January 10th, 2020 – Isaiah 60:3
May you receive from God the forgiveness you have not deserved, not get the punishment you have, and may you have peace with God through the blood of our newborn Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Today we celebrate the close of the Christmas season. Today we celebrate Epiphany!
Epiphany is always January 6th and is always after the 12 days of Christmas on the 13th day. As Christians, we gather together to celebrate this major event on the Sunday on or after the day itself.
If you are not having an epiphany about what Epiphany is about, this day is also informally known as “We Three Kings Day,” or “Wise Men Day.” You know those three wisemen in your nativity sets? Today is the day you would move them into the picture to finally be with Jesus.
So today let us talk about the wisemen.
Details of the Wisemen
Perhaps you have heard of these three by different names. Often, they are called Wise Men, or Kings, or even Magi. So, what is their actual name? Well, in the original Greek text they are called ‘magoi’. The oi ending is like our ‘s’ in English. It makes it plural. Like taking a camel and making it into camels. The whole word when you transliterate it into English is Magi. Believe it or not, the name Magi shares a root with our English word ‘magic.’ But what does this mean? What does it translate to for us English speakers? What is a magi, what do they do, and most importantly, are Magi related to Jedi? (Just kidding, Jedi are completely irrelevant.)
Just as you would expect from something that has been in the spotlight for thousands of years and is not fully explained in Scripture, there are a lot of good theories about who these wise-guys were.
One Greek historian from way back when used the word magoi to describe a class of priests among the ancient Medes and Persians. These priests were later associated with Zoroastrianism. What is Zoroastrianism you ask? Well, let’s take a little diversion there. Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion, alive and well today. It teaches an understanding of two opposing forces in the world, good and evil, and that in the end good will defeat evil. It also contains concepts of an uncreated wise god, a messiah, judgement after death, heaven and hell, and even has a nice Buddhist touch of a Threefold path to help fight the evil: Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. Many today could probably be classified as Zoroastrians. You can definitely see pieces of The Truth in this religion, pieces of our God this religion rightly understands. But, like all good false religions, it is only partial truth, which is exactly where Satan likes to live and deceive us away from the full truth of God which is found in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. End to the explanation of Zoroastrianism.
An additional theory is that these magi came from Mesopotamia or Persia and they studied ancient and sacred texts and watched for the movement of planets and stars to interpret them as messages from the gods. It is worth noting that, yes, our God did use the planets and stars as a way of communicating with people here on earth about Jesus. God also used humans random casting of lots to let them know His will. Does this mean we can always use these methods to force God to reveal His will to us? Sadly, no. It does not work like that. We ask in prayer, God listens, and He answers us as He sees fit. Because of the role of these magi in studying and trying to discern God’s will, they could be considered wise men, councillors, or even advisors to kings much like Daniel was in being a mouthpiece of God interpreting the dreams God sent to kings.
The theory that these magi are kings themselves comes from their ability to so easily come before King Herod and the wealth they show in making such a big trip and bearing such lavish gifts.
What we do know for certain is that they are from the East. We can assume from somewhere East of Jerusalem like Persia or Arabia.
Some traditions, not from Scripture itself of course, even give these magi names. Tradition has them called Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar. Whether this is truth or fiction we do not know. Even the number of them is uncertain. We assume three from traditions we hear. We assume three even based upon the number of gifts they bring. However, there is an Eastern tradition that there were twelve of them! All the Gospel of Matthew tells us for sure is that there were more than one. Magoi – plural.
What is truly important? Well, lest we miss the forest in the trees, what is important is the function that these foreign magi play. They stand as the symbol of Jesus being revealed to the Gentiles. Who are the Gentiles? The word Gentile literally means “The Nations” aka. everyone who exists and is not a Jew. I am a gentile. You are a gentile. We are a part of the nation that exists outside of the Jewish people. So the wisemen being the symbol of Jesus being revealed to us is a big deal.
Let us put it this way: Perhaps there is a big bursary available from the government. You have no idea that you qualify. When you are called up and told you specifically qualify for this bursary, that is like God giving the star to the Magi and bringing them to Jesus to worship. It is God coming to you and saying, like He did for the wisemen, “this gift is for YOU.”
Okay, here is another way to think about the function these wisemen serve. Suppose there is a group of folks in town who get along with themselves pretty well – a clique you would call them. One of the people in the clique wins the lottery. A big one. Of course, this person shares their good fortune with all in their clique. What if that person calls YOU up for coffee to tell you their new wealth is being shared with everyone in town, you included?
That is God calling the Magi in to tell them this gift is for all people – not just the “clique of the Jews” if you will. God is opening the clique of His chosen people, the Jews, to everyone through faith in this little guy, Jesus.
What is really cool is that this is not even anything new. God had already said over and over that He was going to do this. He already said that Saviour would be for all nations and even that nations from the East would come and bring their wealth to Him. Think about our reading from Isaiah this morning which says this: “And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
4Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar …
… the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60: 1-4; 6)
Even the Psalm for today is part of the prophecy of Jesus and the nations coming to Him as He is revealed. Psalm 72 says:
“9May desert tribes bow down before him
and his enemies lick the dust!
10May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!
11May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!” (Psalm 72:9-11)
These things begin and are fulfilled when these Wise Men, these Magi, these foreign kings, come to bring Him tribute and bow down to worship Him. These things will, in part, continue as all nations come to know of Jesus and offer their lives as a living sacrifice and bow down before Him as time goes on.
God says in Isaiah, “Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other …
… Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
24 They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone
are deliverance and strength.’”
All who have raged against him
will come to him and be put to shame.
25 But all the descendants of Israel
will find deliverance in the Lord
and will make their boast in him.” (Isaiah 45:22; 24-25)
This prophecy begun in the wisemen will be completed in its fullness at the end of time. All will bow down and confess to God. Yet, for many, it will be too late to be saved. They will be put to shame.
Thanks be to God that He revealed His salvation for all people to these Magi all those years ago. Thanks be to God that we have been given the message, too, as Gentiles! As outsiders to the covenant, we have been brought in through faith in Jesus through our baptism into His name. We receive His gifts even now.
Epiphany is about this reality. Jesus is for YOU! Jesus’ death on the cross and forgiveness if for YOU, too! This has been revealed to you by God Himself. This immensely valuable truth has been leaked out to you. This epiphany is for all nations.
Big change of subject here as we come to a close.
We have all eaten lately, or at least I hope we have. We have all eaten meals. If you use spices in your meal they are quite nice. They help flavour the food and help you to enjoy it! Give your tongue something to think about. Spices themselves do not really nourish or feed you; though. The chunk of meat feeds you. The thing the spices are on feeds and nourishes you.
Why am I talking about food right now?
We have talked a lot about these Magi. The unknown details about who they are and what they are called. They are fun, they can be intriguing, but they are not the point of this message. Those uncertain details are just the spices.
What is the meat of this message? The meat of this message today is this: 1. That God has revealed Jesus to the Gentiles by a star and 2. We, like the Magi, are led to God’s Divine Presence in Heaven by faith in the One Revealed to us – Jesus Christ the light of our world.
In His name,