We just had an Epiphany

What takes up most of your time? What do you spend the most time doing? Would you notice if something new appeared in that setting? This past Sunday marked the first week of Epiphany, the season in the Church calendar where we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men to find the recently born Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). It is one of my favorite seasons because it has so many layers. It asks us to reflect on the ways that Jesus has revealed Himself to us and appeared in our lives. It marks the expansion of the Gospel as the first Gentiles (the wise men) recognized Jesus as the Savior of the world. And it demonstrates that God honors years of faithfulness to bear fruit we might never have imagined. Epiphany lasts until Lent, let us dig into all that this season offers.

Where did Jesus appear to you in the past year?

We know very little about the wise men. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that they were scholars who specifically studied the stars and the natural world. They studied the night sky so closely that they noticed when a new star inexplicably appeared.

Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he who is to be born King of the Jews? We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him. – Matt. 2:2

I know next to nothing about astronomy, so it boggles my mind that a star could look so significant that it would cause observers to assume a great cosmic event must have occurred. What an incredible thing that God can communicate to humans through the natural world in such a way that we could realize deep spiritual thruths. The star was so special that it prompted these men to travel a great distance, likely over the course of months and even a couple of years, to find the Person that was living in its light.

The wise men saw the star because they were pursuing their vocations as scholars. They were doing their normal jobs and received this revelation in the process of their work. In the same way, where did you see Jesus show up in the course of your work and daily life last year? Where were you shaped in the process of living out your calling? Jesus can reveal Himself through the spectacular, and also through the very mundane. Spend some time thinking about where you saw Christ through simply paying attention to the life you have been given.

Jesus is for everyone

We have no indication that the wise men were Jewish, in fact they almost certainly were non-believers. They were definitely living far outside of Israel and were foreigners to the Jews. And yet Jesus revealed Himself to them in a way that they could understand. It made no difference that they spoke a different language or came from a different culture. Jesus is a savior who can cross any barrier that humans experience. Our current cultural moment is still very much defined by fear and distrust of anyone who is not like “us.” We struggle to find common ground and to reach out to one another. Let us draw on the power of Jesus to cross any border and find ourselves united by the Light of the world, the One who came to be a blessing to all nations.

What if Jesus saves your enemies?

Most Bible scholars have concluded that the wise men were from the region of Babylon, east of Israel. This is the place to which Israel had been exiled several centuries earlier. When God sent the people into exile there, He commanded them to make it count.

Build houses and dwell in them; and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them. Marry and be given in marriage, bear sons and daughters and multiply, do not diminish. Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away into captivity, and pray to God for it; for in its peace you will have peace. – Jer. 29:5-7

They were not to just sit around, biding their time until they could leave. They were to see their time in Babylon as meaningful and capable of impact. What if the wise men were primed to see the star because of faithful Israelites who had lived out their worship of God in Babylon? Perhaps the period of the exile had left traces of God that the Babylonians were meant to find. They likely would have had access to Hebrew Scriptures and as scholars may have developed an interest in Yahweh (Hebrew for LORD) and a desire to learn more about Him. God may have honored the years of faithfulness in exile to allow new believers to find Jesus.

That is a beautiful thought, and also difficult. The Babylonians were not great people. Their attack on Jerusalem was brutal and they were a pagan culture. In every way they were enemies of God’s people. And yet Jesus chooses to intentionally target them for an invitation into the redemption story. It is easy to rejoice when people we love find Jesus, it is much harder when people we hate are called to become our spiritual brothers and sisters. And yet if we were all once enemies of God (Col. 1:21-22), Jesus saving enemies is very good news. Consider where you can be a blessing in places you might rather not be. A particular facet of your work, certain relationships in your life, classes you are tired of taking. Jesus may have plans for your presence in those places that you cannot yet imagine. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you compassion for others and a desire for their good. May we all know Jesus more and make Him known in the places to which we have been called.

Prayer for Epiphany

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that Your people, illumined by Your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that He may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.

– Book of Common Prayer

A VIP Pass to Epiphany

Today marks the beginning of Epiphany, the liturgical season that focuses on the meaning of the incarnation.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” Jesus drew near to appear in our midst.  This is a time to celebrate that Christ has come, our waiting was not in vain.

The Wise Men in Matthew’s Gospel give us a wonderful illustration of the magnitude of Jesus’ advent on Earth (Matt. 1-2).  One of the most compelling explorations of who these unknown men were can be found in Lew Wallace’s 19th century epic, Ben Hur.  The first 40 pages of the novel dream about who the 3 men might have been and how God called each of them to pursue a mysterious star.  Most scholars now believe that the men likely came from Babylon, while Wallace postulates that one was Greek, one Indian, and one Egyptian.  We can be nearly certain that this is inaccurate, but the heart of his character choices reflects a true knowledge of for whom the Savior came: everyone.

Ben hur

Wallace paints a picture of the men converging part way through their journeys, each having received a calling and an assurance from the Spirit that they would be led to other seekers of Truth and would all be led to the Redeemer. When their paths come together, they pause to share a meal:

“Speaking together they said this simple grace: ‘Father of all – God – what we have here is of Thee; take our thanks and bless us, that we may continue to do Thy will.’ With the last word they raised their eyes, and looked at each other in wonder. Each had spoken in a language never before heard by the others; yet each understood perfectly what was said. Their souls thrilled with divine emotion, for by the miracle they recognized the Divine Presence.”

One by one they share their stories of how God spoke to them and how the star first appeared. One by one they followed it to this meeting point and their joy and awe increased with each story from their brethren.  As night fell, they gathered their supplies to continue their nocturnal quest together.

“By and by the moon came up. And as the three tall white figures sped, with soundless tread, through the opalescent light, they appeared like specters flying from hateful shadows. Suddenly, in the air before them, not farther up than a low hill-top flared a lambent flame; as they looked at it, the apparition contracted into a focus of dazzling luster. Their hearts beat fast; their souls thrilled; and they shouted as with one voice, “The Star! The Star! God is with us!”

What a lovely picture of God bringing people together from far-flung countries and cultures, unifying them with the Spirit, and using them to send the Good News back with them so all may know that the Messiah has come.  While the historical nationality of the Wise Men was likely not what Wallace imagined, we see Paul taking the Gospel to the Gentiles throughout the Roman empire, and an Ethiopian eunuch coming to faith in Christ (Acts 8) and taking the Good News back to northern Africa. Some 300 years later, one of the greatest Christian theologians of all time would be called forth from Africa, Augustine of Hippo.  Jesus was not a local god or a local blessing, but a game-changer for the whole world.  The Wise Men and the ministry of the early Church show us that while Christianity may claim an exclusive Truth, it does not have an exclusive guest list.  Christ came for all people and the entire world is invited to consider what His drawing near means for them.

2-the-three-wisemen-simon-secret-

If you would like to study the Matthew account in more depth, feel free to draw from this study guide:

Advent: Dream weaver

For tonight’s passage we’re going to keep track of how many times God communicates through people’s dreams, and how many prophesies are fulfilled through the birth of Jesus. Who wants to keep track of the dreams? Of the prophesies?

Matt. 1:18-25

  • What was Joseph planning to do when he found out his fiancée was pregnant? Why was divorcing her quietly actually a very merciful thing to do at the time?
  • What does the angel tell him to do in the dream? What does Joseph do?
  • Someone look up the verse quoted in 23, Isa. 7:14
  • What stuck out to you about this account, or what’s something that you hadn’t noticed before?

Matt 2:1-12

  • Who are these men that come to see Herod? What are they looking for?
  • What is Herod’s reaction?
  • Someone look up Micah 5:2
  • What is his response back to the wise men?
  • What do the wise men do?
  • What dream do they have? How was God protecting Jesus through this?
  • What kind of person notices a new star in the sky and follows it to a distant country? What would it have been like to go on such a journey?
  • What does this incident of God drawing foreigners to Jesus’ birth tell us about God’s love for every nation?

Matt. 2:13-15

  • What is the next dream that happens in this passage? Why do they flee to Egypt?
  • Someone look up Hos. 11:1
  • What would that have been like for them?
  • Where else in the Bible have we seen Israelites going to Egypt for refuge? In what ways is Jesus identifying with His people through this experience?

Matt 2:16-23

  • What does Herod do?
  • Someone look up Jer. 31:15
  • Where else in the Bible have we seen a jealous ruler order infant boys to be killed? How is this another way that Jesus on an individual level follows Israel’s national history?
  • What other dreams happen? Where do Jesus and His family finally settle?

———-

  • What do you think of all these dreams and all of these OT prophesies?
  • As we heard in Ivan’s intro tonight, Advent is a time when we think about areas of our lives where we are waiting for God to show up. What comes to mind for you when you think about where you wish God would do something in your life or the world?
  • In these passages we saw God act with immense power to bring His plan of salvation into the world through Jesus. How does seeing God’s power in what we just read give you hope for His ability to work in your situations that may feel difficult or hopeless?