Bishop Michael Rhyne
Epiphany of our Lord, 2015
Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I write to you on the day of the Epiphany. As such I wanted to share a reflection with you, through the lens of this festival, and talk about how this day proclaims the good and gracious news to us.
Now you may have learned along the way that the word Epiphany comes from the Greek and refers to the light coming into the world. We know this light is Jesus. Christ has come. If we think about that image then it might seem to make more sense if the gospel lesson for the day was the opening of John’s gospel where we hear that the eternal word and the light of the world had come. We are celebrating that the light has come – but we don’t’ get that in the text.
We hear the story of the wise men. We hear about these Babylonian astronomers following the star, being told by Herod’s scribes where the baby was supposed to be born, leaving the gifts, and returning to their own country by another rode being warned by the angel in a dream. This might leaving us wondering why this day is named for the light coming into the world. Based on the gospel text we might be tempted to think that it should be called Wise Men Day.
But the important part of this story is who these foreign astronomers are. Just about every single person that has followed God until this point in the story is a member of the tribe of Israel. That is fitting since God made a promise to Abraham to always and forever love and care for Abraham’s descendants, and God has kept and will always keep his eternal covenant with the Jewish people. In all of the stories of the Old Testament we see God interacting with, leading, guiding, and comforting (and sometimes correcting) his people.
But these Wise Men change everything. They are not Jewish and are not part of any eternal covenant God has made with them. Most likely they worship eastern gods and may know nothing at all about the God of Israel. These Wise Men may be the very last people anyone would have expected in the story. They are foreigners, they don’t know God, they don’t have the history with him, and they very likely don’t know the Bible. But we see here, God literally rearranging the heavens to make sure that these unexpected foreigners can come to Jesus Christ. God having the stars themselves sing out that something new is going on.
Let me be clear. Up until this point in the Bible – God was the God of Israel, and generally was only dealing with Israel. When we see the other people in the Bible, they are usually trying to capture or destroy God’s people. More specifically if these Wise Men were from Babylon (and most scholars point to their probably being their place of origin) then God is welcoming in people who the last time we saw them in the Bible were enslaving Israel, putting its people in captivity, and destroying God’s holy temple in Jerusalem.
So it is a weird and strange thing that God calls these stargazers to Jesus Christ. What it should show us is that everything has changed. Maybe we don’t pick up on this because we know in our Christian DNA that Jesus came for everyone. It is something that we don’t even question. But here, it was a new thing. Here we see that in Christ and because of Jesus Christ – the game has just changed. God is not exclusive to his chosen people. God is now reaching out to all of this world and welcoming all people to himself. God still loves and always will love the children of Abraham. But at Epiphany we are seeing God reveal the truth that he loves absolutely everyone, and God welcomes all of us to him in Jesus Christ our Lord.
You understand that we were the people who lived in darkness but now have seen a great light. We are the people who were in the land of deepest darkness and unto us the light has come. We are the people who that Jesus came to find and claim. Jesus mission is and was to bring all people to himself. With those wise men who brought the three gifts from afar, we see the first example that Jesus has come for all people, and that God calls all people to himself through Jesus Christ our Lord. Epiphany is God showing us that he is here for us, and for everybody.
If we were to read on in the gospel of Matthew we would see that the Wise Men head home, and then Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt and then eventually return to Nazareth after Herod’s death. What is neat (to me) about this is that after the Wise Men come to the Christ Child they return home to the East. Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Egypt and would have had to travel South and West to do this. After Herod’s death, they return to Nazareth which means they have to travel North.
Meaning that from Bethlehem this message of Jesus Christ and this life of Jesus spreads out immediately. In the course of a few verses it spreads in all directions East, South, West, and North. Just by Jesus being who he is, the news has begun to spread, and will eventually spread out to the entire world.
What Epiphany celebrates is what God has done for us. God came in Jesus Christ to call all of the world to himself. Be very clear, had God not done that you and I wouldn’t be here. Because it was only by God’s call, invitation, and action of becoming flesh and living among us that we are able to follow him. He is the one who gives us the good gift of life, the life from and in Jesus Christ. Hopefully, as we move past the day of Epiphany, we can remember that that love, and mercy, and life is literally for all people. No matter what.
May the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding be with you now and ever more.
(this post is scheduled to appear in the Jan. edition of the Allegheny Synod Lutheran Letter)