Jan. 2, 2022 Feast of Epiphany The text is Matthew 2:1-12.
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
There is quite the contrast between Herod and the Wise Men; both in their nature and in the way they reacted to the epiphany that the king of the Jews has been born.
We don’t know much more about the Magi other than that they were likely astrologers from Persia and that they sought out Jesus because they observed a sign in the night sky. That, and that because they dreamed that Herod meant to do harm to Jesus, that they decided to travel home by a different route so they wouldn’t reveal Jesus’ location. This is a pretty fair indication that these Wise Men as they are known were probably good guys. Their reaction to the revelation that this astronomical sign foretold, that of the birth of a great ruler, was to travel to bow down to Jesus with the respect due to a king.
On the other hand, we do know a great deal about Herod the Great, the erstwhile Jewish king. Herod was first appointed as governor of Galilee. Then he was named the tetrarch of Judea, a kind of joint ruler of a province. And after a time, Herod was finally named the King of Judea. A Gentile whose family had earlier converted to Judaism; Herod was the consummate politician. This man, who had risen to political power and who held on to it through any means necessary, wasn’t about to react favorably to the news that a baby was born with the right to usurp his rule. Furthermore, Herod wasn’t above stooping to the lowest levels to maintain his power and authority. He had ten wives, the second of which he had executed; he ordered more than a few other assassinations, including the deaths of some of his own sons, who he feared had designs on his throne; and altered the plans multiple times for who he decided would take his throne when he died, depending on his mood at the time.
So, Herod wasn’t above resorting to violence to protect his power, so much so that when the Magi told him that the baby Jesus was destined to assume the role of the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, he reacted as we might expect. After all, Herod was a man capable of unspeakable evil, and when the Wise Men didn’t share Jesus’ location, he thought it best to eliminate his potential rival by ordering all Jewish males two years old and younger, to be put to the sword. If the Wise Men are perceived as the good guys in the story, Herod is most definitely the bad guy; the very bad guy and then some. The wise men reacted to their epiphany of the realization of Jesus as king with respect, homage, and gifts appropriate for royalty; Herod acted out of fear, the lust for power, and a willingness to commit mass murder in order to maintain his sovereignty. As I said, quite the contrast.
There we are, then; two distinctly different reactions to the revelation that God has come into the world, that Jesus is God-in-flesh and even as an innocent baby he is destined for kingship. And we know from the gospels that these opposing ways of responding to Jesus continue throughout his ministry. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John recount for us the examples of Jesus being accepted, worshipped, and adored by many, and also that he was scorned, repudiated, and eventually put to death by others. How is it possible that there can be such divergent reactions to the words and deeds of One who speaks only truth and promises only life?
It would be easy to assume that those who chose to follow Jesus did so because they had the epiphany, the recognition that he was the Son of God and that his message was one of love and mercy. That would then allow us the opportunity to surmise that those on the other side of the equation, those who sought to obstruct his mission did so because they didn’t come to the same conclusion, that they didn’t have the epiphany, the realization of Jesus’ identity. The problem with this assumption is that many of those who sought to thwart Jesus’ ministry did so with full knowledge of his nature, that they wanted him to fail in spite of having had the epiphany of knowing he was God’s Son. And that makes their actions all the more dreadful; and unacceptable.
Herod; “This tiny baby has been revealed as the promised Messiah, the One who is prophesied to lead the Jewish people to freedom and salvation. But wait, I’m the guy in charge, and I’m not about to give up my power. And since I don’t know where he is I’ll kill all the baby boys to make sure he doesn’t get the chance to grow up to overthrow me”. The Pharisees; “Hey, Jesus, you are healing people from awful afflictions, and only God can do these things, but you’re doing this on the Sabbath; we can’t have that!” The people in his home town; “Who does this Jesus think he is, God or something?” The crowd when Pilate offers to set Jesus free; “Give us Barabbas!” These are all examples of people unwilling to act properly even though they are aware that the One whom they are persecuting has come to bring them mercy and grace. “Sure, we have had the epiphany, we know you are the Son of God, but we’re not quite ready to change our ways, to act toward you or to one another with the same grace and mercy you have shown to us.”
Any epiphany, any awareness of something remains just that, a simple unveiling. Whether it’s coming to the realization as a child that it’s not a good idea to touch a hot stove, or learning a vast universal truth; it’s the way in which respond to our epiphanies that give them purpose, that bring them to life. Hopefully, we come to the conclusion that we’re best served by never touching the hot burner and therefore we avoid a trip to the ER. And, it’s our response regarding the truth of Christ Jesus as God incarnate that determines our behavior, our answer to our personal epiphany. We can acknowledge that Jesus comes to us in love, mercy, and grace and we make our choice. We can respond in kind, treating those around us with these same Christlike gifts, or we decline to act as we know we should. It’s really that simple; once we come to the realization of the nature of God in Christ, we can either respond passionately to our epiphany or we can ignore the truth of it.
We find ourselves a mere two days into a new year, and the state of the world around us is troubling. Just listing the issues that plague the world would keep us busy for days. And the concerns that each of God’s children struggle with individually are as numerous as there are people facing them. It’s been a difficult time for everyone and it may be tempting to give in to “Covid Fatigue”. We have all been forced to forfeit much, and we may find ourselves continuing to have to make sacrifices for the greater good. But we are followers of the Way of Christ, we have had our epiphany, we know for certain the truth of the Gospel. We are recipients of the grace, love, and mercy of God expressed through the words, deeds, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All will be made new; God’s kingdom will come to pass. All we need to do to is remind ourselves of our epiphany; and to treat those around us as we are treated by Christ; with grace, love, and mercy. And, it’s probably a good idea that we treat ourselves the same way, too. After all, we could all use a lot more of all these gifts.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, we have shared the Epiphany of the Magi and we too have come to worship Jesus, the king. Help us to express the love Christ has for us toward our neighbors. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One whose star we still follow.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.