Jan 6, 2016 – Epiphany – Iguanas Fall from Trees
I remember some years back, seeing unusual headlines one week in January that talked about snow falling on Daytona Beach. And the other headline said ‘Iguanas fall from trees with the cold snap in Florida’. Do you remember that? Those are the types of headline that makes you wonder what’s going on in the world. Snow on Daytona Beach isn’t usual is it? And ‘iguanas falling from trees’ sounds like something Rod Serling or Stephen King cooked up. It’s the sort of thing that makes you stop and think.
That’s sort of what epiphany is – something that makes you stop and think. Let me tell you, when someone says they’ve had an “epiphany”, sadly I think of the movie “Hook”…But that aside, when you talk about what having an epiphany means … it’s a revelation, a moment of clarity or some call it an ‘a-ha’ moment. That’s what we get in the gospel lesson today, an ‘a-ha’ moment.
This is a moment of revelation to the world, this moment when the magi come to Herod and ask about the place where “The King” was born. The king’s coming wasn’t some small private matter, as today’s gospel lesson makes clear. His coming as a baby to Judea, to the town of Bethlehem, this was something the whole world took note of. The universe responded to it. This Baby’s birth was no small matter.
Look at the nouns, the people, mentioned in this gospel passage. There’s Herod, magi from the east, all of Jerusalem, the chief priests and teachers of the law and Mary. This coming into the world by God in this infant Jesus was NOT an unknown event in some backwater town! In looking at the list of people involved the ones that stand out for us, this Epiphany evening, are the wise men or magi.
Looking into research on the Magi we find they belonged to a group of gifted sages, well known in the history of the Persian Empire, who specialized in everything from astronomy to religion. Magi living in Babylon doubtless came into contact with the descendants of the Jewish leaders and rabbis exiled by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.
A large Jewish community stayed in Babylon for the next 1,000 years. So, these Magi would have been familiar both with Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament as well as the star as the symbol of the Messiah. Numbers 24:17 says “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob, so their famous question upon reaching Jerusalem; “Where is the newborn King of the Jews, for we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” was not asked out of a vacuum.
We actually know very little about these particular Wise Men. We don’t even know how many there were, the Bible doesn’t say. Though 3 is a good number, imagine having 40 Wise Men in your nativity scene. We say 3 because only 3 gifts are mentioned (gold, incense and myrrh). The early church spoke of 3 Wise Men, even coming up with names for them: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. One of the greatest scholars of the Early Middle Ages, The Venerable Bede, wrote this about the Wise Men of our lesson:
“The first is said to have been Melchior, an old man with white hair and a long beard . . . who offered gold to the Lord as to a king. The second, named Caspar, young and beardless and ruddy complexioned . . . honored Him as God by his gift of incense, an offering worthy of divinity. The third, black-skinned and heavily bearded, called Balthasar . . . by his gift of myrrh testified that the Son of Man was to die.”
So God coming into the world was not a small thing. And take note that Jesus was marked for death from His very birth by both the gift of myrrh and the actions that took place after today’s gospel reading. Remember the story that Herod had all the babies in and around Bethlehem killed in an attempt to murder Jesus as a child. So death is what the world wanted for Jesus from the time it was known that He was born.
Again, Jesus’ birth was no small event. And now, with the coming of these non-Jewish wise men from the east, because of a star in the heavens, the whole world was aroused and / “a-ha” / was made aware that things were now different… because God has come to earth.
And in typically rebellious human fashion, we sought to destroy Him. Jesus came, and He came to bring us the gift of life. But it was death that greeted His arrival. The gift of life is Christ’s offering to us. We are changed and our view of our world is changed by this gift from Jesus.
But remember this applies only to Christians. We see the world as different because of what Jesus has done by coming and dying on the cross and rising again to give us eternal life. But most people in our world today don’t realize that’s the real truth about Jesus. And that truth is what we get to come alongside them to help them to see and hear. We get to share with them the gift of life we’ve been given, a gift most of them don’t even recognize they need. But we know and we are responsible to live in this world and share what we know so others too may have Life eternal in Jesus.
We need to spend ourselves, to spend our lives, as gifts to those around us, telling them what’s been told to us. Jesus spent His life for us; He did that so that we would know His gifts of freedom, peace, and love. We’re given this gospel so that we can be spent in giving that away to others. That’s the thing with gifts; they’re only gifts when they’re given away. Look again at the gifts given to Jesus in the gospel lesson today.
The gifts of the wise men, as we said, pointed out Jesus’ kingship, in gold; His divine nature, in incense; and His necessary death, in the myrrh. But it was through His singular death that His gift of life for us was accomplished. Knowing what gifts, the so-called, Caspar, Melchoir and Balthasar brought leads me to ask you to think about this, what gift would you like to have given the newborn king? Now, consider what gift do you bring to Him in your daily life? Give that some thought.
It is our faith to believe that this Child the magi bring their gifts to, is both fully God and fully man, at the same time. This isn’t just some kid who later was elevated to the status of being God because He earned by His good works. NO! He was from infancy, from within Mary’s womb, He was God; He was God in the clothing of human flesh and blood.
The magi coming and giving their gifts was putting the world on notice that God had now come to us. This epiphany, this revealing of who Jesus was, was bigger than merely a simple, ‘a-ha’ moment.
The magi, these men from the east, these were not Jews (!) just as we are not Jews. But their coming was evidence that the whole earth was being awakened to a new paradigm, a new way of seeing things, it was a new thing, a heavenly thing, and something such as had never had happened before, but… it will happen again, so we’re promised. It will happen when Jesus returns.
But today, in scripture we see the epiphany, the revealing of Jesus, as a shift in the world. It’s a sea change like we would never have understood before the coming of Christ. We’ve been granted through Jesus, the gift of God’s grace to know and understand that this Child comes to give us God’s grace and mercy through His own sacrifice. The result is eternal life for us, instead of eternal death. This change, this “a-ha” moment is not about snow falling on some beach or iguanas falling from trees. This is not about the changes that happen in a family, a school, a workplace or a congregation, no; this change moves us beyond this world and out of ourselves.
This change comes to us because this Baby has come to us. GOD HAS COME and has not left us alone. It is His gift of life to us that we take and share freely with others. We are who we are today because Jesus is who He is today and always; He is the revealed Holy Son of God in the flesh.
In His name we pray, amen.
Sermon #804 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Isaiah 60:1-6
60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.
Epistle Ephesians 13:1-12
3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Holy Gospel Matthew 1:1-12
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.