Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord, AD 2021

Ephesians 3:1-2; Matthew 2:1-13

Who were the wise men? Well, traditions around the wise men seem to have filled in a lot more of the story than we actually hear in scripture. The Bible calls them “magi” meaning magicians or astrologers. The idea of them being “we three kings” came about 500 years after their lives and is influenced by our Old Testament reading in Isaiah 60:3 “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” They fulfill the roles of these kings of nations who were to come bow to the promised Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament. It was not until another couple hundred years that they were known as “wise men,” on account of being pious and godly rulers who come and worship Jesus. We can also say that we don’t actually know if there were three, there are three gifts, but that’s all we know. That’s ok, scripture doesn’t give all the details about everything because it is not written to give a detailed step by step account or police report, but to teach us from true history about Jesus.
A better question may be how much did the wise men know? Well, being astrologers, they looked at the stars for signs, but the sign didn’t tell them a whole lot. It’s likely that if they were from Babylon, where God’s people were in exile many years, they were familiar with the scripture from Numbers which prophesies about a star: “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; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth” (Numbers 24:17). Not totally understanding, but with the combination of God’s revelation through a star and possibly through scripture, they feel confident enough to take a long journey to Jerusalem to greet the new king. Yet not until they get there do they know what Herod’s Sunday School teachers will tell them, that the Messiah is born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, of course!
So the wise men aren’t so wise, perhaps, at least not in their own efforts. Certainly we can discount any thought that astrology or some sort of good magic helped them find Jesus. Such demonic arts are not to be trifled with an should be avoided by Christians at all costs. They do not lead to Christ, but away from Him. There is a lot of media now with stories suggesting that magic can be used for good, that the ends justify the means. Don’t believe it! These activities are very evil and are playing with fire. Given all of God’s warnings about witchcraft and magic, we should not get the idea from the wise men that magic leads to Jesus. Magic leads to darkness and despair.
It is in their darkness that God comes to the Magi, to enlighten them about Jesus. There is nothing inherently wise about the magi to cause them to deserve this revelation. By the undeserved grace of God, they are led to seek the newborn king. By the undeserved grace of God, they are taught by the teachers in Jerusalem from the scriptures to follow him to Bethlehem. God is revealing the truth to the Gentiles through these Wise Men, those who were in darkness and did not know Him, even while God’s people, the Jews, completely ignored Him. Herod and the teachers of Jerusalem had Jesus coming right there among them, and were not interested – even more, troubled, and later enraged.
This is the meaning of Epiphany – that Jesus is revealed to those Gentiles, the magi, and thus will be revealed to all, bringing them out of their previous darkness of pagan religion, godlessness, and superstition and bring them into God’s people. As St. Paul says in our epistle reading, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This revelation, this Epiphany, was not known in the Old Testament times, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs in Christ. Yet we must be careful in how we understand this. It is not that the Old Testament believers did not know or think Gentiles could be saved. Rahab the prostitute was a Gentile, who was saved in the battle of Jericho for her faith. Ruth trusted in God and has an entire book named for her. Naaman the Syrian trusted God enough to come to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. Many times in the Old Testament it is said that Gentiles will come to believe. That is not new. What is new is not a fact, but a person, Jesus Christ.
So we should not move from the person of Jesus to the fact that He is revealed to Gentiles like us. We follow the way of the wise men –the fact of the revelation to Gentiles should lead us to the person of Jesus. Epiphany has always been very closely related to Christmas, and we should always think of it in the context of that physical, human baby in the manger who is also the Creator of heaven and earth. That God-man, Jesus, took the curse of the law, our sin and darkness, on himself and killed it on the cross, thus uniting all, Jew and Gentile, in Him.
This is not unity as the world gives. It is not just getting along. It is not uniting under a politician or candidate. It is not uniting in a cause or idea. Christians, Jew and Gentile, are now united in the very person of Jesus Christ. We are fellow heirs – we share in the inheritance with Christ because we have been reborn as sons of God in baptism, and are now his heirs. Our common inheritance of God’s grace is not in our birth, but in our rebirth by water and the Spirit in which we are united with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. We also also fellow members of the same body, that body being the very body of Jesus Christ, as we are united to Him by trust in His gospel promise. Of that body we are also fellow partakers – we are not united by our own flesh but by Christ’s flesh and blood of which we partake together in the Lord’s Supper.
This eternal unity of the Church, founded in the person of Jesus Christ, is the instrument of God’s revelation or epiphany to the world, as St. Paul says, “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” The testimony of a growing, living, and united church testifies to the evil forces that their rule is at an end. All things were and are continuing to be accomplished by Jesus, for “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
Like the wise men, we have been brought out of darkness by the work of the Holy Spirit through the gospel. Let us continually and boldly draw near to him as members of his living church, through His means of Word and Sacrament. There we are joined together in his body and partake in the mystery which God has revealed after many ages – Christ in You, the hope of glory. Amen.

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