Matthew 2 (the visit of the magi and Herod’s anger and violence)
“epiphanaow”—to reveal, make known
We in the northern hemisphere are in the season of growing light. In Australia and “down under” the days are getting shorter. But for us the days are getting longer. We have just passed the shortest day of sunlight. The winter solstice is behind us.
It makes sense then that the church would choose this time of year to celebrate the concept of God’s light penetrating the darkness and the increasing manifestation of Jesus. Manifestation means to make known, to reveal.
Jesus, the light of the world, has come into the world.
John’s Gospel says in chapter one, “in Him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it…the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-5 & 9)
Matthew’s Gospel, in the account before us this morning, shows us that this light not only shines on the Jewish people—the people of God, but all the people of the world.
Outsiders, Gentiles, non-Jews, foreigners come seeking out this young boy who they believe to be the newborn king—King of the Jews.
Our manger scenes often show the magi around the cradle, admiring the new born baby Jesus. It is not likely that they came to Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. They probably didn’t come until a year or so later. We don’t know. But we do know they had been studying the stars and were aware of Jewish prophecy regarding the Promised One, the Messiah.
What is amazing is that they leave everything, family, home, friends—all that they are familiar with and begin a long journey to find this baby. Based on stories they’d heard? Astrology?
They were not kings, but were probably wealthy. They had time to study and examine clues and mysteries. But they did more than just study. They were motivated to act on what they were learning.
Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and writer, compares them to the scribes and Jewish scholars in Jerusalem.
“Although the tribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem. They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek Him. Similarly we may be able to explain every article of our faith, yet remain spiritually motionless. The power that moved heaven and earth leaves us completely unmoved.
“What a contrast! The three (wise men) had only a rumor to go by. But it spurred them to set out on a long, hard journey. The scribes, meanwhile, were much better informed, much better versed. They had sat and studied the scriptures for years, like so many dons (and scholars). But it didn’t make any difference. Who had more truth? Those who followed a rumor, or those who remained sitting, satisfied with their knowledge?” (Watch for the Light, Soren Kierkegaard).
The obvious application for us? Act on your faith. Do not give mere intellectual assent to the existence of God and Jesus. Don’t just say you believe. Put your faith into action. Live out your faith.
A part of our living out our faith is to understand that Jesus is not just for a select few. God doesn’t choose favorites.
Imagine how many boundaries these traveling wise men crossed; how many risks they took; how arduous and hard their journey was. It cost them everything. Because, somehow, they understood that God’s love and gift of a Savior reached out to them and their people as well as the “chosen people of God” in Jerusalem and Judea.
How does King Herod respond? He is an insecure, small minded king. He is only concerned about protecting his position and power. He doesn’t care about anybody or anything else. He uses his power, authority and resources only to protect his own selfish self-centered interests.
His paranoia causes him to find out from his Jewish scholars the place Messiah would be born—Bethlehem. He finds out the approximate timing of the birth of Messiah from the wise men. Then he orders the death of all the babies in and around Bethlehem to be murdered. Boys and girls alike. The murder of the innocents! It is part of the Epiphany story and it is hard and harsh and leaves us troubled.
Yet, think of this.
We see the small picture. The close up of pain and suffering we see and experience and we wonder “does God care?” If so, why doesn’t God act or do something.
Yet this is the very point of the story. God, in Christ, has come into the world. The incarnation is the story of God—infinite in majesty and glory—becoming small and frail and at risk of all the evil we encounter.
Why did God become human. Why was Jesus born? To live and die in our place. To go to the cross and destroy forever all evil and brokenness.
That does not take away our frustration and anger at injustice and violence caused by people like Herod. It shouldn’t. We should be chagrinned and angry at all evil and injustice. But it does show us that God does indeed care and God has indeed acted and is acting through Jesus and now through the body of Christ—you and me—to make a difference in our world.
So, again, the application of this text? Don’t be like the passive scribes and scholars in Jerusalem. Don’t be like Herod and lash out in anger against anyone who seems to threaten you. Be like the magi who left everything, who risked everything to seek Jesus, to know Him and to serve Him.
The Christmas story is not about a cuddly cute baby. The story of Epiphany is not just about light and a star and some kings who came to the cradle. It is about caring for people—all people of all shapes and sizes and colors and even religious expressions. It is loving those whom God created, those for whom Jesus came and died and rose again. Care for those most vulnerable and at risk. Don’t stop because of the noise and criticism others give you because they think you’ve gone liberal on them.
Live your faith out loud! In Jesus’ name Amen.