God calls us to get up and go from our comfortable places, to be stretched in our ways of thinking and being, and we will see God’s light dawning in the world’s night, bringing life and hope.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Magi weren’t Jewish.
Maybe that’s obvious. But these astrologers, likely from Persia, had a very different belief system than Judaism. They didn’t study the Hebrew Scriptures, either.
But they did study the skies. And something there told them a new ruler was to be born for the Jewish people. Born far to the west of them. Far from their culture, their faith, their practices.
And they followed that heavenly phenomenon, traveled long distances, both from their country and from their faith. Because something drew them. We would say that God led them. Even if they didn’t know the one God of all creation the Jewish people trusted.
The Holy Spirit filled them and drew them far from their comfort zones, their families and neighbors, their base of knowledge, their cultural touchstones.
Now, we claim Jesus is the Messiah promised to the Jewish people.
He was a Jew himself. His first disciples in the first years of the early Church were mostly Jewish. But today Isaiah proclaims that God’s light is dawning for all, not just for the Jewish people. He promises that other nations and rulers will also be drawn to this light and come. Something will shine in the world’s night that God will use to draw all people to see what God is doing.
And those early Jewish Christians, including Matthew our evangelist, claimed this promise was fulfilled. When Jesus was a young child, non-Jewish strangers from the east, foreigners, were drawn to him by God. Saw God’s light shining in him.
Do you see the wonder of these two things?
That people completely unfamiliar with Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures would uproot themselves and travel a long way to a faith unknown to them, give up the comfort they had in their lives and go see the mystery that was drawing them.
And that the Jewish people they came to also stretched themselves from their certainty to trust that God’s light wasn’t theirs exclusively.
These are both beyond remarkable things.
For most of us, if God wants to show us something, God needs to do it in our context.
We’d prefer it to be within doctrines we understand, using language we find comfort in, in places we’ve grown to love.
Can you imagine feeling the Spirit’s pull and heading off on a journey to another country where people have never heard of Jesus, let alone of Lutherans, not to tell them you’ve got the answers, but because you heard God say, “I will be there, go look for me among those people”?
On this day of Epiphany, if you’re going to see God manifested in the world, the Magi tell you, be ready to go where God leads you. And it might be strange lands, or strange neighborhoods, to people unlike you. But there you will meet God.
The Magi fell on their knees in joy when they saw God in this baby. They’d never have seen anything if they hadn’t gotten up to go where they were led.
As daunting as it was for the Magi to get up and go, don’t underestimate how hard this challenge was for the Jewish people.
God’s chosen ones were asked to understand God’s choosing of them wasn’t meant to be exclusive. It’s not enough for God just to save Israel. “I will give you as a light to the nations,” God declares in Isaiah 49, “that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” They were chosen, but to be a blessing to all nations, to welcome all into God’s light.
We hear Jesus proclaim that at the cross he will draw all things – not even just all people, but all things, the whole cosmos – into the life and love of God. But how often have we wondered about that breadth, that inclusion? How often have we doubted God’s expansive love included people unlike us? How often have we acted as if God’s love had limits and that if others were included, perhaps that meant there’d be less love for us?
On this day of Epiphany, if you’re going to see God manifested in the world, Isaiah and Matthew challenge you, celebrate God’s light dawning in the world without restricting where God can be, who God will be with, who might show you a truth about God you’d never known before.
The Magi were the first to witness to the Jewish people that their true ruler was now born. Those who came to believe in Jesus never would have found that joy without being open to God’s inclusive ways.
Today the good news is that the light of God has come, is revealed in Christ.
Morning is dawning on the long night of evil and suffering this world has been in. But to see it you’ll have to go look where God leads you. How far might you be willing to go from your comfort to see God revealed in the world?
And to see God’s light, you’ll need to look at the stranger beside you with God’s eyes of love. How much are you willing to let God stretch you out of your ways of thinking to see God’s light where God is shining it?
This day promises you: when you let God’s Spirit send you out, and stretch you within, you will see God’s light in Christ dawning over the whole creation, bringing life and hope to all.
And then you, too, can be overwhelmed with joy.
In the name of Jesus. Amen