“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”
Those of you who are keen on your liturgical calendars (and who are reading your Daily Bible Reading Guides…wink, wink, nudge, nudge) will note that this week should actually be the scripture where Jesus is baptized by crazy cousin John in the Jordan River. However, we are actually going to delve into Baptism next week. For worship this Sunday, we’ll be gathering around the actual epiphany scripture, observed on January 6th, not 8th. This is the well known scripture which records the visit of the Magi or Wise Men to the baby (or toddler) Jesus. Like the Christmas scriptures before it, we often get lost in the sentimentality of this scripture, focusing on the who the wise men were, where they were from, what they looked like, how they were adorned, the gifts the brought, etc… We create some sort of idyllic scene that reflects what we’d have liked to see and remember the story that way. This is all well and good and despite it grinding on my theological nerves, does no harm! But it does miss the point of the scripture and the feast day that sprung from it in the early Christian Church, specifically the Greek Church. The scripture is about the Epiphany; the realization of exactly just who Jesus is. The wise men/Magi are not the central focus. They are characters who help develop the compelling nature of this “realization” by virtue of the fact that they travelled so far, had some sort of prestige themselves, yet paid homage and submitted to this “King.” So this Sunday is about Epiphany, the sudden realization of the 2nd person of the Trinity is incarnate in Jesus.
For me, the scripture centers upon verse 10, “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” I believe this jumps out at me because this phrase is pregnant with the Epiphany message. Why? Because their overwhelming joy comes at the realization they have arrived in the presence of the one they’ve been looking for. The heavenly star they have been following has lead them here, and they bow and worship. And so we must ask ourselves what stars we are following and whether or not they lead to “overwhelming joy” that causes us to “bow down and worship” or somewhere else, say, back to Herod to report the location of this would-be usurper. That’s the whole other side to this intriguing announcement – there is a bloodthirsty child killer who wants the Magi to tell him where Jesus is! The Magi therefore have a choice in the face of Epiphany.
What will our response be to the Epiphany; will we embrace the overwhelming joy that undoubtedly comes when we bow down and worship God, or will we follow our own stars and listen to the Herods of this world?
Blessings for the journey,