Epiphany of Our Lord
St. Matthew 2.1-12; Isaiah 60.1-3
06 January 2020
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
“Your Light Has Come”
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Is. 60.1-3; ESV)
“Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples,” says the Prophet.
We heard on Christmas Day the words of John the evangelist that the true Light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world.
Yet the world did not know this Light. His own did not receive Him. There was no room for Him in the Inn. Neither was there even knowledge of His existence. The pseudo-King Herod who reigned by paying off the Romans and kept his position by terror knew nothing of the King of the Jews, knew nothing of the Glory of the Lord, nothing of the Morning Star that had risen up over Bethlehem. Neither did the Chief Priests and Scribes of the people.
Imagine these Wise Men from afar, representatives of their own king of the east, who knew of the Jewish Scriptures – the Old Testament – who carefully kept track of prophecy and preaching about a God that they were not raised to worship – who see the foretold star of Jacob rise up over Israel. They are stirred into action, travelled a long way, brought the richest gifts of their kingdom fit to give a royal baby. They arrived in the capital city of Jerusalem – only to find a king who is in the dark about the whole thing, only to find the religious leaders of the Jews in the dark about the whole thing. Martin Luther imagined their reaction this way:
“Alas, the wise men might have said to themselves – we have traveled so far in vain, the star had misled us, it was a phantom. If a king were born he should of course be found in the capital and lie in the royal chamber. But when we arrived the star disappeared and no one knew anything about him. We strangers are the first to speak of him in his own country and royal city! Indeed, it must be all false! Besides, his own people are troubled and do not care to hear of him, and direct us from the royal city to a little village… O how odd and unusual everything appears at the birth of a king! …A king is born here, and there is no stir. Should not the people sing and dance, light candles and torches and pave the streets with branches and roses? O the poor king whom we seek! Fools we are to permit ourselves to be deceived so shamefully.” (Martin Luther, Church Postil, vol. 1, 361-362)
The wise men may have felt this way. We would be tempted to think that way as well. Our sinful human nature looks for an earthly king with all the trappings, looks for something we can see and experience that fits our own sin-stained wisdom and imagination. But all we get is the dark and cold night of the reign of sin in return. Or do we? What of this lowly baby born in Bethlehem, whose coming is heralded by a star?
“Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples… but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
It is the Lord who will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen! How? God reveals Himself when and where and how He pleases. God reveals His Kingdom not through the expected earthly trappings, but through His Scriptures, through His revealed Word, even a Word that reaches Gentile Wise Men on the edge of the world, far away from Jerusalem’s Temple and Herod’s Palace. The Word of God led them to recognize the star. The Word of God, even delivered by uncaring priests and scribes, led them down the road to Bethlehem and back to the Morning Star, back to the Glory of the Lord located in the house in Bethlehem, sitting and bouncing on the knees of His mother and step-father.
The star is the sign of a Savior who has come to change things. Those in the darkness of sin and death now are in the light of the Lord, those humiliated in sin are given God’s glory. The nations are coming too, and they are bringing back the exiled sons and daughters of Zion – and all the wealth of the nations will come along too. Those treasures, that wealth, are the lost who are found and brought home, they are the poor in spirit who are made rich by the light of Christ’s coming.
The star over Bethlehem lit up most clearly to these lowly Magi from the East. They saw it, knew it to be the glory the prophets foretold, the Lord Himself dawning upon the earth, they came, and in response they brought their worship and adoration, and their gifts of love. When they saw the star come to rest over the place where the child was, they rejoiced exceedingly, with great joy. They brought gold and frankincense, just as Isaiah foresaw, and myrrh, a burial spice that is a sign of what would come to pass for the King of the Jews some thirty years later on Calvary’s cross.
We rejoice, not in the star, but in the presence of the same crucified and resurrected Lord and Savior, whose glory shines through the darkness of this temporal life, and enlightens us, raises us up from the humiliation of our sin and gives us the gift of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation which He earned through the greatest epiphany of His glory – when He conquered the darkness of sin through His innocent suffering and death upon the cross at Calvary, and three days later rose from the dark grave in victory, a new day of creation dawning for all time.
Today, nations come to the light through the preaching of the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, the preaching of the crucified and resurrected Christ. The Holy Spirit calls sinners like you and me and your friends and neighbors to repentance, baptizes the nations into the Name of the Triune God and gives you the light of life and salvation in Jesus Christ.
This good news gathers you to Christ, like it did for the shepherds and Magi, as it causes you to go diligently and seek the Christ and His forgiveness in His means of grace, and so that you too would come and worship Him. Hearing and believing the Word of Christ is to follow the Light of the world, and by grace through faith Christ gives you the promised wealth beyond imagination of the heavenly inheritance to come.
On the great and final Epiphany Day to come, when the Light of the World is fully revealed, as the prophet Isaiah preached, everyone, from lowly shepherds to pagan magi to the kings in the highest places, will all come in adoration to the brightness of Zion’s star, the Savior and King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. For on that Day, all will see and be made radiant in the true Light of Light, and the hearts of God’s elect shall thrill and exult as His glory shines unabated, and forever.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +