Thank God for Wisemen!

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on the Epiphany of our Lord Sunday, January 6, 2013.  The text is Matthew 2:1-12.


Dear Friends in Christ,


It’s good to be home after a week away in Tennessee with Carol’s side of our family.  You probably know that one of the conditions that Jean Haynes set for me to marry Carol was that I would always get Carol home for Christmas.  And God help me if I don’t keep my promise!  These days we drive, but we used to fly from California.  One of the amusing moments happened one year after our plane landed in St. Louis.  Trying to retrieve some carry-on things from the overhead bin, I put something down on the seat of the passenger behind me and she then put something on top of it.  When I asked if I could get my book, she suddenly exclaimed, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’m so sorry!”  You know me, I said, “You can call me Jim.”  And she thought that was the funniest thing she had ever heard.  I whispered in her ear, “Are you a nun?”  And she said, “Yes, how did you know?”  I said, “I’m a Lutheran pastor.”  She said, “And I’m traveling with these 5 other nuns”, who immediately said “hello.”  I then said, “I’d like you to meet my wife, who is a Lutheran pastor.”  And I love her response:  “Oh, the saints be praised.  You’re ahead of us!”


I really love our new-found cooperation these days with other Christians.  That certainly includes our new friends in the Spanish Seventh Day Adventist Church.  May it be said on this Epiphany Sunday that the Light of Christ is shines brighter and brighter as the  message of unity of purpose and cooperation is shared among Christians.


Yes, the Christmas decorations are still in place today and some think we just forgot to take them down.  That is not true.  The Festival of the Epiphany of our Lord, today, is officially a part of the Christmas Season.  In my hometown of Glendale, California, you can be sure that there are lots of trees and decorations in place today.  Sixty percent of the 300,000 residents are of Armenian heritage.  The Eastern Orthodox  Churches all recognize today (January 6) as Christmas Day.  Why?  They will be quick to remind us that some of them were official churches before Rome, and that January 6 was recognized as the observance of the Nativity of our Lord for hundreds of years before the Bishop of Rome decreed December 25 as the official date.


Epiphany (the word means “to reveal or make known” like how the light from the star pointed to where Jesus was), Epiphany is now in the Church calendar as a season – the Season between the end of Christmas and the beginning of Lent.  This is the Season of Light for Christians.  We remember that Star that God sent to lead the Wisemen to the Christ Child.  We recognize that this as a good time to let the light shine in our own lives.  I invite you today to start spending quality time with the Lord often.  I invite you to step up your practice of prayer, Bible reading, worship and helping others.


The story of the Star and the Wisemen reminds us of God’s wonderful goal.  From the beginning, according to Scripture, God declared that the whole human race is his family – that the good news of salvation is for Jews and Gentiles (in other words, the good news is for everyone).  God selected the Jews as his “chosen” people and He cemented this relationship through the covenants with Abraham and Moses and David.  It was always God’s charge that the Jews were to reach out to others.  We heard Isaiah’s prophecy in the first lesson today that someday all the nations of the earth will make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to declare God’s praises.


We remember aged Simeon at the temple when the infant Jesus was brought for a blessing.  He picked up Jesus and declared the words of Isaiah, “He is to be a light to the Gentiles.”


One of Pastor Carol’s favorite preachers is Barbara Brown Taylor.  Rev. Taylor re-tells the story of the Wisemen in a way that is helpful for us today:


Three Magi each started out toward Jerusalem without conferring with the others.  Each had felt a summons personally to go.  They found themselves on the journey together.  They each saw the star but it is not clear whether it was in the heavens or in their own eyes.  It really doesn’t matter because God gives signs the way He chooses and to whom He chooses.


Meeting an infant and his mother and father in a lowly house was totally unexpected for them; they had expected to meet  a King in lavish luxury. They thought that their gifts were totally inappropriate – they should have brought gifts for an infant.  Perhaps a baby’s rattle or goat’s milk or a warm blanket.  The gold, frankincense and myrrh seemed not such a good choice.  Little did they know that the gifts were wholly appropriate.  For the gold could be used to sustain this family in a flight to Egypt soon to occur.  The frankincense was a gift fit for a King.  The myrrh was prophetic.  It was used to anoint the bodies of the dead.  Someday Jesus would die for the sins of the world.


Dear Friends in Christ, in the Season of Epiphany, how will  you let the light of Christ shine through you to others?  If you are making New Year’s resolutions, this would be a great one to concentrate on.  How will you make Jesus Christ known to others?


Some of us have walked on Hollywood Boulevard in California and see the stars that are placed on the sidewalk with the names of famous people.  There are over 1900 of them now.  In October of 1989 a new star was added.  It was placed next to the stars of Julie Andrews and Wayne Newton.  The new star, as curious as it seems, was for evangelist Billy Graham, who has preached the gospel to more than 100 million people around the world.  For many years Billy Graham refused to have his name on a star, but he reconsidered it in 1989.  This is what he said, “I hope it will identify me with the gospel that I preached.”  At the unveiling, he added, “We should put our eyes on the (true) star, which is the Lord.”


My hope and prayer for each and every one of us is that we will have the same attitude in our own lives, in all we say and do in the year 2013.


If Jesus could address us today, I think he would say something like this to us right now:

I am the light of the world.  I am the light to the Gentiles.  I am the light to all the world’s nations.  All the people shall come to me.  The Magi were a sign.  The Magi are an invitation.  Today I invite you to come to me.  I invite you to let your light be kindled by my light, that together we might be truly a light to all nations.


Thanks be to God.  Amen!