January 8, 2017 Matthew 1: 1-12
Revelation and Response
Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist says this about revelation, “We’re no longer talking only about a God of the Law, whose ways were unknowable, whose face was unseeable, whose name was unpronounceable, whose heart and hands were untouchable, but about Jesus who entered the conditions of this world as an innocent and needy child, just as we have, to reveal the real presence of God’s love.”
Friday was January 6 and in the liturgical year it is celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany or Theophany or the manifestation of God in this world. It is God’s revelation of Jesus as Messiah in this world to some worldly outsiders. Epiphany is rich with meaning on many levels but revelation and response are what we are focusing on today.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘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.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.” 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Story of the Epiphany
We find this great story of the Magi solely in Matthew’s birth narrative. They see a beautiful star which illuminated the deepest and darkest sky; one much brighter than all the rest of the stars for that time of year. And they follow it. They packed up their camels with food and water for the journey and set out with their caravan over many nights. And after some serious obstacles, big ones, they finally arrive in Bethlehem. My friends, this is far from a simple story that gets glommed into the pageant on Christmas Eve where little boys and sometimes girls wear golden crowns and bejeweled caftans that harkens back to the 60’s.
It’s about foreigners who are perhaps magicians, or astrologers, or sage and cheeky old men, maybe even of ‘kingly’ status who, upon seeing this unusually bright object that moved through the sky with the fluidity of a bird in flight, set out seeking an infant. It’s about their determination and God’s fortitude that this long westward journey, maybe a year or two from Mesopotamia to Judea, would end in something extraordinary which is God’s inclusive desire for all to know God’s glory through Jesus Christ.
And when these outsiders, Gentiles in every way, arrive in Jerusalem they stop to ask Herod, a tyrannical king where they could find Jesus, the little one who had been born king of the Jews. To me I find it curious that they stopped for directions because the star had guided them so far and had gotten them to Jerusalem. Why couldn’t the star just have continued a little further south to Bethlehem without a stop of this magnitude? It’s this stop that creates this maelstrom and adds mystery into the narrative. But maybe it’s God’s peculiar way of revelation yet again.
Now if we stop a second here in the story and focus on revelation we see that revelation began with the shepherds and continued when the magi saw and knew to follow the star. God’s redemptive work in Jesus, God’s manifestation to the entire world was becoming a reality. Some, like the Magi would embrace it and others would reject it. God revealed Godself to good kings and bad kings alike.
Herod was a bad king. King of the Jewish people as appointed by the Roman Imperial Empire - no one was going to dethrone him, especially not some meager little baby born to country bumpkin parents. He didn’t get it. You see the political struggle that we find so palpable later in the Gospel is already present at the very beginning.
Herod was afraid and fear is instilled in all Jerusalem with him the Bible says. What kind of leader would show his own fear to his people possibly instilling insurgence. He calls for his inner circle, his cabinet and asks about this so-called, self-proclaimed king and where this activity was happening. Much to his surprise, they tell him that this ‘subversive activity’ was close to home in Bethlehem a mere five or six miles from the epicenter of Jerusalem. That really frosted him!
Well the magi, being wise men and all, and after some finagling find Jesus and worshipped him. He is the epiphany of God in the presence of a baby. They present their expensive gifts and when it was time to return to the East they were warned through a dream, not to take the same route home. Heeding the dream, they returned home by taking an entirely different route.
To the Magi was revealed God in Jesus as Messiah – the divinity of Jesus in this human baby. It was revealed in the guiding star, and certainly in their arrival in Bethlehem and at the foot of the manger. They understood and the followed in faith to Bethlehem.
To Herod the same was revealed. He too was told about Jesus’ birth and that Jesus was a special ‘king’ one who would save the people, even Herod himself. But Herod and the Magi had drastically different responses. The Magi paid homage and gave precious gifts, Herod, from what we know later in the Gospel, wanted Jesus dead.
Herod cared only for himself and for his position of authority over the people. His response to this revelation was fear and anger and this fear and anger led to his decision to search for Jesus and order the slaughter of all the boy babies under two years of age.
The Magi on the other hand received Jesus as Messiah from the get go. They paid homage first, that is they gave their fullest respect to this infant acknowledging that he was far superior in every way to them. They worshipped him by bowing down and making themselves vulnerable and then if that wasn’t enough they gave him very costly gifts. A sign of respect and selfless devotion.
Choices were made. You couldn’t have two more contradictory responses to the Epiphany of our Lord than you do between Herod and the Magi. You can accept or reject the foundation of our faith that is Jesus Christ. Revelation and response.
You are all here today because you are faithful believers. You are the ‘choir’ that I preach to each week. You believe in the epiphany of our Lord, you’ve accepted the foundation of our faith and you are here worshipping him. That’s good, good on ya as a friend of mine says. What I’m more interested in is your response to this epiphany. The magi paid homage – they worshipped him and then gave gifts.
What gifts do you have that you might offer on bended knee? What contributions can you make that honors the Christ child and builds up the kingdom of God here on earth? All we know is the here and now, all we have is today. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. So, what gift will you offer to the Christ child today?
This is an exciting time in the life of Orange Congregational, I am reminding you of it once again. We are ushering in a new era, one of redevelopment and change. This new change to the way we do things, that is organize ourselves will flourish because it allows for everyone’s gifts (if offered) to be utilized in order to build up God’s kingdom here on earth.
Why should we wait for the kingdom of God in the future when we can make it happen now? If you want to start a cookie ministry all year round – hey lets talk. If you love books and want an OCC book club to meet regularly that’s a great idea, let’s do it. If you want to make a difference in the life of someone who has no place to live, see me. If you want to see or be the face of Christ in others let’s work this one through together – that’s exactly what we are supposed to be doing. We are here by the grace of God and for the grace of God.
The important thing here to remember is that to you was revealed the incarnation and manifestation of God in Jesus Christ and that a response is most longed for by God. Revelation and response. God’s revelation, our response. How will you respond? Think about it. May the star of Bethlehem continue to reveal to you joy, love, forgiveness, and hope.
Rev. Suzanne Wagner
Orange Congregational Church 2017