Sermon: The Epiphany 2024

Isaiah 60:1-6

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

Psalm 72:1-7,10-14

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I have always liked wise men. The magi. I was one of the three kings in a Christmas pageant when I was 9. I feel like we would have got along. They were scholars. They observed the stars and knew how to interpret the changes. I feel like they would have been big calendar guys like I am. 

It’s a cliche to bring it up anymore, but the past few weeks have been kind of muddled in the calendar. The week between Christmas and the new year is notorious for feeling like a soup where none of the days are distinct. And in the Christian calendar there’s Christmas day, the 12 days of Christmas, various feast days and saint commemorations, including this past Monday’s commemoration of the Holy Name of Jesus. That feast comes 8 days after Christmas, which would have been the day infant Jesus was circumcised according to Jewish law. In a few weeks, on February 2, the church commemorates when Jesus was presented in the temple, 40 days after his birth. So it feels like we are living those first weeks of Jesus’ life in real time. So today, January 6, the 13th day after Christmas, that’s when the wise men got there, right? 

But here’s where the calendar sort of breaks out of its day by day reenactment of Jesus’ life and starts looping back around. Tomorrow we will commemorate the baptism of Jesus, which happened when he was a fully grown adult. In just over 2 months, we will remember the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. 

The church calendar is doing both things. Both remembering the first year of Jesus’ life in real time and remembering the entire life of Jesus year after year. Today, the Epiphany, is a sort of meeting of those two ways of remembering Jesus. Commemorating the miracle that is God made flesh, born as a tiny baby named Jesus. And commemorating Jesus as the prophesied Messiah and Lord. And the wise men recognized this, perhaps the first people after Christmas Day to do so.

One idea of who these wise men were was that they were Jewish scholars who had remained in Babylon after the end of the exile and rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The Babylonians and Persians were known for their accurate astronomical observations. The Jewish people there would have had access to the scriptures. It was in Babylon that many of the Jewish scriptures were compiled into the form we have inherited today. Scholars would have been able to study the words of the prophets and apply those texts in new contexts, as we do today.

If the wise men saw the star rise when Jesus was born and left right then, they probably traveled for months before they got to Jerusalem and then Bethlehem. It probably didn’t happen like our creche here, with the wise men and their camels all there with the donkey and cows and shepherds at the same time. Jesus might have been a year or more old. Because they tell king Herod when they first observed the rising star and he used that information to decide that it was a child under 2 years old in Bethlehem who might become a threat to him. 

The difference in response between King Herod and the wise men is the crucial thing. Herod hears of a potential rival king, descended from king David. Someone who might have a claim on his throne, his power, and Herod’s response is to kill all potential threats. Even if that threat is just a child. 

The wise men on the other hand, travel a thousand miles and when they finally find what they are looking for, they kneel down in homage. They bring gifts fit for a king because they recognize in Jesus the fulfillment of the prophecies they have spent all their lives studying.

Maaaybe the wise men were a little bit like those apocalyptic doomsday guys, the ones who calculate the end of the world every decade or so. Sometimes it seems like they are grasping at straws to justify the new date with any certainty. I mean, is there truly any difference between the way that people now read into the prophecies in the Bible and what the wise men did with astronomical observation and the prophets to determine the time and place of the new king?

But the wise men weren’t content to know what they learned from books and studying. They had to go see for themselves the fulfillment of the prophecies, the results of their calculations.

And unlike our contemporary doomsday prophets, the wise men were *right* in their calculations. And they recognized the fulfillment of the prophecies, even though Jesus was just a child, and not living in a king’s palace or anything.

The wise men saw in Jesus not just a little child. They saw the Messiah and Lord of all. They were able to see the entire spiraling of history fulfilled in Jesus. 

For King Herod, all that mattered was that his reign was not threatened. He didn’t care about the wonderful possibility of the Messiah being born if it meant some kid might take his throne. He could not see beyond securing his power in the present. 

The spiraling out of time into the calendars we follow now is one way we try to recognize the full truth of Jesus. We have holidays throughout the year commemorating Jesus. God born as a baby. A Jewish boy circumcised on the 8th day. A teacher baptized in the river Jordan. The Messiah. The redeemer and Lord of all.

Our calendar loops around each year with overlaps and things seemingly out of order because Jesus is all of these things at once and that breaks time just a little bit. Eternal God breaking into the world breaks time just a little bit. I don’t know if we can ever really grasp how all that works. But like the wise men, we can recognize that we are in the presence of a king and act accordingly.

We are not just recognizing events like Facebook might recognize international celery day or something. We are *recognizing Jesus*. Every time we recognize the events of Jesus’ life we are bringing those events into the present. When the wise men recognized the child Jesus as the prophesied king, they were bringing all of the events of Jesus’ life to the present. They brought gold for a king. They brought frankincense to worship God. They brought myrrh to embalm the Messiah who would be killed. 

Recognizing Jesus means not just reenacting the fun baby Jesus stories over the course of the year. Recognizing Jesus means recognizing *all* of Jesus in the present. Even the parts that are hard. Even the parts that threaten our present power. The Epiphany is the wise men recognizing baby Jesus, the Messiah and Lord, all at once in the present. The Epiphany is recognizing Jesus in all the glimpses we get throughout the calendar. The Epiphany is God breaking into time and breaking time. Because it’s not like the doomsday calculators say, trying to figure out when Jesus is getting here. The Epiphany is recognizing Jesus is here now.

Amen.

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