Sermon Summary – Epiphany – January 6, 2019
In a few moments we will sing “We Three Kings”, I expect with some gusto as it is a favourite Christmas Carol, but more appropriate to Epiphany. It also shows just how much liberty we have taken with the Gospel story that has just been read, but then again the Gospel story takes liberties as well. Did you note that they were not Kings, but wise (small w) men from the east. The number of these wise people is not mentioned, but given that there were three gifts, we have just assumed three people. And if these people are fit to visit Jesus, then they must at least be Kings with a capital K.
So a few more details that we don’t usually translate too well. The wise people didn’t show up at the manger. Many scholars suggest they were priests from Zoroastrianism – a religion still practiced today in Iran. Zoroastianism, which focused on astrology, thus the connection to following a star, were prominent in ancient Persia. So if the star appeared to them in their home country, by the time they prepared a caravan for travel and got underway and then made the trek – well my geography of the middle east isn’t that stellar, however I think we can reasonably guess months perhaps as long as a year before they arrived. And don’t forget they stopped to see Herod which would have been up in the area that Mary and Joseph originally lived. But we can be sure when they finally showed up in Bethlehem, the little drummer boy was on hand to play!
Once again, we can’t see the forest for the trees. Matthew, the only Gospel writer to include the wise people, is on a misssion to tell a story, a teaching story, not an historical story. It is important to Matthew to tell the story in a way that shows Gentiles accepted Jesus as the Messiah when His own people didn’t. Now Matthew has five or six decades of water under the bridge to wiggle around in while telling this story. Remember, only Matthew and Luke stop to tell the birth story. Written 30 years after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, we are supposed to accept as actual fact a story that nobody else bothered to tell from 30 years earlier? So let’s agree to get the warm fuzzy from singing the hymn and take on a much deeper investigation of the Gospel.
The fact that Herod plays a big role in this story has much to say to us. The fact that Herod is supposed to have killed every child under two to prevent Jesus from escaping – there is no historic evidence of such a massacre – might just lead us to understand the poetic license that Matthew is taking. That license is to open the door to you and me – gentiles one and all – into the community of Jesus. Not that this would necessarily be any big surprise to anyone who was following the Way. Take the Epistle reading from Epiphesians that we have just heard, written by Paul a full decade before Matthew’s Gospel and Paul already assumes the inclusion of Gentiles in the followers of Jesus.
So we have the Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, a welcome to one and all to come to the table, the family of Jesus. And there have been many other small “e” epiphanies along the way. The earth is round, and it goes around the sun. Slavery is not God’s gift to the privileged. And while we are at it, the epiphany that women are equal to men. I’m currently reading Michael Coren’s book called Epiphany which entails his change of heart and mind on marriage equality. So maybe we shouldn’t be focused solely on The Epiphany but also to see the epiphanies that faith in Jesus brings to all that encounter Him.