Epiphany Sunday – 9th January 2022
The Christmas season includes Christmas Day and the twelve following days. Collectively, that is the Christmas season, the Twelve Days of Christmas. Recalling the stories of the birth and infancy of Christ. As a church, we are celebrating the mystery of the incarnation. Today, we draw the Christmas celebration to a close with the visitation of the Magi to the Christ-child. This visitation is described for us in Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-12). It is the basis of Epiphany and starts a new season in our sacred calendar.
What does ‘Epiphany’ mean? Why is it associated with Christmas? Epiphany is the term used to describe the visit of the wise men. It means an appearance of a divine being. We use the term to describe a sudden manifestation of an idea or thought.
I remember reading a newspaper article online from Detroit, the major city close to where I am from. The columnist wrote, ‘My epiphany came on the ride home after I had visited Notre Dame.’ (LOL) What was he talking about? The reason why he picked Michigan football! It had nothing to do with Christmas. It is now a word we use to describe a sudden thought that is enlightening.
The reason why we use that word in that way is because of the original Epiphany: when the Magi visited Jesus. For that matter, why are the wise men called Magi? ‘Magi’ is the same word we get ‘magic’ comes from. I’ll answer that question shortly; however, maybe now you better understand why I titled this message, ‘Christmas Magic’. Literally, it is the magical visitation of the divine child we worship as Jesus Christ. Why do we keep telling this story over and over again? Because it is magical!
You heard me state previously that Epiphany Sunday is one of my favourite weeks in the calendar. There are several reasons for that, with the first being the meaning of the term itself. Epiphany comes from the Greek and can be translated as “the light shines forth” or simply, “the light shines.” It refers to the manifestation of some light, which could be knowledge, or understanding, or even relationship.
The other reason is the story of the wise men. The magi as the symbol represent the world that comes to see something of significance in the baby in Bethlehem, even when many of those closest don’t see it. They have an epiphany – a light shown within their minds and heart – and worship the Christ child as King of all kings.
Combining these two aspects of Christ’s story – the light shining forth and the visitation of magi – I’d like to look at Christmas Magic and the enlightened appearance of Royalty. I’m going to use the term magic to draw out 3 points from the bible reading:
- The Magic of Christmas.
- The Magic of Scripture.
- The Magic of Service.
Christmas preserves the Magic of Scripture that was written in the past. Christmas promotes the Magic of Service that is working in the present. Christmas promises the Magic of Salvation that will be a wonderful future.
The Magic of Christmas
The magical story begins with stories from the East. The direction is important. The reference point is Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Israel is on the western edge of Asia. Wise men travelled a long distance looking for Jesus. Part of the tradition of having 12 days of Christmas is to appreciate the length of time it took to travel from the East to Israel.
The adoration of the Magi did not place at the manager as depicted in all our nativity scenes. Those are artistic expressions of the entire Christmas story. They are accurate in the content but not in timeline. The Magi did adore the Christ child but not as a baby in the manger. The Reformation texts preserve this truth with their accurate translation of Matthew 2:11 where it reads, they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary. Herod did not command all babies 2 months and under be killed; he commanded 2 years and younger. Hence, we can surmise Jesus was no older than 2 years but most likely close to being a Toddler at the time of the Magi visitation.
The bible word where ‘wise men’ come from is ‘magus’. The early church fathers translated the term as magicians. Wikipedia displays the Christian’s dilemma: Magi denotes followers of Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster, not Jesus Christ. It was Darius the Great of the book of Daniel who gives us the earliest known use of the word Magi. Darius was from that region. A Magus was presumably a Zoroastrian priest. Darius was the Mede who overthrew the world’s first global superpower: Babylon. He was followed by the Persian Cyrus, beloved by Persians to this day.
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance tells us the Magi of Matthew 2 were oriental scientists and, by implication, magicians. He notes further they were sorcerers and wise men.
The Blue Letter Bible tells us that Magi is the name given by Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others. The name means they were wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers and sorcerers etc. They note they could be false prophets and sorcerers.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon confirms both Strong’s and the Blue Letter Bible and adds the term could be translated as priests & interpreters of dreams as well as astrologers, seers, priests and physicians.
I know the background might be a tad bit taxing, but I wanted you to understand why there are differences in our English translations.
More than that, however, we live in a time where an entire generation grew up under Harry Potter and have been reintroduced to Tokien’s Christian parable, the Lord of the Rings, I feel the information is relevant. All these stories deal with Royalty. With magi, we know Royalty is Here!
The Magic of Scripture
The events of Matthew 2 were foretold in all aspects of the Hebrew Scriptures. Luke 24:44 describes the Old Testament divisions as preserved in the Jewish Bible to this day. Since the Reformation, we organised the Old Testament into 39 books of Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets and Minor Prophets. The Jews have the exact same material but in 24 books of 3 divisions: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Luke uses the Psalms as representative of the Writings.
Now watch the magic of scripture unfold before your eyes!
In the Prophets by Isaiah in his 60th chapter, we read about the Advent coming with a Light to the world! The Light is a glory that will arise upon the Lord and be seen. Gentile Kings will see that Light. Distant relatives travel to gather before the Lord. The Gentiles more than Jews will be converted. Median, Ephah, Sheba travel on camels and dromedaries to bring gold and incense to demonstrate the praises of the Lord.
In the Psalms we also have a prophecy of the Magi. Psalm 72 was written by Solomon who understood God had a Son (Proverbs 30:4). Solomon foretold the Son coming to judge with righteousness. He predicted the Son will rule with peace after the Son subjugates with dominion.
In verses 9-11, we have the prophecy of Magi given.
They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
The Psalm closes with a promise of the Son coming to help.
In the Law, we have the specific prophecy of the Magi’s star. It is found in Numbers 24:17 and reads:
I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
Balaam was from the general region of Abraham, father of the Jews. It was he, a prophet hired to curse Israel, who prophesied a Star would rise out of Israel. He said that Star would be associated with a Sceptre and thus a King. He insisted that the King conquer the enemies of God’s people.
Epiphany is the season where we understand Royalty is Here!
The Magic of Service
The apostle explained to the church in Ephesus that Epiphany’s concepts are the unveiling of a mystery. To materialists, mystery is limited to that which is unknown and, by implication, can be known through science over time. Mystery to God’s people, however, carries something more meaningful. It is a known relationship with no ability to grasp the depth of God’s love.
Part of that mystery is the fact that God uses the least of saints to announce God’s good news. God uses the church to manifest God’s wisdom to the kings of earth. That means Epiphany is a time for the Church to embrace the abundance of God’s grace and exercise their faith in confidence.
Who were the Magi? They were descendants of those related to ancient scientists. They were students of Daniel who prophesied of Christ’s advent. They were kings of the East.
Who is the Church? We are descendants of God’s covenant people related to ancient followers of God. We are students of God’s law, prophets, and psalms. We are kings who will reign and rule with Christ in the kingdom. And today, we are a royal priesthood serving humanity in the name of Christ.
Let us study the signs as the magi of our text. Like wise men, let us search for the Saviour and find where God is working in our community. Most of all, let us submit to the Lord as our Sovereign.
Royalty is Here! because we are here. We are in Christ’s stead. We are vessels shining forth Christ’s light, like the moon reflecting its sun.
What are we doing now to shine Christ’s light in our world? How are we serving others as our Lord, caring for the needy? Let us be busy shining the light of Christ into the darkness of our world. Let us continue to seek the light, asking God to reveal God’s self to us in unmistakable ways.
C.S. Lewis is known by many as the author of Narnia. Disney produced three movies to represent the seven books in the Narnia series. Lewis was a prolific writer. He once wrote an essay called The Seeing Eye. In it he argued that if there were a God, we would not relate to him the way a person on the first story of a house relates to a person on the second story. The ground-floor resident can go up the steps to find the second-floor resident. But God is not someone who merely lives in the sky—he is the creator of the whole universe, earth and sky and time and space, and of us.
Our relationship to God, then, is more like Shakespeare’s relationship to Hamlet. How much will Hamlet know about Shakespeare? Only what Shakespeare writes about himself into the play. Hamlet will never be able to find out anything about his author any other way. In the same way, Lewis concludes, we can’t find God just by going to higher altitudes. We’ll only know about God if God has written something about himself into our life, into our world. And he has.
There is a purposeful mission in this Epiphany for Royalty is Here!
[The Abingdon Women’s Preaching Annual, Series 2, Year C, compiled and edited by Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, (Abingdon, 2000), 47.]
O God of all creation,
You came into the world that we might know love and new life. Pour your Spirit on your church, that it may fulfil Christ’s command to live the gospel everywhere; that the proclamation of the good news might be heard throughout the earth. Reassure us, that we are your beloved people. Defend us against all evil and temptation. Give us grace to bear faithful witness to you. Endue us with love, keep us constant in prayer, empower us for the service of love. Amen.
You can watch the sermon as part of worship service on our YouTube Channel here.