Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Why is the story of the Magi so important to Christmas?


Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him,"  Matthew 2:1-2

The Feast of Epiphany is one of the church's oldest celebrations and this account of the Magi has captured the imagination of God's people like no other, and why should it not?  For it is a truly amazing story that teaches us two consoling theological realities.  First, that Mary's Son is none other than God Himself, come to us in the flesh to undo sin's deadly curse.  Secondly, that Jesus did not come to redeem only a limited number or favored group of people, but that the salvation He obtained by His blood on the cross answers every sin and covers every sinner, so whoever you are today, you are not beyond the boundaries of His love, or outside the pale of his mercy.

Everyone we meet in today's gospel lesson knew that the child in question is God Himself, come to earth veiled in human flesh to visit and redeem His people.

First there are the magi.  Over the Christian centuries the church has celebrated these men because of their devotion to the Holy Child, but they did not start out that way.  Like every other person, they too, were born in spiritual darkness and lived their lives that way, suffering one collision after another, as blind men always do.  They were pagan astrologers, superstitious men who relied on the creation rather than the Creator to guide them through life by His good Spirit.  They thought that they could get a leg up in life by reading the stars to know what the future might hold.  Today they might have appeared as astrophysicists on a university campus, or as "readers and advisers" in a shabby store front on West 25th Street, but God in His love caused the Bright Morning Star to rise in their minds, even as He has in ours.  He met them where they were and turned things around for their benefit and for the blessing of all who are afflicted by evil.

Herod also, much to his consternation, understood who this child was.  When word of the Magi's inquiry reached the palace he called the nation's religious leaders together, but notice his question.  He did not inquire where the "King of the Jews" was to be born, but rather where "the Christ" was to be born!  Though Herod was not a Jew, he understood that this child meant the end of his power and Herod could not live life on those terms.  He was too used to the luxury, too head-over- heels in love with the world and the things glory, money and power afforded him.  We should not repeat his mistake.  Instead, like St. Paul, we should be light on our feet.  We should know how to live with plenty when the Lord gives and with little when He takes away.  We should follow St. Paul's advice when he says godliness with contentment is great gain, because one never knows what tomorrow might hold, and because this is not our final destination.

The same can be said of the chief priests and religious scholars Herod called together.  They too understood because they knew immediately where to find the answer to Herod's question:  in the scroll of Micah the prophet who predicted that the Son of David would be born in the City of David.  There was no hesitation or question in their minds when they heard the Magi's inquiry, that this star, "His star," was leading them to the birthplace of the Messiah who would put an end to the long night of sin.

This distinguished feast reveals to us that God did not send a boy to do a man's job, but His one and only Son to save, comfort and defend us in this vale of fears, but Epiphany has a second emphasis as well, namely that God's love is not limited to any favored group of people but holds out the hope of salvation for us all; for you, whoever you are, and whatever you have become.

In the old testament scheme of things there were two classes of people:  Jews and everyone else who the Bible terms as Gentiles.  During the old testament era, and even in the early new testament, it was assumed that God would send the Christ to redeem Israel alone, but Epiphany teaches us that this was wrong.  True, it is a moot point today since the church is now made up almost exclusively of gentiles, but the principle of Epiphany is still in force because the invitation to worship the newborn King is still tendered to all men, none excluded for God is not a respecter of persons.   His love is offered to all:  to criminals and policemen, ministers and rabbis, dictators and philanthropists, homosexuals and heterosexuals, for there is no difference!  All have transgressed, all have merited condemnation for their wrongs, all come short of the glory of God, and if we are to be saved, if ever we are to be cleansed and enabled to shed the sorrow of sin - to break free from the chains of our addictions - it must be by God's power, God's grace, a gift given us through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is why the church continues to celebrate this renowned feast today after all these centuries, because it overflows with the joy and hope of the gospel!  As the star drew the magi to the place where the Christ child lay, the church draws us today to the gospel and sacraments which are the cradle of Christ, the guiding star that leads us to heaven.  Like the magi, it is here that we can kneel before the God-Man with humble hearts and expectant hopes.  Here that we can offer Him our gifts of thankfulness and praise, but most importantly it is the place where we come to receive His good gifts, light to dispel our darkness, guidance from the Good Shepherd each day, and the blessings of heavenly peace, both here in time and there in eternity.  Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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