After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (New International Version)
The light exists; it’s there. But not everyone likes it.
While many celebrate the light, such as Christians on the day of Epiphany, others wrap themselves in the cloak of darkness. There are various responses to Jesus as the Light of the World; not all of them are the same.
King Herod responds with anger
Herod was distressed with the news of a potential King of the Jews being born; he saw this as a threat to his rule. Herod, ever the narcissistic person who always sought to wipe out any threat to his throne, went over the top in seeking destroy Jesus.
At the time of Christ’s birth, Herod had been the reigning king for about 30 years. During that time, his paranoia about losing power led him to kill his wife and three of his own sons because he saw them as threats to his authority. Herod feigned a desire to worship Christ, but this was really a sinister façade in order to get rid of Jesus by any means possible.
Jerusalem responds with anxiety
The people of Jerusalem felt that Jesus was going to upset the status quo. He was, for them, a threat to their security; any change within the system might cause Herod to take it out on them (which he had done before).
Although the people were looking for a deliverer, they did not want things to shake up too much and arouse the Romans to abuse them.
Whenever we get caught up in maintaining the status quo, out of fear, then we have no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph.
Always trying to keep people happy and not upset them is a tenuous way to live. Such an agenda will typically result in missing Jesus when he shows up. That’s because we’re not really looking for him to start with.
For example, if our task as parents is to just keep our kids out of trouble, they’re going to miss Jesus; and if they find him, it will be in spite of us and not because of us. Yet, if our truest desire for them is to know Christ, then our prayers, our words, and our actions will reflect the ethics of God’s kingdom.
Religious leaders respond with apathy
The chief priests and teachers of the law had all the right answers; and responded to Herod’s questions with the correct information.
The sad part is that the guys who knew the most about Scripture, who actually had a handle on God’s law, were simply satisfied with that knowledge and nothing more. They seemed unconcerned with getting off their butts and getting on their knees to worship the Son of God.
If we know the truth, we must act on it. Jesus wants people to worship in spirit and in truth. He wants more than a mere recognition; Jesus desires us.
The Magi respond with adoration
The Wise men, or Magi, were Gentiles and pagan astrologers (not kings). They devoted themselves to studying the stars and discerning what was happening. Because of this, they were often advisors and counselors to kings.
Some may find it scandalous that God used such persons, but that’s okay. The Lord typically uses the folks we believe are (or should be) unusable. Turns out it is the people such as the Magi that demonstrate their devotion and adoration through actual worship and giving of costly gifts.
Each year on January 6 in the Church Calendar, after the twelve days of Christmas, is the celebration of Epiphany. Christ’s coming to this earth as a child and becoming like us is much more than a baby in a manger. Epiphany of the Lord helps to bring a vision and understanding of God’s glory to all kinds of people of the world.
The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearance” – which is exactly what happened with the Magi in visiting Jesus. The season of Epiphany has a special emphasis on the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus. The focus of these weeks is that salvation is not limited to Israel but extends to the Gentiles, as well.
With Epiphany’s light, we see that one of the most scandalous truths of Christianity is that God graces common ordinary people, who seem far from God, with the gift of Jesus.
God grants life for all kinds of people – no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, class, or background. It’s a wondrous and astounding spiritual truth that God’s gracious concern is not limited to a certain type of person or a particular group of people.
Grace is and ought to be the guiding factor in how we interact with people.
Losing sight of grace leads to being critical and defensive. Like King Herod of old, a graceless person becomes enamored with earthly power and control. But embracing grace leads to the humility of seeing the image of God in people quite different from us.
Like the Apostle Peter, who learned in a vision to bring the gospel to non-Jews, old legalisms begin to wear away so that people from all walks of life can have access to Jesus and his gracious saving and healing ministry. (Acts 10-11:18)
Grace topples barriers and clears away unnecessary distinctions between others. Our appropriate response to such a grace is to glorify God for this marvelous and amazing work.
A light was provided to lead the Magi to Jesus. Apart from God’s gracious intervention, they would have remained in darkness.
This old broken world is enveloped in spiritual darkness. All kinds of people have no light at the end of the tunnel of their lives for hope and new life. Christ brings that light to those unable to see. And Jesus, in his teaching ministry, exhorted his followers not to hide their light but to let it shine for all to see. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, the best way to bring resolution to our own troubles and problems is through helping others make sense of their lives through the gracious light of Christ. Then, they can see an appearance, an epiphany, of what their lives could be in the gracious and benevolent rule and reign of God.
In this season of Epiphany, let us journey with Jesus through his earthly upbringing, walk with him in his gracious ministry to people; and keep watch with him so that our own light does not grow dim.
Merciful God of life and light, you have gifted the Church through the goodness of your grace to be your hands; to do your work; to be your voice; to share your words; and to bring healing for broken lives. You have graciously gifted your people with the blessings of your Spirit, the power to transform lives and make all things new.
Now may our hearts receive, our mouths proclaim, our hands prepare for compassionate service so that the love we have will overflow into the hearts of others. May they receive your grace, your renewing Spirit, and your love, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.