Summary: On Epiphany, we celebrate the Magi’s visit to see Jesus, and note how they were transformed by their experience of the Christ child. As we start a new year, let’s resolve to make things different; to live a life transformed by Jesus.
I suspect that nearly every one of us has a nativity scene, or crèche displayed somewhere around the house during the Christmas season. And if your crèches are anything like mine, they include Mary and Joseph, shepherds, plenty of animals, three wise men, and of course, the baby Jesus. Of course, if you have children in the house, the look of your nativity might be slightly different; missing pieces, broken arms, perhaps there’s a G.I. Joe mixed in with the shepherds. However, sublime or ridiculous it may look, we all know the point of these little scenes. They serve as a reminder of that Divine King born in the most humble of human circumstances so many years ago. We’ve all heard the story many times in our lives; we know the sequence of events surrounding Jesus’ birth nearly by heart. And so our crèches reflect the story, as we do here at church. The baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until Christmas Eve or Christmas day. And the wise men, as we saw this morning come even later. Twelve days later to be exact, but who’s counting?
But did you know that if we were to be completely precise, the wise men wouldn’t actually appear until about two years after Christmas! Tradition has led us to assume many things about these men that the Bible does not tell us. For one, we often refer to them as “kings,” which is probably not accurate. To call them wise is probably fair, as the mostly likely possibility is that these men were astrologers. We have always referred to them as the “three wise men,” but we do not actually know their number; all we know for sure is that they brought three gifts on their long journey from the East.
These men had seen a very unusual star, or perhaps an unusual alignment of several stars, that signaled to them the birth of divine royalty. So, like captains charting a course by the stars in the middle of the vast ocean, these mean set off to “follow” the star. Their journey brought them to the hillside country of Judea. And assuming that the start indicated a birth in the house of the ruler, they went first to the king’s house, Herod’s home. “Where is the King of the Jews?” they asked Herod. The question was completely innocent, but it was also the beginning of Jesus’ troubles. Herod didn’t like the question, of course, because he WAS the King of the Jews, and the fact that it was being asked by some exotic men who had journeyed from a distant country was even more troubling to the king. The thought that there was a rival to his throne was terribly disturbing for him.
So we get the sense that a plan begins to form in Herod’s head. But first, he needs to know where this newborn King of the Jews is. As innocently as possible, Herod instructs the magi to go out and find the baby, then to report back to him about where he is. So the magi go, continuing to follow the star that had led them there to Judea. And sure enough, it leads them right to the doorstop of the home where the child Jesus is now living with Mary and Joseph. Immediately upon entering, the magi know they are in the presence of the most wonderful king to ever be born. So they do the only thing they know how in the presence of a king. They fall to their knees to honor him, and they offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
These are men from a distant land; many, many months’ journey away. They may of heard of the race called Jew, but they likely had no knowledge of their status as “God’s chosen people.” They would’ve known little to nothing about God’s covenants with the Jewish people, and the words of the prophets hailing the coming of a king who would establish justice and peace for all eternity. But when they saw Jesus, they suddenly knew that this was a special king. And though he was called “King of the Jews,” the magi from the East knew that Jesus was their king, too. Simeon and Anna, the Jewish couple in the Temple, already knew of the Messiah now in their midst when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to be circumcised. But it is the reaction of these great astrologers, who have journeyed so far, that gives us the first idea of just how big Jesus’ kingdom will be.
As we watch the whole scene unfold yet again, it raises what I think is an important, post-Christmas question: Jesus is here, what are you going to do about it? We have just celebrated again the birth of Jesus Christ. We have been reminded of God’s eternal presence with us through Emmanuel. We have sung songs, baked goodies, opened gifts; all in honor of our Savior’s birth. Perhaps through the season we have even felt the wonderful warmth and assurance of Christ being born in our own hearts and lives; either for the first time, or the fiftieth. So what are we going to do about it?