Sermon for the Festival of the Epiphany of our Lord - Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany means the “ta-da” of God. A manifestation. An a-ha. A Here-I-am-for-you moment. All the spotlights, all the signs pointing to God with hopes that you will see and believe. This whole Matthew 2 story is one to draw us into the journey of faith. To give a voice to you, you gentiles. You people of the nations. You who should not be named let alone belong in the Kingdom of God. To give you a place. Notice the magi call him “The King of the Jews”, and yet these magi are not Jews. These are gentiles, and more so. Magi is the word used to name them. Literally – magicians. Sorcerers. Some say astrologers. They were the court advisors to the princes of Babylon. They could have been similar to the same folks whom the prophet Daniel was placed in charge over during the Babylonian exile 600 years before Christ. The ones the king sought for guidance on what has, is, or will happen. These magi possibly would have had a taste of this Jewish heritage, this Messiah talk, “King of the Jews”, through the overwhelming influence of Judaism on Babylon itself. From Babylon and Persia we get the Rabbinic tradition. We get the various Targums and manuscripts. Huge commentaries on the various texts of Jewish Scripture. Babylon, along with the vast empire of Persia, modern-day Iran, Syria, elsewhere, helped keep Judaism alive throughout the Middle East. Strange that we rely on those who conquered the Kingdom of Judah to keep the faith and traditions alive. Strange to think that those who would lead the downfall of the people of God, now 600 years later, seek the very King who is to provide salvation to all people.
Now, because of these magi, the people of God are made up of all peoples. More than just a particular people. It includes all types of people. The ones that maybe don’t look like you or me. Ones you have nothing in common with. We don’t have to go to such an extent as to try to find the one transgender person of color in Hubbard county and say – she is the gentile, the foreigner, that we need to welcome. That is definitely true, but not necessary here. Notice I said the ones who may not look like you. If you are 70 years old, could your gentile be the young family with kids? Families, kids, could your gentile be the widow sitting 2 pews away? We want to always go to the most extreme to find the outcast or to make ourselves very progressive, but it is actually much more simple. Your Gentile, besides you, you Gentile, is anyone who doesn’t look like you. God says to them, and you, I am your God. Found in the manger, found in his Word, in his Table, in the waters of your baptism. God everywhere. God in your midst all because of this Jesus.
Now with God breaking forth into our world, leading those magi, what becomes the outcome? What is the “why” of the story? The magi say it – “For we…have come to worship him.” You see, God will use any means to make a worshiper. God desires worshipers. The whole of the Epiphany of Christ is to bring worshipers. To manifest God as one who can now be approached by the lost, the lonely, the vulnerable, as well as the found, the families, the favored. A God that should be approached, not taken for granted or saved for special occasions. Bringing it back to the magi, a lack of worshipers is a lack of those who would find it necessary to travel 6000 miles from Babylon to Bethlehem to kneel before a baby. The Epiphany being God using a star, to bring some star-gazers to the Maker of the stars. This encounter leads to the worship which leads to transformation for them. Worship not being some experience of happiness on our part but pure joy in God. In Christ. Knowing that this God of the universe, king of creation has deigned to make his presence known as close to you as possible because he wishes to capture your heart by the work he has done for you in his forgiveness. In his mercy. In his intervening into the world to save it.
Our worship, whatever sacrifice we bring gets soaked up in this Savior. The magi brought gifts. They presented those gifts. We could go into detail of those gifts. Gifts that would have been the riches of the Orient. The classical interpretation says gold for this King, frankincense for this Son of God, and myrrh for this crucified Savior. Modern thought could see gold as wealth. Frankincense as prayer. Myrrh as a perfume. Makes you smell good. As though the magi bring of their possessions, their religion, and their personal vanity to give to this King. Forms of sacrifice. Parts of oneself to offer back to God. All we think is ours is not. All our prayers are only worth the one we pray to. All our mirages, all our pretenses, all our attempts to smell good, to be pretty, to cover up our sin, to pretend we are not a gentile, they fall at the very sight of the one, the Baby, who takes away our fakery, and then this Jesus gives back to us in His grace. Our prayers becoming nothing more than ways to ask for regular forgiveness of our sin, and regular necessity for the breaking down of our own egos to turn to the Lord. To be brought to that baby in Bethlehem. Even our money and property to be used to create more worshipers. That which has been given to us undeservedly, our regular tithes and offerings, not being an obligation or expectation or tax-deductible loophole, but an expression of worship to God and for the use of the Kingdom to be used by this baby King to create worshippers and disciples, who look so absolutely different that an unbeliever could not help but confess that there is something of God happening here. No other reason this ragtag group of gentiles would gather together and pray.
Being a post-enlightenment, post-religion world, we have lost much of the spiritual qualities of life. The worshipfulness of life. I think that is why so many do look to the East, to eastern religion and philosophy for a piece of that spiritual part of us. Yoga. Meditation. All attempts to regain that which has been coopted by our Western first world attempts to manufacture religion rather than be overcome by spiritual awe. Worship being that extension we need for ourselves. Worship as a response to the Savior. Worship as a response to realizing the price paid for us to deliver our sins to this Baby made manifest for us. Worship being founded on transcendence. Something above of us coming into contact with us. Epiphany being that day in which you, as Gentiles, as people of the East, as those journeying to worship, journeying to kneel before the Christ, find your focus of life. Worship being in the truest sense the bowing, the prostrating of oneself on the floor before the Almighty. Worship being attached to your Jesus as you realize he is yours, when he didn’t have to be. He could have stayed as the King of the Jews. Just a King of a small tribe of people in a remote corner of the world. But no. It wasn’t enough for him. He needed you. He needed your sin. He needed your life. He needed your worship. So here you are, in whatever way you can, giving back to him the worth he has in your eyes. One worth traveling the farthest stretches of the known universe to fall down before the One made known to you as your Savior. The one sent to save you from all your gentile-ness. Thanks be to God. Amen.