Year A – Epiphany – Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 2:1–12  – In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “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.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They 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.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then 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.” 9 When 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. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Summary – Most Christians are familiar with the story of Magi coming from the East. We often see the icon’s three kings on camels at this time of year, though the text here does not specify three. In our nostalgic view of Christmas we picture three kings bowing to the newborn Jesus, along with animals and shepherds, and sometimes Santa Claus. The real story is much more dramatic that Christmas pageants. The Gospel of Luke, written to a Rome-wide audience, contrasts the birth of Jesus with the claim of Caesar Augustus claiming to be a god (Lk. 2). But in Matthew (written to Jews) the contrast is between the infamous Herod the Great, titled by Rome as “King of the Jews” (39 BC), and the actual King of the Jews, the Messiah to all nations. Herod the Great is a study in a wicked ruler; he was hated by the Jews of his day. He had many people killed, even his  (favorite) wife and some of his own children. However, he was a major player on the world scene at this time.  He presented many costly presents for the likes of Julius Caesar, Antony, Cleopatra, and most of all, Augustus (Octavius) Caesar. Matthew makes clear that through the prophecies of the Scriptures the birth place of the Messiah could be known and possibly the general time (Mic. 5:2; Dan. 9:24ff). When the Magi found Jesus, probably 1-2 years old at the time (after Jesus was born, v1). They knelt down and worshiped Him and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God warned them against the evil of Herod and they “went home by another way.” The Magi event is one of the major themes of Epiphany because it is the first hint that the true King of the Jews is actually the Savior of all Nations, the Light of the world.

Insight – There is a well-known song about the visit of the Magi, “We Three Kings” which was written by an Episcopal minster, John Henry Hopkins, Jr. in 1852. The insight that Hopkins put to poetry was that the gifts given have symbolic significance. “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,  Gold I bring to crown Him again.” Gold symbolizes Christ’s kingship. “Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh.” This aromatic resin was often used in the worship of gods. Finally, a very interesting observation on the last gift. “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom; Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone cold tomb.” The last verse of this carol has reference to the resurrection: “Glorious now behold Him arise; King and God and sacrifice.” (To hear my new version of the tune of this hymn, go here.)

Child’s Catechism – What did the Magi bring to Jesus? Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Discussion – Many believe the Magi were Persian wise men and star gazers (e.g., from the areas where Daniel lived, current day Iraq). How do you think the Magi knew about Christ?

Prayer – O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, Epiphany)

 

Year A – Epiphany – Isaiah 60:1-6

Is 60:1–6 – “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.   4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.”

Summary – The Lord, through the Prophet addresses the mother-city, Jerusalem, in this striking prophecy (using feminine pronouns, “you/your”). Though darkness has rested on the peoples and it all seems bleak, just then the Lord will shine over the city and people. The nations will be gathered into her. As they do so their abundance will come in as well, “the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” Even more the sons and daughters of Israel return. This text is perfectly placed as a prophetic glimpse of Epiphany. It refers to the star over Bethlehem, as well as the visit of the magi (Matt. 2).

Insight – Sometimes people get very down after the holidays. Do you ever feel a let down after New Years? Now it’s time to put shoe leather to your aspirations of new year’s resolutions and ambitions to change in the next year. Sometimes just getting back to the ordinary routine can get you down. Even more, January may not be your favorite time of year, it’s darker and colder with inclement weather. It seems like a long stretch until spring. The promises above came to God’s people in the worst kind of January, in truly the darkest time. It looks to a time of exile when the faithful had been scattered and when the nation had lost stability. It promises that abundance will come. It is an anchor that holds steady the ship of faith, saying, there will be a return to Zion, sons and daughters, nations renewed, abundance and all of this in a time of darkness. I believe this is fulfilled through Christ and the Church. Over history there have been multitudes of peoples from all kinds of nations who have come to follow Jesus. As they have been converted they bring their abundances in wealth, language, culture and music. All because of the One born in Bethlehem under starlight, visited by the Magi.

Catechism – What does Epiphany mean? Epiphany means the light of Jesus shining to all people.

Discussion – What are some things about this time of year that may seem sad or dark to you?

Prayer – O GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.