The Magi Visit the Messiah
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Dear friends in Christ, please join me in prayer.
Two weeks ago we celebrated an event which would change everything. Literally everything! The birth of Jesus in that tiny little town of Bethlehem on that starry night in the most unsanitary and messy of places, a manger, a place fit for stinky and dirty animals … in that most messy of all places the birth of Jesus, the very Son of God would change everything. The incarnation of Jesus, the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us would change everything! The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus will change the way forgiveness would be given to repentant sinners. Forgiveness would no longer be given through the sacrifice of an animal but through the once and for all sacrifice of this truly innocent Son of God. The birth and life of Jesus would change the way one would have a relationship with God. It was no longer a relationship between you and a priest and then to God but now it is a relationship where you in prayer can talk straight to God. The birth of Jesus also changed our calendar. Not that people knew it but before Jesus was born, people lived in the BC times, the “before Christ” times. After the birth of Jesus, well, three years after the birth of Jesus, people lived in the AD times, the “anno domini” time, the “in the year of our Lord” time. Two weeks ago we celebrated that event which would change everything!
Then in the days following this most historic and miraculous event … one of the most obnoxious songs in my opinion of all time is played out. In the days following Christmas, we literally have the twelve days of Christmas where our true love is suppose to get us these weird gifts. But just in case you can’t seem to find ten lords a leaping or eight maids a milking or six geese a laying or can’t afford five gold rings, there are alternate versions of the song. You can go with the Allen Sherman version and get things like an indoor plastic bird bath, a calendar with a picture of your insurance agent on it and a Japanese transistor radio. Or you can go with my personal favorite and get the wonderful redneck things Jeff Foxworthy mentions in his version.
The thing is though … when families gather around the Christmas tree or get together with friends, the gift which literally changed everything isn’t too high on people’s list of gifts given to others. Gifts fit for family tend to be things like ugly sweaters, Xboxes, tools, underwear and socks. The gifts we think are fit for family, gifts fit for friends … as practical as some of them may be … these gifts are greatly underappreciated or are flat out unappreciated. The gift which literally changed everything for us, the gift which if it wasn’t given in the first place would totally eliminate the whole Christmas season, the whole Easter season, and every hope and promise of an eternal life after this one is the least appreciated gift of all.
But not to the magi. After the twelve days of Christmas are supposedly celebrated, something special happens. No, it is not that we take down the Christmas tree and all the trimmings, nor is it that we turn off all of our Christmas lights and darken this already dark world. Epiphany happens. Epiphany, a mysterious, unknown, and unappreciated season of the church year, happens.
Epiphany is all about God’s love extending out to all of humanity. Epiphany is all about God’s loves extending out to every man, woman, and child of our communities as well as around the world. When Mary and Joseph are told to name their precious gift of a baby Jesus, they are told to name him this because “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). If you go off these words only, this means that the precious baby boy is to be named Jesus because he will save the Jews from their sins. Jesus’ people are the Jews. Jesus is Jewish. But then Epiphany happened.
On the day of Epiphany which we are celebrating this morning … special people, unusual people, foreign gentile people show up on the doorstep of Jesus’ home. The Magi, these men from the east, these non-Jewish men who aren’t so wise as they have to stop and ask for directions show up on the doorstep of the King of the Jews. And the come bearing gifts! Gifts fit for a … king. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). Gold, frankincense, and myrrh … these are truly gifts fit for a king … but what kind of king is Jesus? What kind of king will Jesus be?
During the Christmas season of 1953, a Neiman-Marcus personalized gift wrapper was having an exceptionally hard day. The gift wrap room was booming with gifts which needed to be wrapped. Boxes of common gifts like cologne and hankies littered the room as well as custom items which people had brought in. But accidently, one of the overwhelmed gift wrappers sent out something she desperately needed. However, once she realized the mistake she made, it was too late. The morning packages had gone out.
Strangely though, no one ever came forward to complain that somewhere on Christmas morning sitting under someone’s Christmas tree was a Neiman-Marcus gift wrapper’s lunch consisting of a ham sandwich and an orange. Some at Neiman-Marcus were convinced that the recipient of this extraordinary gift had simply decided that even if he didn’t understand it … it had to be something wonderful. After all, it came from Neiman-Marcus.
Epiphany is about unwrapping the most extraordinary gift ever given. On Christmas, Jesus wrapped himself in the humble paper of humanity and this wrapping job of God was so good that many, not even the Magi, not even Jesus’ own disciples knew that Jesus is God. Some, as well as many others walked away from Jesus, they rejected Jesus as being the Son of God. They rejected this possibility because God’s wrapping of him was seamless, it was so perfect that those who met Jesus thought he was just a regular old joe, a regular human being.
This gift of Jesus is a gift fit for a sinner. Jesus is a gift fit for someone like you and me who at times may reject the gift or try to hide it because it isn’t fancy, it isn’t something which comes with prestige or class. The gift of the Christ child, the gift of Jesus born in a messy manger is not something which comes with the glitz and glamour of expensive gifts so we try to push it back under the Christmas tree and try to forget about it.
But no matter how hard you or I or anyone else tries to hide this gift or act as if it isn’t there … the gift of Jesus is a gift fit for a poor, miserable sinner. Jesus is a gift fit specifically for you.
This morning we begin a new season of the church year called Epiphany. Epiphany is all about unwrapping the most extraordinary gift ever given. The season of Epiphany wants you and me to pull back the wrapping paper of Jesus just a little bit. As we progress through the season we will see that Jesus is not just any ole fellow walking around Galilee or our town for that matter. This morning we are given to see that Jesus’ birth was an occasion for the heavenly bodies in the sky to change. We don’t know what exactly the Magi from the east saw, maybe it was a star of unusual brightness, perhaps a meeting together of some stars in an unusual way. Either way, the heavens bore witness to the birth of Jesus. At the baptism of Jesus, Jesus will be declared by his Heavenly Father to be His beloved Son. That same voice is heard on the Mount of Transfiguration right before Jesus heads down the mountain toward Jerusalem to be brutally beaten, crucified and die.
The Christ child visited by the non-Jewish Magi is a gift fit for you and all people as he was born for a purpose. He was not born for you and me to have an excuse to buy each other unappreciated gifts and eat too many cookies and snacks. Jesus was not born so we could spend countless hours digging in the attic to put up and then tear down our Christmas decorations. Jesus was not born so that God could show off His one and only Son, but Jesus was born so that he would walk down from the Mount of Transfiguration to a valley of deep darkness and then ascend another hill … but this time not to be clothed in the glorious light which the disciples saw but to be nailed to a cross where he will die for the sins of the whole world … Jew and Greek, male and female, you and me.
If Jesus was just another man born to a peasant couple in Bethlehem, well then his death is no more meaningful than the thousands of others who were crucified on a cross. His death was no more meaningful than the millions of innocent babies who have been slaughtered by abortions. Jesus’ death but also his victorious resurrection over death are truly significant and mean everything and have changed everything. The Magi who came and worshipped Jesus long ago were onto the Truth, the very truth which this season of Epiphany, this season of light would reveal to you and me. Jesus is a gift fit for you and me. Jesus is our gift and He means absolutely everything and has changed everything for you and me … as well as for everyone else who loves him. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.