Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany and the Visit of the Magi

Pastor’s Window for January, 2008

Epiphany and the Visit of the Magi

The festival of the Epiphany of our Lord, the event from which our congregation gets its name, is celebrated on January 6, which just happens to be a Sunday this year. The reading for Epiphany is Matthew 2:1-12, the visit of the Magi, or wise men. An epiphany is a manifestation or revelation. When the wise men found Jesus in Bethlehem, Jesus was manifested as Savior and Lord not just of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Magi, some due to traditions, and others due to ignorance. For example, the Magi were most certainly not kings, despite the popular Christmas carol. The Magi were “learned men and scientists of their day, who devoted themselves to the study of nature, medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, and the like, which studies, however, were not always untinged with superstition” (Adam Fahling, The Life of Christ [St. Louis: Concordia, 1936] pp. 106-107). Tradition numbers them as three (due to the three gifts they present), and even names them: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. But the truth is, the Bible says nothing about how many there were or what their names may have been. Most nativity scenes include the Magi, but this, too, is based on a misconception. The Magi did not appear in Bethlehem until well after Jesus’ birth, perhaps even up to two years. And they don’t find Jesus in a stable, but rather in a house (Matt. 2:11).

But what is important about the Magi is that they are Gentiles who recognize Jesus as their divine King. They had studied the Holy Scriptures, the prophecies about the coming Messiah, the King of the Jews. They saw the majestic star in the heavens, and concluded on the basis of the Scriptures that this King must have been born. The Holy Spirit led them to this conclusion on the basis of such passages as Numbers 24:17: “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (ESV). On the basis of Micah 5:2, the chief priests and scribes told Herod and the wise men exactly where the Child was to be born (cf. Matt. 2:6): “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

The Magi confessed their faith in this little King by the gifts they gave. They gave Him gold, the possession of kings, confessing Jesus to be King of the Jews and their King. They gave Him frankincense, used in the liturgy of the temple, confessing Jesus to be the great High Priest who offers the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for sin. They gave Him myrrh, an embalming ointment used to cover up the stench of dead bodies, foreshadowing His death on the cross for the life of the world. After the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus anointed Jesus’ body with “a mixture of myrrh and aloes” (John 19:39). The Baby born in Bethlehem, the Toddler worshiped by the Magi, came to die for the Magi and for all of humanity for the forgiveness of sins, and in this way to reign as King. The Magi confessed these truths with their gifts and their worship.

Jesus is the crucified King of the Magi, and He is our crucified King. He died for you and for me as well as for the Magi and Mary and Joseph and every last human being who has ever lived or ever will live. He is the Magi’s Savior, and He is ours. God reveals Himself to us in the person of Jesus. God is manifest in Jesus. It is a great epiphany. God grant that all of us, like the Magi, so read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures that we recognize Emmanuel, God with us, in the Christ Child. God grant that all of us trust in Christ alone for our salvation and confess Him to be our King, our great High Priest, and the only sacrifice for our sin. God grant that from that faith flow our own sacrifices of praise, sacrifices of faith, hope, and love. For though our dear Lord Jesus has died, He even now lives. Christ is risen. God is still manifest in the flesh. He is a flesh and blood God who manifests Himself among us with His real body and blood, speaking real words, giving us new birth in the real water of life.

Epiphany is a great name for this congregation of the Baptized, for here in this place, among this people, God is continually manifest to us in our Savior Jesus Christ. A blessed Epiphany Season to you all.

Pastor Krenz

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