Epiphany 2010—HAPPY BIRTHDAY! - Printable Version

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Epiphany 2010—HAPPY BIRTHDAY! - DeanZF - 01-07-2010

So many times in liturgical life, we hear the fundamental historical facts about Epiphany and various theories about the Magi and their visit to the Babe and His mother. How about a quick review? Maybe some busting of Magi Myths?

The kings from the east did not show up at the manger, no matter how many crèche scenes you’ve seen.

It’s a fair deduction that they visited with King Herod within two years of the birth of Messiah. That explains the king’s edict to kill the innocents two years of age and under.

We really don’t know how many eastern kings there were, in spite of the famous Epiphany hymn. We’ve assigned the number three based primarily on the number of gifts mentioned in the scriptural account. It’s a plural word, but I don’t know if there are clues in the Greek about the size of this group. One teaching heard was that it was unlikely that it was merely three magi. Certainly anyone carrying valuables across the desert would be a target of bandits. Further, the implications are many: that these magi were men of means to present costly gifts such as gold, frankincense and myrrh; that the men of means would travel with all the comforts of home including servants and body guards.

These men were educated in the esoteric arts of the day—astronomy, astrology, history of the important religious communities of the day including the prophecies and how they might relate to their own time.

These men were notable if not known in the courts of Herod. One does not caravan through a country and expect a visit or even an audience with the local ruler. Yet, look at what happens in Matthew 2. The Magi roll into Jerusalem and start asking around, “Hey, where is the one born King of the Jews? We saw His star and we’re here to worship Him.” Accounts of this strange encounter gets back to Herod who is deeply troubled by it. After all, HE is supposed to be king over the Jews and there is no other king, at least to the best of his knowledge. He gathers all his own intelligentsia and asks them what the heck these Magi are asking about. The seers, priests, and scribes of the Jews tell him of what their prophets have foretold. There is a little discussed phrase in Matthew 2:3 that says Herod was not the only one upset—“and all Jerusalem with him.” That’s why the priests and scribes are in discussion with this king. They had all been taken by surprise. They were not expecting God to actually keep His promise of Messiah, or at least not in their lifetimes.

Could it be that the star had disappeared for a time? They had followed the star and suddenly had to stop and ask for directions? They had come hundreds if not thousands of miles following a remarkable star and suddenly, they are off the trail. God works in remarkable ways to tell His people through these non-Jewish prophets just what it is that He’s wanting to do right now in their lives. Balaam had his donkey, the Jews of that age had these foreigners who knew their scriptures better than they did!

Herod quietly asks the wise men from afar to come and share what they know. It’s almost as though the Magi are astonished that the king in Jerusalem was so unaware of the world-changing, history-shaking event that was afoot in his realm. Sly old Herod suggests to them that they continue their search and let him know when they found the new King so he too, could go and worship. Yeah, right! He pumped them for information as to when the star first appeared. His own scribes knew that Bethlehem was to be the place of Messiah’s birth and if the star did indeed mark His birth, killing all male children born since before the star’s appearance would ensure his own rule.

The Magi have been sent off to Bethlehem to seek the Babe and Herod has his own plans. We know that Jesus had probably already gone back to Nazareth after the census and His birth. The Matthew narrative is plenty vague, but not without hints. First, in verse 10, there is a wonderful phrase, that “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Rejoiced is already an extravagant word. Rejoicing exceedingly is like a double dose, but then we get the topping. This is like a chocolate lover receiving a special desert with the richest chocolate cake with the silkiest, perfectly sweet chocolate ice cream, topped with the world’s best hot fudge, all supersized!

The followed the star and as they crested the hill, the star stood in place over the house where the Child was. Verse 11 puts the meeting in a house, not in a stable. They met the Child and His mother. Greek is a fun language and I wish I actually knew the language instead of knowing about it. There are a bunch of words that translate in English to “child”. Most of us could assemble a list that would provide a reader with an approximate age: infant, toddler, young child, pre-teen, teen, youth, young adult. What I remember of this teaching is that the word here implies a toddler. Can you picture Mary and Joseph in a house in Nazareth watching an incredible array of foreign dignitaries bowing before their toddler and presenting fabulous gifts? All this in a very rustic village, in a very humble residence. What a spectacle it would have been!

This is Epiphany, the revelation of Messiah to the Gentiles. The Magi had come and worshiped. They were visited in a dream and instructed to go home without returning to Herod’s court.

And, of course, God has His own plans, too. Herod looks and kills in the wrong place. Joseph hears from God to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, to escape the slaughter. Just days before, there had been an amazing provision so that a sudden trip to Egypt. The treasure that the Magi provided made the escape fairly easy. A couple of changes of clothes for the road, some food, and away they could go. And away they could stay. God had provided the money necessary to protect the Light of the world when HaSatan would have snuffed it out.

And that, in a Dean shaped nutshell, is the story of Epiphany.