Friday, January 6, 2017

I may choose to open my eyes or to close them for the same reason

NO DOUBT; IT IS THE CHRIST

Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
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 Feasts, and this account of the Magi has captured the imagination of God’s people like few others. And why should it not for it is a truly amazing story that teaches us two consoling theological truths: 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 He did not come to redeem only a limited number, or favored group of people, but that the salvation Jesus obtained by His blood on the cross answers for every sin, and covers every sinner, so whoever or whatever you are today, you are not beyond the pale of His love, or outside the reach of His mercy.

Everyone we meet in today’s gospel lesson is aware that the Child in question is none other than God Himself, come to earth 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. They were pagan astrologers, superstitious men who relied on the creation rather than the Creator to guide them through life; men who thought that they could get a leg up in life by penetrating the mind of God and divining the future by the reading of the stars. Today they might have appeared as astrophysicists on a university campus, or as “readers and advisors” in a ragged store front on Pearl Road, but God in His love caused the Bright Morning Star to rise in their hearts, even as He has in ours. He took who and what they were and turned it around for their benefit and for the blessing of all who are afflicted by sin and death.

Herod also, much to His consternation, understood who this Child was. When word of the Magi’s inquiry reached the palace, which it no doubt did in record time, he called together the religious leaders of the people, 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 he himself was not a Jew – but rather an unscrupulous tyrant and cold-blooded killer whom Caesar Augustus appointed to be king over the Jews – he understood that this Child was the end of his power, the end of his glory, the end of the man called Herod. No wonder “all Jerusalem was alarmed with him,” at the news, because when Herod sneezed the whole nation caught a cold!

The same can be said of the Chief Priests and scriptural scholars whom Herod called together. They, too, knew 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 mind 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 rather that He sent His only begotten Son to save, comfort and console us in this vale of tears, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. However, Epiphany has a second emphasis as well, namely that God’s love is not limited to any favored group of people but holds out hope of salvation for us all.

In the Old Testament scheme of things there were two classes of people: Jews and everyone else whom the Bible terms Gentiles. During the Old Testament era and even in the early New, it was assumed that God would send His Christ to redeem Israel and Israel alone, but Epiphany teaches us that they were 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 repent, and 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 vegetarians and carnivores, ministers and rabbis, dictators and philanthropists, homosexuals and heterosexuals, for there is no difference, no difference at all! For all have sinned, all have transgressed, all have merited judgment and condemnation, all come short of the glory of God! and if we are to be saved, if we are to be redeemed and justified and shed the sorrow of sin and learn to live holy lives, it must be by God’s grace, an unmerited gift given to us through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is why the church continues to celebrate this renowned and eminent Feast even today, because it is filled 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 even now to the Word and the Sacraments which are the cradle of Christ. Like the Magi, it is here that we can kneel before the God/Man with repentant, humble and expectant hearts, here that we can offer Him our gifts of thankfulness and praise; but most important of all it is the place where we come to receive His gifts, the remission of all our sins, light to dispel our darkness and the blessings of heavenly peace, both here in time and there in eternity. Amen.


~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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