Light For All

by Sean Foster on January 5, 2014


Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Ephesians 3:1-12

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Amen.

Light….

In the absence of light, we best see our need for it. Some of us know this all too well with the recent power outages that we have experienced over the last two weeks.

Darkness causes confusion.

We feel lost.

Just recently in the news I read and then saw a story of mountain goats that were caught in an avalanche in the French Alps.

True story. All of it was caught on video that you will be able to find as part of my sermon posted on the website. On December 10, 2013, 9 mountain goats were running from an avalanche. Five were able to outrun the fast tumbling snow, but four were swallowed up into the snowy tomb. But just when it seemed that all hope was lost, one by one, each of the four goats popped their heads through the snow and ran to catch up with their friends.

title=”Goats Caught in an Avalanche”>

As we can attest from hearing stories on the news, avalanches usually kill. Those who have been lucky enough to survive being buried in an avalanche will tell you that the biggest problem is figuring out which way is up in order to dig out. After being tumbled over end over end, round and round, it is next to impossible to know which end is up. To frantically dig down would be disastrous.

One survivor I remember told the story of how he moved his head back and forth until he hollowed out a breathing space. And rather than wasting precious breath melting the snow – he spit in the hole. He knew that his spit would head downhill, which helped him learn which way was up. What his senses would not discern, gravity would teach. Water does not drip up, and he was able to dig himself out.

How easy it is for us to lose our way and to become hopelessly disoriented.

Well, today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany is a season that celebrates the fact that light has come. Light has shined through the darkness of our world. Our God has sent His Son to be our light. To show us the way. To light our path to God.

It is actually in Epiphany that we celebrate and remember the Magi who came to worship and present gifts to the Christ child born in Bethlehem.

The Magi arrived almost two years after Jesus was born. Matthew’s Gospel teaches us that Mary and Joseph were now in a home; not in a stable and Jesus was no longer an infant, he was a young child.

And contrary to the words of the song (We Three Kings), the Magi did not come from the Orient, they actually came from ancient Babylon. They were learned men of wealth who were taught science, physics and astrology. Why they were called kings is puzzling. They were clearly not kings, because kings do not go and worship other kings. In fact, quite the opposite, they usually go out to kill other kings.

But here is the Epiphany and the showing forth of the glory of Christ. Matthew’s Gospel is the only one to share this story of these wise men who travel to worship and pay homage to Jesus. And this is actually a little strange because Matthew was a Jew, which means that he would have very little respect for astrologers. And yet, for our sake, he includes this story. Why?

Since the time that God had engaged the Jewish people in a covenental relationship, the Jews had prided themselves as being the chosen people of God. It was God’s chosen, the Jewish people that God promised His Messiah. Generation to generation – these truths were faithfully taught and passed down.
• You are Jewish.
• You are loved by God.
• You are His chosen.
• God has a relationship with us only.
• God’s Messiah will come to us.

So, why was the Promised Messiah being revealed to non-Jews?
• These Magi were not men of faith.
• They were men of science.
• Heathens.

As astrologers, they believed that the skies held wisdom about the future. They see a star, a star that is brighter than any they had ever seen before. They believe it marks the birth of a king. And they travel to pay homage, to worship and present gifts.

For years, this story about the Magi was said to be apocryphal – meaning that it was false or not true. There was no record of such a star existing at the time of Christ’s birth.
In the 17th Century, the astronomer Kepler found that something did occur in 7 B.C. Something that occurred every 805 years in our solar system. In 7 B.C. in the winter, 3 planets came in line with one another: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and together they looked like one brilliant star.

I love it when things in the Bible are proven right.

However, once again, we are confounded that the ways that we expect God to work; the ways that we anticipate God to be active in our lives, are not always they way they play out. I mean, neither the priests, prophets, men from the tribe of Levi, those of the Sanhedrin, none of those we might expect to be given the good news of the Messiah’s birth receive it. Instead, these Magi, astrologers, men not of faith, but of primitive science. Somehow they discern through a star in the sky that a king is born. And no ordinary king – a divine king. Note the gifts they bring. Gold of course was the traditional gift for a King. But frankincense was a sweet smelling oil that was offered to gods. And myrrh, was also a sweet smelling fragrance used for medicine and religious ceremonies, but also as an embalming fluid.

But here is the bitter irony and perhaps the reason why Matthew includes this important story in his Gospel. Those who are numbered among the first to recognize and worship the Messiah, the light of the world are outcasts, foreigners and heathens; dare I say Gentiles.

Now let me reinforce this fact with the other reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul writes of the special commission that he had received from God to share God’s Grace. A message that was revolutionary to Paul’s own way of thinking. In verse 3, Paul talks about the mystery that had been made known to him.

Note verse 5 of the Ephesians reading: In the former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

Then verse 6: that is [the mystery is] that Gentiles have become fellow heirs – members of the same body and sharers in the promise of Christ Jesus.

Paul, a Jew from birth, one of the chosen, his is saying that this group of chosen people has been expanded to include everyone. This is something that at one time Paul would have said to be heresy. But the mystery has now been made known to him and he is an ambassador of this good news. The Messiah is not just for the Jewish people. The Messiah came for everyone.

Paul writes to the Ephesians to say that he is the messenger of this good news. The plan that was hidden by God for ages is now revealed.

However, Paul does not just write to inform them of this amazing Grace – that we Gentiles are also heirs and receivers of the boundless riches found in Christ. Paul wants these Ephesian Christians to join him and to be messengers of this good news.

This is the great Epiphany that has been revealed to Paul. God’s love is not reserved for just those who are Jewish. God has revealed the Good news that His love is for all.

• Matthew shares this news
• Paul shares this news
• Will we share this good news?

It was Bible Sunday. Bible’s were being passed out to the kids, and one long-standing member went up to a little girl and said, My goodness, what is that you have in your hand?

She proudly replied, A Bible.

He said, Can I look at it?

Okay, but don’t open it, she said.

Why can’t I open it, he asked.

Because if you open it you’ll let God out.

This Epiphany, as we start this new year full of promise and hope and new possibilities. Let God out. Like Matthew and Paul let us share this good news that God loves this world, his creation and the people of this world. All people.

A-men.

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