Epiphany: Your Light Has Come
I hope you all have had a wonderful New Year celebration and made some exciting New Year resolutions. January 6th is the day of Epiphany in the Christian liturgical year, and this year it happens to fall on the first Sunday of the year. It’s nice to have the opportunity to focus on this subject at the very beginning of the year.
Epiphany means appearance. Traditionally, it refers to the appearance of the star in the east, leading the Magi to the cradle of the baby Christ.
Talking about the Magi, have you ever wondered what would have happened if the Magi were women? What if it had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?
They would have asked directions earlier, so they would have arrived on time. They would have helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.
But what they would have said when they left…?
“Did you see the sandals Mary was wearing with that gown?”
“That baby doesn’t look anything like Joseph!”
“Virgin? Yeah! I knew her in school!”
“I heard that Joseph isn’t even working right now!”
“And that donkey that they are riding has seen better days too!”
“Want to bet on how long it will take until you get your casserole dish back?”
“Can you believe that they let all of those disgusting animals in the house?”
(Credit: Don Flowers)
In fact, the story of the Magi has very little to do with the way it is presented today at the Christmas pageants. It has a much serious meaning than just three exotic kings with glittering gowns to adorn the rustic staple with smelly animals and poor shepherds. It was a scandalous story to hear for the first century audience of. It was surely an epiphany for those who understand the hidden meaning of these Megi.
Some people argue that the Magi were not kings. They were just sages that serve as counselors to the kings. Ancient Chinese sages like Laozi and Zhuangzi have served as counselors to the kings because of their super sagely wisdom and insights. Today, we have a woman sage serving as the counselor to the president with her sagely wisdom.
So, calling them wise men would be quite precise. However, we must not deny that there were kings that were sages at the same time, such as King Solomon. He is both a king and a wise man. So, those Magi could have been kings as well.
We don’t know how many wise men came to visit Jesus. The Bible never mentioned the number, but people just assume that there were three of them because it mentioned three gifts. You might have heard many versions of the Magi mythology, but the biblical version is the only solid evidence we have and it’s short.
Why would this story be scandalous for the first century audience to hear? It’s because Magi were equivalent to quacks, fortunetellers, and astrologers of our time. The word “magician” came from magi (or magus). The Old Testament Bible condemns them as idolatrous astrologers that godly people must avoid. A Jewish rabbi wrote not long before the birth of Jesus, “He who learns from a magi is worthy of death.”
If Magi were so despised by the culture and condemned by the Scripture, why did Matthew place them at the presence of Christ, God’s Son? In fact, this is not the only scandalous story he told.
Matthew begins the Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus that includes four women--in a culture where genealogy is mostly based on the lineage of men. However, he didn’t just include four women, but those four women were quite scandalous. Tamar played prostitute to get herself impregnated by her father-in-law, Judah. Rahab was a real prostitute. Ruth was a foreigner. Bathsheba was not mentioned by name, but by an provocative pronoun.
Let’s check out Matthew 1:6.
and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,
Do you get it? You know the story. David had Uriah murdered and took his wife Bathsheba has his own and they gave birth to Solomon. Have you ever wondered why in the world Matthew didn’t simply say, “David and Bathsheba” instead of “David and Uriah’s wife”? Matthew obviously wanted to twist the knife really hard in King David’s wound.
What’s the message of Matthew here? As Presbyterians, we like to present everything in an orderly, clean, and glamorous manor. However, Matthew wants people to know the unclean and disorderly genealogy of Jesus. Of course, Matthew didn’t present Jesus as the biological son of Joseph, but he did manage to tell the world that he is not from a clean and glamorous lineage.
Matthew wants to include not only men and women, but with the Magi, he intends include people of all nations and all classes. He has made a strong statement that God’s grace reaches every gender, race, age, and social status at every corner of the world, including adulterers, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and the shady people like the Magi.
As a despised tax collector himself, Matthew has personally experienced the massive grace of God in Jesus Christ.
This story is truly an epiphany to anyone who thinks salvation is only for those who deserve it by their social standing. Unfortunate, King Herod and the religious leaders in his court didn’t get that epiphany. They found the prophecy, but they probably thought that the Messiah would have been born somewhere under their royal roof, or somewhere sublime.
When they couldn’t find him, they chose to commit a child-holocaust. King Herod ordered the killing of all male children under two years old. Even though the scholars have found out that there were probably only about 20 to 30 children under that age around Bethlehem at that time, the horror of this mini-holocaust would always stay in people’s mind because even one innocent child is still too many.
The Magi’s returning home by a different route serves as a symbol of their transformation. Yes, God loves you the way you are, but God loves you too much to leave you the way you are. Once you have met Jesus, you don’t go back to the old way and live the same sinful life.
These magicians don’t need the magic anymore to predict the future because they have seen the future in flesh. They don’t have to search for anymore light because they have seen the light in flesh. They have had the epiphany. All the prostitutes, tax collectors, and shady people that have met Jesus were transformed. They all took a different route after that.
Many of them became the lightkeepers after seeing the light. Matthew himself was transformed by the light of the grace of Christ and became a lightkeeper telling his experience with this gospel. Two thousand years later we are still benefiting from his lightkeeping gospel.
What’s your epiphany? What light do you see that makes you take a different route? Matthew might ask, “Do you see what I see?” Your past, no matter how shady or dark, is forgiven and forgotten. Your future is what matters most. As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” That what King Herod did, repeating his sin over and over again and expect a different result.
However, you and I that have seen the light will take a different route in 2019. If you have already taken a different route, you know you have a different calling, that, like Matthew, you must be a lightkeeper. I’d like to put it in Joshua’s word,
“As for me and my church, we will be the lightkeepers!”
May God bless us with opportunities to touch many lives in this new year.
Happy New Year! Until we meet again, let’s keep cultivating a fruitful life. Amen!