Sermon for Sunday January 6th, 2019, the Festival of the Epiphany

 

Lessons: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

 

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

 

Topic: Our response to the Epiphany of Christ should be worship.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

One of England’s most enduring legends involves the Danish King Canute who ruled Britain from 1016 to 1035. He was such an imposing and successful king that never-ending praise was rendered to him. His courtiers were afraid to mutter anything to him but flatteries, and Canute grew tired of it. One day in the year 1032, taking them down to the coast at Northampton, he placed his throne in the sand as the tide was coming in. As his advisors stood around, he asked them, “You think I am the mightiest of the mighty?”

 

“Oh, yes, your majesty,” they replied.

 

“You think I can stop the tide?” he asked.

 

“Oh, yes, your majesty,” they again replied, a little doubtfully.

 

Looking at the ocean breakers, he said, “O sea! Stay! Come no further! I, Canute, ruler of the universe, command you.”

 

But despite his commands, the tide continued to roll in until it was lapping at the feet of the men. It came to their knees. Then, as the waves engulfed them, the king and all his men ran to safety.

 

“You see,” said Canute, “how little I am obeyed. There is only one Lord over land and water, the Lord of the universe. It is to Him and to Him alone you should offer your praise.”

 

Slowly the king and his courtiers walked back into town, where, at the cathedral, King Canute removed his crown and hung it in the church.

 

Through Jesus Christ’s birth in this world, the Holy Spirit re-directs man’s worship to God, and calls people everywhere to worship Him alone.

 

T. S. ELIOT: “THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI”

 

The story of the visit of the wise men from the East to see and worship the infant Jesus has touched popular imagination down the ages. One poet who reflected on the coming of the wise men, or Magi, as the Latin Vulgate text calls them (Matt. 2:1), was T.S. Eliot, who wrote the poem, “Journey of the Magi.” The poem’s speaker is one of the wise men, who ponders the meaning of this epiphany many years later. He asks if they were led all that way for Birth or Death. He concludes in the last few lines of the poem that this Birth was like Death, their death. They could no longer live at ease in the kingdoms to which they returned, since it was an old dispensation in which the alien people still worshipped their gods.

 

Of course, one might say, the speaker’s words are simply speculation, an extrapolation of the events of Matthew 2:1-12. What is true, though, is that the speaker’s words are an interpretation of the meaning and effect of the Epiphany of Christ on the world. The birth of Christ is a kind of death, because it heralds a new age, the age of Christianity, and of the Church. Entry into the new life of Christ comes at a cost, the cost of dying to self and to all other loyalties, priorities, idols and goals.

 

MATTHEW 2:1-12

 

The arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem and their enquiries about where the King of the Jews had been born, was not a surprising event, as the ancient world at that time was expecting the coming of a Messiah to usher in a golden age throughout the world. The Magi were probably originally a Median tribe (according to Herodotus), but had become a tribe of priests who instructed the Persian kings. They were skilled in the interpretation of dreams, medicine, natural science, astrology and philosophy. Though Magi were later thought of as sorcerers and magicians, it was not the case in the early first century.

 

These Magi expressly stated that their purpose in coming was to worship the King of the Jews whose star they had seen in the East.

 

The visit of the Magi threw King Herod and all of Jerusalem into a state of fear. Why, one might ask, should this be the case? King Herod had done much to win the approval of the current Roman rulers, and was quite unwilling to relinquish his kingship. He had even murdered those whom he thought might be plotting to replace him as king. His subsequent massacre of all boys two and under in Bethlehem and its surrounds shows his cruelty in this regard.

 

As the prophet Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, King Herod sends the Magi there with instructions to return and tell him where the King of the Jews had been born, so that he, too, might go and worship him. This was King Herod’s cunning plan to destroy our Lord while he was still a child.

 

But these Magi are led by the Lord to thwart King Herod’s plan. The guiding star which they had seen in the East goes ahead of them and stands still over the place where the child Jesus was. The sight of the star caused these Magi to rejoice exceedingly. What a miracle this was, though the name of this brilliant star is unknown to us. They enter the house where Jesus and his parents lived, and fall down on their knees and worship the Lord Jesus, offering their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were costly gifts to give, but they all have a special significance and symbolism for our Lord and for us as his followers. Gold symbolizes Christ as King, being a symbol of royalty; frankincense was an ingredient of the holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:34), and is symbolical of Christ as High Priest. Myrrh was also an ingredient of the holy anointing oil (Ex. 30::23-33), and it was also offered to Him as an anodyne (pain-killer) on the Cross (Mk. 15:23), as well as being one of the spices employed at His burial. We might say then, that myrrh represented prophetically our Lord’s death on the Cross. These gifts have relevance to us in that they represent Christ as King, Priest and Prophet, as the One who is to rule forever as King, but laid down his life on the Cross as High Priest to reconcile the world to God, who speaks as Prophet through His life and death, bringing God’s Gospel to all mankind.

 

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

 

T.S. Eliot’s interpretation of this passage is to suggest that for the Magi a change had come about from their visit to the child Jesus to worship him. There was a death and a new birth. For us today, called as Christians to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, there has been a death to sin through Holy Baptism, and a new birth in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Christ has reconciled us to God the Father, who has adopted us as His children.

 

But we, like the Magi, must go on a journey of worship, seeking the Lord Jesus Christ in the fullness of his glory. Our guiding light is the Word of God, which is indeed a “lamp unto our feet and a light upon our path.”

 

Every day we need to follow the light of the guiding star of the Bible as it leads us into the very presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and we come to him, offering him not only ourselves but all we have to give. We can live ignoring this guiding star and paying it no attention, but then we cannot expect to worship God as he should be worshipped.

 

Where are you today in our Lord’s service? Are you living a life of obedience to Christ, in worship, praise and the offering of yourself to Him continually?

 
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