Matthew 2:1-12 – Epiphany of the Lord

Star of Bethlehem by German painter Waldemar Flaig (1892-1932)

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back, and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. (NLT)

The Three Kings, Ethiopian Orthodox Church

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 helps to bring a vision and understanding of God’s glory to all kinds of people in the world.

Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance.” The event which is associated with this season is the visit of the Magi to Jesus. Included in this time of the year between the seasons of Christmas and Lent is a special emphasis on the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus. The great celebration and focus of these weeks is that salvation is not limited to Israel but extends to the Gentiles, as well.

Every season in the Christian Year has its unique angle of grace. With Epiphany, 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 repentance that leads to life for all kinds of people no matter their race, ethnicity, class, or background. It is 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 ourselves. Like the Apostle Peter, who learned in a vision to bring the gospel to non-Jews, old legalisms begin to be worn 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 brings down barriers and does away with unnecessary distinctions between others. The appropriate response to mercy is to glorify God for such marvelous light and amazing work.

It is a merciful reality that the Magi, or Wise Men, pagan astrologers, were directed to the Messiah. A light was provided to lead them to Jesus. Apart from God’s care and intervention they would have remained in darkness.  And it is no less true for people today. This old broken world is wrapped in darkness. All kinds of people have no light at the end of the tunnel of their lives for hope and new life. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings that light to those walking around with no ability to see. 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 so that they can see an appearance, an epiphany, of what their lives can be in the gracious rule of the kingdom of God. 

As we celebrate Epiphany and journey with Jesus through his earthly upbringing and into his gracious ministry to people, let us keep vigilance to not let our light grow dim. Instead, let us hunger and thirst after Christ’s righteousness so that our joy is full, and our light is bright.

God of mercy, Lord of all, you have gifted the Church through the goodness of your grace to be your hands and do your work, to be your voice and share your words, to bring healing to 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 service so that the love that we have may overflow into the hearts of others, and receive your grace, your renewing Spirit, and your love, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

John 1:1-18 – God in the Flesh

Welcome, friends! The astounding love of God is seen most clearly in the face of Jesus Christ. Click the videos below and let us enjoy worshiping our incarnate Lord…

John 1:1-18
O Word of God Incarnate by Jeff Pardo
He Came Down by the Gaither Vocal Band, 1999

May your hearts be filled with grace through the incarnation of Christ.

May your minds be filled with truth through the knowledge of Jesus.

May your soul be filled with love through love incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

God in the Flesh

The Word Became Flesh by Guatemalan painter Hyatt Moore

In the biggest cities of the world, like Mexico City, and Manilla, there are huge garbage dumps that cover several square miles. On top of these heaps of waste there live thousands of families who have made this their home. Each day they send their kids out to forage for scraps so they can have something to eat and survive.  Few others tread where these families are.  Yet, there are believers who make the journey and try to bring the gospel of grace and mercy to such a place.

As incredible and sad a situation that this is, it is incomparable to the journey from heaven to earth that Jesus made. Christ came to the sin-soaked dump of this world, to us who were living on a heap of garbage and entered our lives to save us from our wretched condition. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, frames the Gospel of John 1:14 this way:

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

Jesus did not merely appear to be human; he is human. The Christ of God, enjoying unhindered fellowship within the Godhead of Father, Son, and Spirit, became like us and lived with all the same things we face from day to day.  He “tabernacled” with us, using the imagery of God’s presence with the ancient Israelites (Exodus 25-31, 35-40). Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us.

We must remember that the Apostle John and the other gospel writers were evangelists; they wrote so that people might believe in Jesus and come to see what God has done through joining them in this broken world. Another John, John the Baptist, had a sole purpose in life to be a witness of Jesus to others, to testify to the truth that Christ came to rescue us from our terrible condition.

The Apostle John saw Jesus interact with families in the dump. He knew what was happening, that God was coming to save the people. The way to reach people, who are so concerned for scurrying about their business and trying to survive apart from God, is through the incarnation – in testifying to what God has done in Christ and being sent as little incarnations entering people’s lives. 

In this way, believers are like the moon, not producing light ourselves, but in the middle of darkness, reflecting the light of the sun so that the earth may know that Jesus is coming. The mystery of the incarnation is that Jesus became human and descended to live among us.

Any birth is an incredible miracle. I was present at the births of all three of my daughters, and one of my grandsons. There is nothing quite like it. Life coming into the world for the very first time is an unparalleled mystery with an unmatched sense of majesty. Although childbirth involves pain, agony, and mess, it is all quickly forgotten amidst the joy of this little baby becoming alive to all that is around them.

What a crazy contradiction of a virgin having a child gestate in her womb and then giving birth! That is something more than a miracle. It is Divine accommodation or condescension in which God does the unimaginable and unthinkable in not only coming to earth but entering as a vulnerable human baby. The great and mighty Sovereign of the universe got down on all fours and descended far beneath such loftiness. God got off the throne and sat on the garbage heap with us.

God is so far above and beyond us that to be revealed and communicate to us, the Holy Trinity conspired to enter the earth by means of a baby. God came to us. The sixteenth century Reformer, John Calvin, framed the incarnation of Christ in these terms:

“God lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children. Such modes of expression… accommodate the knowledge of the divine to our feebleness. In doing so, God must, of course, stoop far below his proper height… Because our weakness cannot reach his height, any description which we receive of God must be lowered to our capacity to be intelligible… God voluntarily lowers himself not as he really is but as we conceive of him.”

Indeed, God coos at us and babbles baby-talk not because that is his language but so that we can understand. What is more, God became flesh and blood for us, so we can climb up into his lap or lean into him, just as John did with Jesus. (John 13:23-25)

The incarnation of Christ means God loves us so deeply and completely that Jesus became one of us to bring that love with skin on, in ways that truly communicate empathy, compassion, kindness, and goodness to people. This is grace, that God first conformed to us before we are conformed to Christ. God went to the greatest lengths possible to reach us, save us, and bring us into the life of the Trinity.

Jesus climbed into our skin to assure us that God understands and cares. Jesus also gets into our hearts and invites us to know God. Even though Christ said a lot of things that can be difficult to understand, the love of coming alongside another person communicates well in any language and culture. Jesus, full of both grace and truth, bent over backwards to speak and act in ways that say, “I love you.”

God got down and dirty with us. The Lord jumped into the fray of broken humanity. God connected Jesus to an umbilical cord, covered him in the muck of fetal afterbirth, and caused him to cry alongside the sorrows of humanity. None of this was illusion or appearance. It was real, just like us. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews said this:

Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it is logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.

It is obvious, of course, that he did not go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That is why he had to enter every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed. (Hebrews 2:14-18, MSG)

God’s grace stretches out on the wide horizontal beam of the Cross with compassionate arms for the world. God’s truth goes down deep with the vertical beam of the cross to give stability for the world. The truth of Jesus Christ, the One who reveals God, is strong enough to support the wide beam of grace which stretches round the earth to bring deliverance from the garbage dump of sin, death, and hell.

May we rejoice and be glad in this reality, and may it move us to be used of God to save those on the sin heap of this world.

Matthew 2:13-18 – Flight into Egypt

The Flight into Egypt by Marc Chagall, 1980

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So, he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.” (NIV)

It can be easy to be diverted either by all the shiny things about the holiday season, or by all the sorrows which are stirred up for us in this time of year. I invite you to the very mundane and simple manger; the dull and unattractive place where God is found. Because it is here, we find the hope of the nations, and the true desire of our hearts.

Almighty God preserved and protected the child Jesus. Christ’s early life retraced the life of ancient Israel. Like the Jewish patriarchs, Jesus went down to Egypt (and would eventually go down and face hell for us in his crucifixion); and, like the ancient Israelites, Jesus was brought up out of Egypt (and would rise from the dead bringing freedom from sin and death once for all) in a New Exodus. By these Old Testament references, Matthew’s Gospel means to say: “Look, here is the Messiah, the coming King, the promised One of Israel and of all the nations. Jesus is our salvation, the fulfillment of all that we hope for.”

Jesus is the New Exodus

In the second of three dreams, Joseph is told to take Jesus to Egypt. Joseph obeyed the Lord and took the role of protecting Jesus, as contrasted with Herod’s role in attempting to murder Jesus.Yet, there is more to this story than Christ’s protection; this is the fulfillment of a biblical pattern, an identification of Jesus with the people of God. Matthew pulled forward the prophet Hosea to say that just as God brought the Israelites out of Egypt through a great deliverance, God brought up Jesus, the Great Deliverer, out of Egypt as the unique Son of God.  Jesus is God’s divine Son, and so is the rightful Ruler in God’s kingdom.

Just as God preserved Israel from Pharaoh’s wrath, the Lord protected Jesus from Herod’s wrath. God’s kindness and loyalty extends to us as covenant people and preserves us from the wrath of the devil who seeks to keep as many people as possible in the realm of darkness. Our hope is in the Lord Jesus who has conquered the devil by establishing a beachhead on this earth through incarnation as the Son of God.

Flight into Egypt by He Qi

Jesus Brought Us Out of Exile

The scoundrel King Herod massacred innocent toddlers to ensure the destruction of Jesus. Behind his atrocity was the devil himself who knew Jesus was the coming King who would one day bring salvation. Reflecting on a vision of Christ’s birth, the Apostle John identified the sinister plan and the divine deliverance:

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male child who is to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was snatched up to God and his throne. (Revelation 12:4-5, CEB)

Satan wars against God’s Son and God’s people, whose roots go all the way back to the first prophecy of Christ after the Fall of humanity. God declared to Satan:

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NLT)

There has been continual enmity ever since the Fall between the serpent and the seed of the woman, with the Israelites constantly being threatened with extermination and tempted to conform to pagan ways. King Herod was just another in a long line of demonically animated men trying to perpetuate the kingdom of darkness. We must take this threat seriously because the devil knows that his time is short. A second Advent is coming which will be the final judgment.

Satan’s most powerful weapon, death, has lost its sting because of Jesus. Christmas is a hard time of year for many people, filled with depression instead of joy, grieving over lost loved ones for whom we will not spend another Christmas with. Yet there is a reunion coming, the hope of a bodily resurrection in which we will be with Jesus and God’s people forever.  Be encouraged that there is no time in heaven; it will be only a moment and the people who have gone before us will turn around and see us; we will one day join them.

Matthew also used the prophet Jeremiah to communicate hope. Jeremiah’s prophecy dealt with children who were lost in war to the invading Babylonians.  The prophecy is a lament with the hope that captivity will not be forever. Matthew wanted us to see that the exile is over for us; Jesus has arrived, and the tears which were shed will shortly dry up. There may be a time of suffering which we must endure, yet there will be glory. Jesus is the Great Deliverer who brings us out of sin’s captivity and into the promises of God. He is our hope.

Jesus is the promised One who will deliver us from the tyranny of the devil. Christ is the hope of the nations, the Savior of the world. So, let us come back to the first Christmas which was the beginning of the end for evil on the earth. Believers in Jesus are part of God’s victory and overcome the evil one by the blood of the lamb, acknowledging that Christ’s incarnation was essential for us. 

Just as Jesus made a radical break with his former life in heaven through the incarnation, we, too, must break with our old way of life. God will save his people through this child Jesus. The greatest gift we can give in this season and throughout the year is the gift of grace, the presentation of the Christ child.

Loving God help us remember the birth of Jesus so that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the wisdom of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love across the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil through the blessing of the Christ child. Teach us to be happy with pure hearts. Grant us grateful thoughts, devoted hearts, and gracious hands, through Jesus our Savior in the might of the Holy Spirit. Amen.