Matthew 2:1-12 • January 6,2013
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
I haven’t done this in quite a while, so I’d like to start by taking a poll. First – How many of you still have your Christmas tree up? Interesting.
Second – This question. What do you have on the top of your Christmas tree, a star or an angel? How many have stars on the top of your tree? How many have angels? Interesting.
The reason why I ask the first question is Christmas for followers of Jesus Christ, isn’t over until January 6th or the Feast Day of Epiphany. In fact, Christmas doesn’t begin in early September and end on Christmas Day, Christmas begins on Christmas Day and ends at Epiphany. The past 12 days are actually when you should have been doing all of your Christmas shopping and gift giving. And the reason for my second question about angels or stars on top of your Christmas tree is that I think there are two types of people. Some are star people and some are angel people.
Anyway, on this feast day of Epiphany, we celebrate three wise men or magi or kings from the east – whatever you want to call them. What’s important is not what you call them, but who they are and how they play a role in the Christmas story – the coming of the Messiah into the world. Do you remember the Christmas story? We hear it nearly every year on Christmas Eve from the gospel of Saint Luke? Do you recall the role that the wise men play in Luke’s gospel? That’s right, they are not even mentioned. For Luke, there is no star, no wise men, only a few ordinary everyday shepherds from Bethlehem who briefly encounter angels.
In fact, Matthew is the only gospel that mentions these men from the east. Luke writes of Mary. John writes eloquently of the Word becoming flesh. Mark doesn’t say anything about the birth of Jesus, but rather begins his gospel with proclamations from John the Baptist.
So why are the wise men so important to the story of the birth of Jesus – the savior – the Messiah? I mean, are the three wise men only important because they have the coolest costumes and props at church school Christmas programs? I think the writer of Matthew’s gospel wants us to see something else. Matthew wants the reader to see that this Jesus is not only king of the Jews, but the savior of ALL nations. He introduces us to these men from the east who are not Jewish and are not part of the inner circle of temple or political life and power, yet, they have come bringing gifts and wanting to worship this new king.
Matthew brings these foreigners from the east into the Christmas story to show us something. In Matthew’s telling of the birth of Jesus, King Herod and all of Jerusalem as our text says today are frightened at this newly arrived Messiah. They even begin to devise a plan to kill him. It’s the foreigners who arrive to worship.
But you and I, as followers of Jesus the savior of all nations in 2013. Followers who know the entire story. You and I are never frightened or experience jealousy like King Herod and all of Jerusalem do. You and I never scoff at visitors who worship in ways that are different from the way we have always worshiped in our congregations. You and I never push foreigners away who have experiences of Jesus that are different from ours – especially those of us who live in western North Dakota. You and I would never do that…or…
As Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago Professor Craig Satterlee offers, “We have our own ways of reaching out, just far enough to slaughter someone’s experiences of God’s grace for the sake of our patterns, practices, and perspectives.”
I think that’s why Matthew introduces us to these men from the east at the beginning of his gospel. He needs to shake things up a bit as he begins to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ that has forever changed the world. With the Messiah’s arrival, the world, with all of its darkness and judgment and death, has changed. The world was changed by a Messiah who didn’t arrive on a golden chariot bearing swords and guns and proclaiming war. It was changed by a Messiah who came in the gentle sounds of a new born baby. Changed by a Messiah who eats with tax collectors and prostitutes and Lutherans from western North Dakota. Changed by a Messiah who heals blindness and disease and restores broken relationships – many of which exist in this house of worship today. Changed by a Messiah who died on a cross and three days later destroyed every power of death that will ever exist by rising out of the stench of death’s darkness.
If we believe this – that God’s coming into the world in the baby Jesus is true and changed the world forever, then the title of the sermon today is probably the wrong question. Have you found our God? That doesn’t work with the gospels. On this feast day of Epiphany, the good news of the birth of a Savior named Jesus is that God has found you. After all, God found the shepherds. God found Mary. God found these foreigners from the east who were outside of the inner Jewish circle, yet, they bring gifts and bow down in worship.
So, there are two kinds of people. Star people and angel people. In scripture, angels often appear to people who are waiting. Waiting for the Messiah or for a sign from God. And usually they have been waiting for a long time, like the Shepherds in Luke’s Christmas story.
And the star is for those who are still searching, those still unsure, those who still have questions, those on a quest to find out about this mystery and message from God wrapped up in human flesh and swaddling clothes.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it doesn’t matter if you have an angel or a star on the top of your Christmas tree. What matters is that the good news of the birth of the Jesus Christ is for you. It’s for foreigners like wise men from the east or the annoying neighbors living across the street from you today. It’s for the insiders of temple and political life in first century Judea and 21st Century Lutheran Christians living on the prairies of North Dakota. The good news is that the God of Jesus Christ came, found you and me, and meets us right where we are. Amen.
- Feast of Epiphany (January 6): “They saw the child with Mary his mother.” (shechina.wordpress.com)
- Epiphany: Celebrating the Appearing of God in Christ by Mark D. Roberts (lacykitkat.wordpress.com)
- Epiphany: Encounter with Jesus in faith and good works (junjunfaithbook.com)