The Epiphany of Our Lord
Every page of the Old Testament is about Jesus. That might sound like a strange thing to say, since the birth of Jesus doesn’t happen until the New Testament. But from the third chapter of Genesis, where the first promise of the Savior is given, to the last prophet, Malachi, the central theme of the Scriptures is the coming of the Christ. His birth is foretold, his ancestry is recounted, and his suffering, death, and resurrection is prophesied. Jesus can be found on every page in the Old Testament.
Jesus said as much to the Pharisees who were rejecting him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (Jn 5:39). Some people think that the Bible is the history of the Jewish people. It’s not. From beginning to end, the Bible tells the story of Jesus. The Jewish people come into this story much later, when God chooses Abraham and his descendants as his own people for a special purpose. People generally know that the children of Israel were God’s chosen nation. But most people don’t understand what that meant. Did God love the Jews more than the other nations? No. Did God plan for only the Jews to be saved? No. This is not what it meant to be God’s chosen people.
God chose the nation of Israel for a single purpose: to give birth to the Savior of the world. The Bible tells us that God so loved the world—the whole world—that he sent his only Son. In order for Jesus to be born as a man, he needed to be born somewhere, into one of the nations on earth. God chose the nation of Israel for this great honor. But this didn’t mean that God loved only Israel. He loved the whole world. God made this very clear to Abraham when he said, “Through your Seed all nations of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 22:18).
Somewhere along the line, the Jewish people lost sight of God’s plan. As the centuries went by, they remembered the part about being God’s chosen people, but they forgot why. Instead of remembering that God loved all people and desired to bless them, the Jews began to think that God loved only them. Jesus said, “Salvation comes from the Jews” (Jn 4:21), but the Jews thought, “Salvation comes for the Jews – and only the Jews.” But this was never God’s plan.
St. Paul writes the truth that had lain forgotten for centuries, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel… This was according to [God’s] eternal purpose” (Eph 3:4–6, 11a).
Unfortunately, when the Savior finally appeared, after thousands of years of preparation, the Jewish people rejected him. They were so secure in their status as God’s chosen people that they shut the door upon their own salvation. But God’s eternal purpose to bless all nations of the world could not be hindered. The light of Christ could not be snuffed out. Isaiah prophesied of this, saying of Jesus, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Is 60:1–3).
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. Epiphany is a Greek word that means “to reveal”, “to make visible.” The season of Epiphany is all about the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. That’s good news for every person sitting here, because I don’t think any of us are natural-born Jews. In our Gospel text, we read of the very first Gentiles to see and follow the light of Christ. We call them the Magi, which means, “wise men.” They are a very good example to us of true wisdom—men who followed the light of Christ no matter where it led them. They were willing to travel far, to suffer danger and hardship. They we happy to give up their treasure in order to find and worship Jesus. This is wisdom. Sadly, many Christians today are only willing to follow Christ if it won’t interfere with their comfort or entertainment schedules. This is the loss of true wisdom.
Isaiah prophesied of the coming of the Magi, even telling of the gifts they would bring, “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord” (Is 60:6). Remember that Isaiah wrote these words seven-hundred years before the birth of Christ! If you were to open your Bible to Isaiah, chapter 60, you would find that like all of the Old Testament, it is about Jesus. He is on every page. You might be surprised to find that you too are written about here in Isaiah: “And nations shall come to your light” (Is 60:3). You are part of the nations that have seen and come to the light. The fact that you are in God’s house today, hearing the words of Jesus, sitting in the light of the Gospel, is a fulfillment of prophecy. The Wise Men were only the first of the Gentiles, and God wants all people of all nations to be saved.
Finally, we read in Matthew, chapter 2, that the Magi followed the star until it came to rest over the place where Jesus was. Where was that place? It was a house—not a stable—a house. Check your Bible; that’s what it says. They had followed the star since it appeared, but it was probably a year—maybe even two—after the birth of Jesus when they arrived at the house. But it doesn’t matter if you come to Christ late. All that matters is that you come.
If you want to find Jesus today, where will you go? To a house in Bethlehem? No. That star and that house are gone. That’s not where you’ll find Jesus today. Instead, you will follow the light of the Gospel to the place Jesus has promised to be now—within the house of God, the church. You will find Jesus wherever the Scriptures are taught in truth and purity. You will find Jesus wherever sinners are baptized in his name, and wherever his Body and Blood are given for the forgiveness of sins. You will find Jesus in his church, where two or more have gathered in his name.
It’s sad that though the star was visible to all, only the wise men had the wisdom to follow it. They came to Jerusalem and asked the Jewish Bible scholars, “Where will the Christ be born?” The scholars knew the answer, “In Bethlehem,” but they didn’t go along to see him. For all their wisdom, they were fools. Only foreigners and outsiders proved to have true wisdom. It is the same today. The light of Jesus has been revealed to all the world. Yet the world, in so-called wisdom, mocks the light and loves its darkness. You once were part of this darkness, but in his great mercy, God chose you to be part of his people, the true Israel. You weren’t a natural-born child of God, but through Holy Baptism, you were added to the number of God’s elect, to his chosen people. By his Holy Spirit your mind has been opened to see and know the heart of all the Scriptures. The light of Christ has shone in your heart, and you too, have been brought to the home where Christ lives. Let us gives thanks to God for the Epiphany of our Lord. Amen.