Sermon for Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Sermon Theme: “Almost Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Epiphany”
(Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations new; Emphasis online Illustrations, archive; original ideas; Brokhof, Series C, Preaching Workbook)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I love the story about Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective, and his faithful assistant, Dr. Watson, when the two of them were out on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of port, they crawl into their tent and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awakens and nudges his faithful friend.
“Watson,” he whispers, “look up and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions and millions of stars,” Watson replies.
“And what does that tell you?”
Watson ponders for a minute. He’s used to difficult questions coming from the great Sherlock Holmes. “Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can discern that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?”
The great detective is silent for a minute, then speaks: “Watson, you fool! Someone has stolen our tent.”
There’s nothing like a good mystery, is there? Whether it’s a tale told by Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, or a classic film by Alfred Hitchcock, there’s something about a well-crafted mystery that pulls you right in. A big part of the satisfaction of reading or viewing a mystery is knowing there is an answer, waiting to be uncovered.
But what about a mystery that isn’t explained or figured out by a Watson and a Holmes? Such as the Star of Bethlehem, which is our focus point for Epiphany.
Well, of course, modern science has tried to remove some of the mystery from it. Because of advancements in the science of astronomy, it is possible to “clock the heavens backward” (mathematically) to observe what the heavens were like at the time of Jesus’ birth. Our solar system is like a table top – the planets being almost on the same plane and traveling in the same orbital direction around the sun.
The inner circle of planets travels faster than the outer circle, such that Jupiter, for example will lap Saturn about every 20 years. In 7 B.C. from the viewpoint of the earth, these two planets aligned with one another three times in a six month period. This took place in the direction of the constellation Pisces, ascribed by astrologers to represent the people of Israel.
Other scientists over the years have said that the Bethlehem Star was Halley’s Comet which was due through about that time.
Well, of course, God is capable of leading the Wise Men to the Christ Child by means of natural phenomena such as Halley’s Comet or an alignment of planets, but He is also capable of providing His own special light effects show outside of any naturally occurring phenomena, if He so chooses. So an attempt to scientifically explain the Bethlehem Star is pointless. Just remember there is no scientific explanation for a virgin birth either.
Epiphany is the second oldest Christian celebration, Easter, being the oldest; and yet today it has been demoted to a lesser festival (meaning fewer people celebrate it).
Still yet there is a reason it is so important, — it shows Christ being manifested to the Gentiles (the Wise Men were Gentiles), Christ is being revealed to the Gentiles for the first time. Let us look at what the text, the Star and the Wise Men tell us.
The Epiphany season is a time of worship that deals with the glory of God manifested in Jesus. The season begins with the Wise Men’s coming to worship the new-born king. The season ends with the Transfiguration experience on Mount Transfiguration. The glory of God is seen in Christ.
Epiphany is the season of light, and light shows and reveals. The light burns that all might see the truth and the way to God. Christ comes into a dark world, bringing His light. Christ is the light, and we, all of his followers, should be His light-bearers. We are to be evangelists who go through life lighting up the dark spots for those whom we meet.
The light must be spread to the Gentiles as well as the Jews and to all people all over the world, — that is the message of Epiphany.
The message of the dual lights was illustrated in a Sunday School class recently.
A young boy had a question for his Sunday School teacher. He said he was confused about who was the Light of the world, because in John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.” But in Matthew 5:14, Jesus said, “You (meaning we Christians) are the light of the world.”
The teacher tried to explain that both statements were true. Jesus is the light of the world, but someone has to bring it to the sin-darkened world. Christians receive the light from Jesus, and then because He dwells in us we reflect that light to the world. In fact, Jesus doesn’t want us to hide the light He gives us; we must not keep it to ourselves, but take it to the sin-darkened world.
Finally, one cannot leave a sermon about Epiphany without a discussion of gift-giving – it looms too big; these were BIGGGG gifts, expensive, important gifts that the Wise Men gave. It is also of significance that the gifts were offered during their worship of Jesus. They could have done it before or after. So think of the gifts as a worship offering.
Samuel Hahn explains the significance of the Wise Men’s gifts/offerings this way: They gave Jesus gold frankincense, and myrrh. Gold suggests His Kingship. Frankincense symbolizes His holiness, and myrrh symbolizes the suffering our Lord would one day have to endure.
The Wise Men are also referred to as “Kings.” It was common in the Eastern world at that time for the top Sage of a country to be the King, — such was the case of King Solomon, the wisest man in all the land during the time he lived. One thing was certain, — gold, frankincense, and myrrh were very expensive, — you and I would not have been able to afford to give such gifts!
These Gentile Kings gave the Christ child the best of what they had as they worshipped the Messiah. It think that’s a lesson for us in giving to the Lord.
It seems that there was a young minister who was leading his first worship service. At the end of the service he went to the door to greet the people on their way out. But the young minister was amazed at the people’s response. Everyone came out of the service smiling, and telling him that it was the best service they had ever been to.
The young minister knew that he had done a fair job with the service, but he wanted to know why the people thought it was so great, so he went to one of the members, took him aside, and asked: “What was it about the service that excited the people so much? Was it my sermon? Was it the way I prayed?”
But the member said, “Oh, no. Nothing like that. Everyone just got so excited, because this was the first time we ever had a minister who forgot to take up the collection.” Just as the Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus as sign of their worship, so also we bring our gifts as a sign of our devotion to Him.”
To be sure, today, the Christmas season ends with Epiphany. So we will put away all of our Spiritually meaningful symbols, like the Epiphany Star on top of the Christmas tree; and we will put away our wonderful collection of beautiful lights. But even though we take down and put away in the closet the bright light of Epiphany, we want to let that light continue to shine in us so that the world will know the light of Christ has been manifested! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.