Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Notes for the Message Based on Matthew 2:1-12; “C”–Epiphany Sunday

I am not going to be preaching this week. These notes are from the message that I preached on Epiphany Sunday in 2010 @ Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church. This week Ms. Krystal T. will be bringing the message to the community of Christ United Methodist Church.

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Today is Epiphany Sunday. The word “Epiphany” means an “A-HA!” event; it is a moment when a “LIGHT bulb” goes off in our head and we see and understand something much more clearly.

A reasonable question to ask would be, “what EXACTLY does a LIGHT bulb in our heads have to do with the Christian calendar? What do WE do with the Epiphany Sunday?”

In order to understand what Epiphany Sunday means to us we need to look at the WHOLE story that the Gospel of Matthew tells us and how that story connects to the rest of the Holy Scriptures.

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First of all: although Matthew does not identify who the Magi were (therefore neither could we), he makes it clear that the Magi came from far away. Matthew makes it clear that the Magi were not Hebrews. The questions that they asked indicate that they were pagans (Magi, 223). The story of the Magi was foretold in a couple of places in the Hebrew Scriptures:

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NIV Numbers 24:17 “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel…”

NIV Isaiah 60:3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

NIV Psalm 68:29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem kings will bring you gifts.

NIV Psalm 72:10 The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts.

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Second: Matthew is not giving us the cozy, sentimental story that we created in our imaginations; a story with exotic, gentle, oriental kings bringing gifts to a child in a stable. What Matthew tells us is that Mary and Joseph were simply living in Bethlehem at the time (Wright, 11), that the Magi came to worship the child, and that they brought three gifts.

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Third: Matthew is explicit in saying that the visitors were not royalty; they were star-gazers / astrologers.

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With the story of the Magi, Matthew asserts that Herod and his bloodline are impostors because the true King of the Jews is born elsewhere. The Magi’s questions (based on the information that they were able to discern from the stars) indicate that they are looking for the TRUE King of the Jews, not for the man who was sitting in the palace in Jerusalem. As you can imagine, the house of Herod did not take kindly to the idea that anyone outside their bloodline could be the true King of the Jews.

The arrival of the Magi and their search for the Messiah further indicates that the rule of the newborn King of the Jews is not limited to the Hebrew children only. The Magi were the first gentiles who recognized the sovereignty of Jesus on their lives. That understanding, by the way, is also rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures:

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NIV Psalm 72:11 All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. 12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. 13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.  14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

NIV Isaiah 11:10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

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Since we are talking about the discernment of Jesus’ identity, we need to mention another episode in the narrative that Matthew is telling us. If we fast forward thirty or so years ahead, we will find Jesus standing before Pilate – another Gentile. Through the dream, Pilate was also given a glimpse of Jesus’ true identity.

NIV Matthew 27:19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

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According to Matthew, Pilate’s soldiers were the first gentiles since the Magi to call Jesus “the King of the Jews” (Matt 27:29, 37, 54) but this time instead of the light of a bright star, a supernatural darkness enveloped the world (Matt 27:45). In that darkness “the earth shook and the rocks split” (Matt 27:51), and a terrified detachment of Roman soldiers who were guarding the Cross exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matt 27:54).

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Stories of the Magi and Jesus’ crucifixion are connected by that thread of gentiles recognizing the true identity of Jesus, while many of Jesus’ own people failed to do so. The stories of the Magi and the story of Jesus’ crucifixion serve as bookends for Jesus’ ministry on this earth prior to His resurrection.

So what’s in it for us?

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Epiphany Sunday is about the revelation that God is bigger than our human thinking. If we look at the stories of the Magi and Jesus’ crucifixion as “bookends” of the narrative of Matthew’s Gospel, we will find that the majority of people around Jesus only engaged God on an intellectual level.

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Many of us engage God only on an intellectual level and stop there, because at that level we do not have to invest anything of ourselves.

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Epiphany Sunday invites us to engage God on a different level – an emotional level. That’s what the Magi did, and that’s what the Roman soldiers at the Cross did 33 years later. When looking for a newborn king (Jesus), the Magi did not finish their journey at the royal palace, but instead they continued their journey until they found what they were looking for, even though it did not make sense intellectually. Likewise, during the terror of Jesus’ death the most logical thing to do would be to run for cover, but that is not what the Roman soldiers did. Through the terror of Jesus’ violent death, the Roman soldiers discerned that there was more to Jesus than they originally thought when they exclaimed “Surely he was the son of God!” Engaging God in our hearts requires stepping out in faith. Yet many of us are scared to step out.

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Epiphany Sunday also invites us to engage God on a physical level; engage God with our participation in what God is doing in the world. The Magi left their lives behind. In their travels they crossed mountains, plains, prairies and deserts (geographical boundaries), ethnical boundaries (different languages), preconceived notions (instead of royal king they found a peasant child), economical boundaries { their own position of privilege for the hardships of life on the road}, and religious boundaries {pantheon of pagan god and Jewish monotheism}. Most of us are not willing to engage God on that level because our lives in 2010 are packed with noise and business; in North America we have way to much {“} “stuff” that demands our attention.

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Epiphany gives us a glimpse of what our lives could be if we were to engage God on all three levels: an intellectual level (minds), emotional level (hearts) and practical level (participation in what God is doing in the world). This hope is summarized in the words of Isaiah “Arise, shine, for your light has come…” (Isa 60:1 NIV) from today’s Hebrew Scriptures.

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Epiphany also gives us a warning of what can happen if we only accept God on an intellectual level. This warning is summarized in the “darkness” and “the shaking of the earth” (Matt 27:51) that the World experienced because so many people chose to ignore Jesus during his ministry in Judea.

Every day of our lives we make choices. Some choices bring us closer to God, some choices move us away from God. Today we will celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion, and hopefully memories of this practice, this sacrament, will stay in our minds and help us to make the choices that will bring us closer to God.

Works Cited

“Magi.” The Interpreters Dictionary Of The Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. 14. Vol. 3. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962. 6 vols. 221-223.

Wright, Tom. Matthew For Everyone, Part 1, Chapters 1-15. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

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