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Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6 + Matthew 2:1-12
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. Epiphany is the season of light. It means appearance or manifestation or revealing. God’s Son was finally born into the world. And following His birth, there were many appearances, many revelations of His glory, some of which we’ll hear about during this short season. Today, on January 6th, in the ancient Church, three such revelations were traditionally celebrated: The revelation of Jesus to the wise men as the King of Jews and Gentiles. But also the revelation of Christ as the Son of God and our Savior at His Baptism, which is why we sang Luther’s baptism hymn a moment ago. And the revelation of Christ’s divine power and goodness at the wedding at Cana, which we’ll hear about next week.
For now, our Gospel turns our attention to the visit of the wise men. There was literally a light that shined on Israel at the birth of Christ—a miraculous light, a “star” that was no ordinary star, but, as Isaiah prophesied, The glory of the Lord is risen upon you…The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. It led the wise men to the land of Judah. But it wasn’t really the star that led them.
There was another light that led the wise men to the Light in Israel. As the Psalm says, Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. These wise men from the East had clearly been exposed to the Holy Scriptures of the Hebrews, probably from the time of the Babylonian captivity. These wise men had learned about the LORD God of Israel and had found some of the prophecies of the Old Testament about the coming Savior-King who would be born from King David’s line and rule, not only over the Jews, but over all the nations, all the Gentiles. God used His Word to enlighten them, to bring them to understand and believe the prophecies about this divine King.
The light of the star only pointed to the land of Israel, so they naturally went to Jerusalem to find the newborn King. 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. Now the light of the prophet Micah had to guide them, as Herod had the priests and scribes search the Scriptures for the answer: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel. See how God always drives His people back to His Word, so that we ground our faith, not in outward signs that are so often misinterpreted, but in His sure, unfailing Word.
So the Word of God through the prophet Micah shined the light on Bethlehem. And the Word of God through the prophet Isaiah, which you heard this morning, explained the meaning of the wise men’s visit: they were the Gentiles who had come to Israel’s light—the light of the King, the light of the Messiah who was born to rule over one great kingdom, one holy Christian Church. Born to bring all nations into Israel, to enlarge Israel, to earn salvation for all men, and to offer salvation to all men.
But even then, before Jesus uttered a single word, most in Israel didn’t care to have Him, didn’t care to see Him. The king and the priests of Jerusalem, and most of the city with them, were not happy to hear about the birth of the King of the Jews. They were “troubled,” it says. They were upset. Others were obviously apathetic; they didn’t follow the wise men to Bethlehem to worship the newborn King.
Jesus once said, And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. The world, in its darkness, in its idolatry, in its sin and love for sin, doesn’t love the idea of the true God sending His Son into the world. And that’s tragic, because the true God, while His Laws are demanding and His wrath is severe—the true God has given His own Son into human flesh to suffer the punishment for our sins, to obey His own Law in our place, and to give us eternal life as a gift. The Son of Man came, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Salvation is by faith in Him, faith that the Holy Spirit Himself creates through the light of His Word.
The Holy Spirit was resisted by most of Israel; He can be resisted. But He worked faith in the hearts of the non-Jewish wise men—as He had worked faith in Joseph and Mary and Simeon and Anna, the shepherds, and others in Israel who remain unknown to us. The wise men journeyed to Bethlehem, and then, led by the Word of God, they were again blessed with the light of that mysterious star to point them to the exact place where the Christ Child was.
They found the humble Baby with His humble mother in a humble house—not a palace, not a mansion. He had no attendants, no servants, no other worshipers. Their eyes told them that this must not be the place, that He must not be the One. But Scripture told them otherwise, and they believed the Scriptures over their own eyes. They knelt before the Baby. That’s what you do in the presence of royalty, or in the presence of divinity, or in this case, both.
And they gave gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh. All were gifts fit for a king. All were gifts actually given to King Solomon long ago, the son of David who prefigured the Son of David born of Mary. Myrrh and frankincense made up the perfume that King Solomon wore for the day of His wedding, wearing his crown of gold, all of which, in the Song of Solomon, was an allegory of the great Son of David, Jesus, and His beloved Bride, the Christian Church, made up of Jews and Gentiles—of all who believe in Him.
The wise men knew that Jesus was born for them, and they worshiped him with great joy. They were the first Gentiles to worship him, but certainly not the last. You Gentiles have seen His light, not with your eyes, but with your ears. You have beheld His glory as the Holy Spirit has revealed this Christ as your Savior, too, as your God and as your King. Even now the Holy Spirit is revealing Him to you, another Epiphany, the appearance, the manifestation of Jesus as King of all nations, right here in our midst in His Gospel. Join the wise men in seeking Him where He is found, in giving your life for His service, and most of all, in believing in Him as your King. Amen.