“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
Jan. 6, in the church calendar, is the festival of the Epiphany of our Lord. It is when much of the world celebrates the coming of the Magi to the house in Bethlehem to pay homage to the Baby born to die, and commemorates the end of Christmas.
Epiphany means the “ta-da” of God – all the spotlights, all the signs pointing to God with hopes that you will see and believe. It makes up a whole season in which we read of the different times in which Christ was made manifest as God – came for your sake.
The story of Matthew 2:1-12 is the story of the nations coming to Christ – recognizing, in this Baby, something more than just a gurgling infant in golden diapers. Notice, the magi call him “The King of the Jews,” and yet these Magi are not Jews, but gentiles.
“Magi” is the word used to name them. Literally – magicians, sorcerers, astrologers. They were the court advisors to the princes of Babylon. The ones the king sought for guidance on what has happened, is happening or will happen.
These Magi possibly would have had a taste of this Jewish heritage, this Messiah talk, “King of the Jews,” through the overwhelming influence of Judaism on Babylon itself. From Babylon and Persia we get the Rabbinic tradition and huge commentaries on the various texts of Jewish Scripture.
Babylon, along with the vast empire of Persia (which is modern-day Iran, Syria and elsewhere), helped keep Judaism alive throughout the Middle East. Strange that we rely on those who conquered the people of God to keep the faith and traditions alive. Strange to think that those who would lead God’s people into exile now seek the very King who is to provide salvation to all people.
Now with God breaking forth into our world, leading those Magi, what becomes the outcome? What is the “why” of the story? The Magi say it – “For we … have come to worship him.”
God will use any means to make a worshiper. God desires worshipers. The whole of the Epiphany of Christ is to bring worshipers. To manifest God as one who can now be approached by the lost, the lonely, the vulnerable, as well as the found, the families, the favored. A God that should be approached, not taken for granted or saved for special occasions.
Bringing it back to the Magi, a lack of worshipers is a lack of those who would find it necessary to follow a star and travel 6,000 miles from Babylon to Bethlehem to kneel before a baby.
Epiphany is when God used a star to bring some stargazers to the Maker of the stars. This encounter leads to the worship that is God’s transformative act within your soul – knowing that this God of the universe, the King of Creation, has deigned to make his presence known as close to you as possible, because he wishes to capture your heart by the work he has done for you in his forgiveness, intervening into the world to save it.
Carleton Smee is pastor of the Heartland Community Lutheran Parish (ELCA), including Akeley First Lutheran Church and Bethany Lutheran Church in Nevis.