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January 7, 2018 Epiphany

Last week, we read from John’s Gospel which spoke of Jesus as the Word. The Word of Jesus, the Wisdom of Jesus is our guidepost. It provides us with direction. One of the themes of Epiphany is the Light of Christ. The light of Christ is a beacon, the torch that leads us on. The three wise men followed the light of a star, a star that was put there by God. Once again we focus on following the light of Christ, being committed to his word and his will for us. And we respond to this guiding light with our commitment to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. People have tried for centuries to provide additional details about the visit of the wise men. Matthew does not tell us how many wise men visited Jesus. He doesn’t tell us where exactly they came from. And he doesn’t tell us how old Jesus was when they arrived. Our understanding of the rest of the story is discerned from what Matthew wrote or perhaps just someone’s interpretation. We often refer to the wise men as three kings but they were not. We call them by the Greek word Magi. According to the Catholic resource center there are four possible meanings for that word Magi. “(1) a member of the priestly class of ancient Persia, where astrology and astronomy were prominent in Biblical times; (2) one who had occult knowledge and power, and was adept at dream interpretation, astrology, fortune-telling, divination and spiritual mediation; (3) a magician; or (4) a charlatan, who preyed upon people using the before-mentioned practices”. We believe it means court priests or astrologers. They may have come from Parthia which was in current day Iran. They were given the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Those names did not appear in Christian literature until five hundred years after the birth of Jesus. Saint Bede writing in the country we now call England in the seven hundreds wrote this "The magi were the ones who gave gifts to the Lord. The first is said to have been Melchior, an old man with white hair and a long beard... who offered gold to the Lord as to a king. The second, Caspar by name, young and beardless and ruddy complexioned... honored Him as God by his gift of incense, an oblation worthy of divinity. The third, black-skinned and heavily bearded, named Balthasar ... by his gift of myrrh testified to the Son of Man who was to die." (from Catholic Resource Education Center). People believe that it would have taken several years for the wise men to arrive in Bethlehem and Matthew refers to them entering a house, not a manger. They probably didn’t come when he was an infant. Matthew certainly doesn’t tell us much about the star. It could be from the East. In our translation it is his star at its rising. It is hard for me to understand how a star would move before them and then stop and stand over the house where Jesus was staying. Was it a comet, a supernova or a collection of planets that caused the wise men to come? We are not sure. “German astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed in 1604 that the star was a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C”. Grant Matthews, a theoretical astrophysicist from Notre Dame, proposed that it was a conflagration in April 17, 6 B.C., when the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn aligned in the constellation Aries while Venus and Mars were in neighboring constellations. (AP 12/1/2007). Astronomer Michael Molnar, agrees that it was on April 17, 6 BC. But he believes it was Jupiter alone that caused the wise men to look for Jesus. Molnar described how Jupiter moved in the sky both East and West and how it rose. ( All of the hard work and speculation about these details concerning the wise men is not as important as how we understand the story and what it means to our Christian practice. When the Magi saw the star they knew something important had happened. They believed that someone had been born who was destined to become a ruler. That is why Mathew wrote his star at its rising. The Star of the East encourages us to look for that important person as well. We look to Jesus for guidance in our lives. It means that we should be looking to God, and specifically Jesus, to help us on our lifelong journey. We need to find and follow the star of Jesus, a star that keeps us on track and makes sure that we keep following our God and king. When we use the word Epiphany outside of church it means “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure”. Something special happens that switches on a light in our minds. It is an aha experience. The celebration of the Epiphany in the church is similar. It is the manifestation of Jesus, the Son of God. Manifestation is just a big word that means a public showing or a perceptible, outward, or visible expression. Jesus is publicly shown to the three wise men. It is the first time in Scripture that someone other than a Jewish person came to pay homage to Jesus. That matters to us because we are all Gentiles, non-Jewish people. Epiphany is like our anniversary of the first time that people like us saw and understood who Jesus was. This is the first time that the light switched on in the minds of Gentiles. This is God! The reading from Isaiah fits so well with the concept of the light of Christ. It begins, “Arise, shine, for your light has come”. The light of Jesus has come and will lead us in all that we should do. Later, Isaiah writes, “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you,” The Lord Jesus illuminates our lives and chases away the darkness that is in our souls. This past week, I went to see the movie “Wonder” which is about a boy with a disfigured face. The boy must deal with all the perceptions of other students and parents when he goes to school. But for me the story tells about the struggles each person faces in their life. Even the bullies had problems. Everyone has some darkness that they must overcome. Jesus is the light that helps us out of the darkness and into the light. One Scripture commentary said, “We are all in need of the Light - and of more light to enlighten our hearts. We need Christ to fill our emptiness, relieve our fears and anxieties and bring us hope of life eternal”. In 1951, composer Gian Carlo Menotti wrote an opera called Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera was shown on TV many times. Menotti had grown up in Italy where the custom was that the Three Wise Men brought the Christmas gifts for children. In his Opera, Amahl is a poor disabled boy whose mother worries that he will become a beggar. The three Kings visit their house. Amahl’s mother tries to steal the gold meant for Jesus. She wants to protect her son. Although she is caught, King Melchior tells her to keep the gold because Jesus will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. Amahl offers his crutch for Jesus and is healed. Then Amahl goes with the Three Kings to visit Jesus and gives his crutch to the newborn Christ Child. We learn much from the actions of children. I think it was the Sunday before Christmas that a young boy who is 5 years old told me before the service that he had something to give me. After the service he handed me this small lego toy person. He asked me to give the lego to Jesus. I placed it in the manger with Jesus and it has stayed with Jesus the entire Christmas season. I am so appreciative of the thoughtfulness of the boy. His actions encourage us to consider what gift we will give to Jesus. The Wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. What will our gift be? Perhaps it will be something small but important to us, something personal. Maybe our gift will tell everyone what Jesus means to us or pronounce what Jesus means to the world. It might only be our faith. As we give our gift, we also remember that Jesus is God’s gift to us. Jesus is the light of the world. We are so thankful that Jesus became the light of the world to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. We pray that this light, this star, will fill the world with God’s glory and that God’s light will shine throughout the world. And we pray that Jesus will be the light that shows us how we can help make this happen. Amen.

Last modified on Thursday, 11 January 2018 18:31