A significant day in the life of the church was yesterday, Jan. 6, Epiphany, which is also known as Gentile Christmas.
Matthew 2:1-2 tells the simple story: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
What Epiphany does is shine the light of God’s redemption on each of us — those who are connected with the church as well as those who are not part of the church.
The light of God’s love, once shining from a guiding star upon the Magi of old, has shone upon us and keeps on doing so. All who were once outsiders are brought within the family of God.
Let’s look at three principal themes of Epiphany and how each one is a sign of God’s light right where it’s needed.
First, there is a note of mystery that pervades the brief story in Matthew. Astrologers from unknown lands emerge, play their part and disappear from the story, not to be mentioned again.
There are so many details we wish to know, and speculation abounds about why they were singled out, and did they know of the hopes and promises passed down through generations in Israel, and what about those gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh presented to the infant Jesus?
It’s all a great mystery for us to ponder. How is it that the saving word of God coming to us in Christ is welcomed by some, but not by all?
Jew and Gentile alike are fellow heirs of Christ, partakers of all God’s promises through the Gospel. And what a mystery it is that God would use us as we are, so that our faith, as frail as it is sometimes, can become a guide to the world into which we are called to bear witness to the light of Christ.
Second, side by side with the mystery of the wise men in the Gospel story stands the evil of King Herod. He is the epitome of treachery and shows depraved, murderous jealousy.
This first-century leader of the Jews is in stark contrast to the Magi who are filled with joyful faith and wholehearted worship.
That’s how it is when Epiphany light shines forth into the world. God’s love and acceptance produces people of faith in a sea of infidelity. There are real forces of darkness all around with some shaping their lives by deceit and lies. But Epiphany calls us to faith in God so that the light of Christ might shine before others so they, too, may see the glory of the Heavenly Father.
And third, the Magi brought their best gifts to offer Christ, not the leftovers. Matthew calls them “treasures” and when placed beside the background of Jesus’ lowly birth, the cattle stall and manger, these rare and costly gifts stand out with Epiphany brightness.
The gifts were needed that God provided through the Magi, for Mary and Joseph had to take Jesus quickly out of harm’s way as Herod attempted to have Jesus killed. They made it to Egypt for two years of refuge living until it was safe to return to Galilee, where Jesus grew up.
As we travel our journey of faith after Christmas, we join the wise men of the first Epiphany as pilgrims, moving along toward the destination that God has prepared. Along the way, we make wherever we are as much like home as possible.
We’re grateful for Epiphany to light up our lives, rejoicing in the mystery of our calling to faith in Christ, God’s fidelity in the midst of treachery, and the Holy Spirit opening our hearts to generous giving.
Let the Epiphany light of God shine! Amen.
The Rev. RAY ZISCHANG is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Killeen.