Three Kings: Thoughts on Epiphany

Matthew 2: 1-12

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘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.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “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.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then 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.’ 9When 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. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On 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. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Over Advent, we talked about stories of unexpected visitors we find in Luke and Matthew.

And today we hear one final story that we associate with Jesus.’ Birth

It’s one of those Bible stories we all know and love.

The Three Kings.

We all know the story.

They come from the east following a star.

A star that leads them to a baby in a manger.

They kneel in adoration and give expensive gifts.

We have several hymns in our hymnal where the kings and star are mentioned.

We sing some today!

But do we really know the story?

Or do we just remember it?

The way we see it in our family manger scenes.

Because when we read the story from Matthew’s Gospel, don’t we have a lot of questions?

At our staff meeting this week, we read the passage and did have lots of questions.

Who were these guys?

Where did they come from?

Why did they come?

What did they expect to find?

And what about that star?

How do you follow a star?

How does a star point to something on the ground?

Was it really a star?

Well, here are some things that fill some gaps.

The wise men were not kings.

Probably Zoroastrian priests.

A bit about Zoroastrians.

They believed in one god who created everything.

This god gave humanity free will and was going to judge everyone for the choices each made.

Happily, there was going to be a messiah who would come and “renovate” creation and save people from the consequences of their poor choices.

Sound familiar?

They also studied the stars.

They spent their time looking at the stars and trying to find meaning.

For signs of important events.

They were astrologers.

Astronomers.

Scientists.

They had a name.

Magi.

We don’t really know how many there were, but because there are three gifts described by Matthew, we assume there were three Magi.

They were from the east (which means the star was to their west).

Probably from Babylon, modern day Iraq.

They had seen something new.

A new heavenly body.

What was it?

A star?

Who can know?

But these astronomers called it a star.

A new heavenly body would certainly be considered an omen of something.

And they wondered what the omen meant.

Such things were said to mean a new king was born.

Such an omen was certainly an epiphany.

Which has been defined as “A divine manifestation in the midst of human history.”

A divine manifestation.

God doing something we can see.

Something big.

Really big.

So, they decided to go check it out.

They left when they saw the star and arrived in Jerusalem somewhere around two years later.

Somewhere along the way, they lost sight of the star, apparently.

Which is why they stopped in Jerusalem to ask directions.

Which must have been awkward.

“Hey Herod, current king of the Jews, where is your replacement, the new born king?”

Which brings to mind this question:

What made them think this star was an omen of the birth of a king of the Jews?

Following the star took them to Jerusalem.

Judea.

Where the Jews lived.

Must have been their king, right?

They are told Bethlehem was where a particular prophecy located the birth of the “Messiah”.

Wit, what?

A messiah?

We are waiting for one of those, too!

And so, they went to Bethlehem, and for the first time since they left, there was the star again.

And guess what?

It did take them to Bethlehem.

How did they find Jesus?

They likely asked around a bit.

“Any babies born since that star appeared?”

I think it probably took them a while to find Jesus if that is all they had to go on.

Ultimately, they found Jesus.

Presumably they were told the story of Jesus’ conception and birth and knew he was more than just a king of the Jews.

Here was what they had been looking for.

The divine manifestation.

An epiphany.

They called Jesus the messiah.

We call Jesus the incarnation.

And the Magi knew, everything was different.

That was all they needed to know.

Their search was over.

They knelt before Jesus and gave him gifts.

Then they went home.

Never to see or hear about Jesus again.

But they likely went in peace.

Their messiah, their renovator, their savior was here.

No need for more than that.

So, there is the story with a bit more historical context and some educated assumptions.

Why didn’t Matthew tell the story better?

Because Matthew was focusing on what all good Jews of his day would have focused on.

What does the story mean?

And we should apply that point of view to our reading as well.

We have now talked about the two birth stores we find in Matthew and Luke.

They are a bit different.

The wise men in Matthew did not see angels.

The shepherds in Luke did not see a particular star.

But they all saw something.

Something that let them know that there was a divine manifestation.

God was at work in the world.

There was something they needed to see.

Something that was going to change the world.

Something that was going to change them.

We human beings have been looking for something like that … well … forever.

An epiphany.

That divine manifestation.

Something that will change the world.

Something that will change us.

More and more people are heading in that direction, too.

They have a name.

Spiritual but not religious.

Not atheist.

Just not religious.

They are looking for something.

Something that will change the world.

Something that will change them.

Think I’m wrong?

Read this from the Pew Research Center in January of 2016:

[A]mong U.S. Christians, there has been an increase of 7 percentage points between 2007 and 2014 in the share who say they feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe at least weekly (from 38% to 45%). And there has been a similar rise in the share of religious “nones” who say the same (from 39% to 47%) – not to mention a 17-point jump among self-described atheists.

A 17-point jump among self-described atheists!

I think these people are like the wise men.

They are looking for something.

They might not know it but they are looking for whaqt the Magi were looking for.

A divine manifestation!

An epiphany.

And we need to help them find it.

Right here.

In the last 5 years, this congregation has had 198 visitors to our worship services.

That’s only the ones who tell us they are here.

Why did they come?

What were they looking for?

I have no idea, but I bet it has something to do with seeking a better way to live.

In the past year, we have had many new members.

In the bulletin this morning there is a list of children and adults who have been baptized this year.

Except for the founding members, every one of us was one of those once.

Just like the wise men who found Jesus.

We were searching for … something.

We all came here from different places.

Different world views.

Different generational cultures.

Different races.

Each of us should ask ourselves, “What were we looking for”?

Like the Magi, were we searching for something new?

Or were we looking for something we had once, but lost?

And then, what did we find?

Were we touched by the divine?

Did we find our Messiah?

Did we find Jesus?

Did our world change just a little bit?

Did our lives change just a little bit?

And our lives have changed, how do we respond?.

One way to respond is at this table.

Jesus wants us to respond by coming to him.

He wants us to join him at this table.

He wants us to join him in his story.

He wants us to know what his story means.

And what it means for us.

A changed world.

A changed life.

An epiphany.

And let me ask you one more question.

Do you know other people who are on such searches?

Bring them here.

Be their star.

You don’t have to say anything.

Just tell them that they might find what they are looking for right here.

Just like the wise men.

Just like the rest of us.

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