy to receive our worship—indeed, our treasures of gold, incense, and myrrh. For he is the King of kings, and costly gold befits such a king, even when he comes in humble circumstances. He is God himself, to whom the incense of our prayers will arise. He is the God-sent sacrifice to atone for all of our sins, and so myrrh will anoint him for his burial. Yes, we know these things about who the Christ is. God’s word has told us.

We also know where to find him: Wherever his pure gospel is preached and his Sacraments are administered rightly. God directs us even down to the very house: this house, the Lord’s house. For in this house you will hear that precious gospel. In this house your sins will be forgiven. In this house the body and blood of your Savior will be given to you, for your eternal life and salvation. God’s word directs you, like a guiding star, and points you here, to this house, to where you can be sure to find your Savior.

Finding Jesus makes for a joyous Epiphany, first, because it’s the Gentile Christmas, and second, because it points us to the person of Christ and where to find him. Now here’s a third reason: It points us to Christ’s saving work. Here that phrase, “the King of the Jews,” comes in again. For at that time there was another king, Herod, and he didn’t want to hear about any upstart “King of the Jews.” Well, actually, he did want to hear about him–he wanted to know his exact location–not to worship him, but rather to destroy him! This is a foreshadowing of the opposition that Christ would encounter later on. Years later, other powerful men would be enraged by him and seek his death. Indeed, they had him crucified. And what would the sign that hung over his head say? “This is the King of the Jews.” There’s that phrase again, “the King of the Jews.” The cross looms, even at Epiphany.

But for us, that is reason for joy! Because we know how to read that sign. We know why the King of the Jews would go to the cross: to win salvation for the whole world, Jews and Gentiles alike. For all us poor sinners who need God to deliver us from death and eternal damnation. That is why Christ came. The Son of God came on the longest journey of all, from heaven to earth, from glory to shame. He, Jesus, spared no expense, even to the shedding of his holy precious blood. He did all this, because he knew it was the only way to deliver mankind from the clutches of sin and death, and to save us for all eternity, to the glory of God his Father.

Why is Epiphany such a joyous festival? First, because Epiphany tells us that we Gentiles are included in God’s plan. It’s the Gentile Christmas. Second, because Epiphany points us to the person of Christ and where to find him. The Word is our guiding star, leading us to the Light of the world. And third, Epiphany points us to the saving work of Christ, the King of the Jews, crucified for us sinners. And so, like the Wise Men, those first Epiphany worshipers, we too “rejoice exceedingly with great joy” when we come to the house where we find Jesus.

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Published in: on January 5, 2019 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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