Jan02/05
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Matthew 2:1-12, Feast of Epiphany
Sunday January 2, 2005
Rev.’d Dr. Mike Michielin

When Matthew put the story of the Magi in writing, he was not telling a tale just for the fun of it. In Matthew’s Gospel, unlike the other 3, he doesn’t tell us anything about shepherds or mangers. He begins his story with the simple statement that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a son and … gave him the name Jesus. Everything he wants us to know is in the story of the Magi. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, during the time of Herod the King, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem.”

Who were these Magi? Matthew doesn’t explain, because he contemporaries were familiar with the term. Originally there were a caste of Zoroastrian priests, but by Jesus’ time the term Magi had a broader application. It referred to a respected class of scholars who devoted themselves to the study of natural sciences, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and astrology. Where in the East did they come from? They could have come from modern Iran or Iraq, Arabia or even India – we simply don’t know. For Matthew, they represented the very best of the pagan world. These travelers from the mysterious East have no Scripture, no salvation history, no covenant, no special revelation – they do not even know the name of God whose manifestation they seek – but they have nevertheless undertaken a journey which (we can rightly assume) was of great length and hardship. They are led by an astral phenomenon, by their own studies, and by what they have heard concerning a “King of the Jews.”

There is a passage in the book of Revelation that describes the City of God, the New Jerusalem in this way: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it … and its gates shall never be shut by day – and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

Here I believe is a way for us to understand something of what Matthew wants us to see. In the Age to Come, the whole world will bring its treasures into the celestial city. Everything that is honorable, beautiful, and good will be taken up into the kingdom of Christ, the Lamb of God. Everything that is glorious and effulgent will be offered as a tribute to the One whose name is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Great art, music, poetry, science, mathematics, whether overtly Christian in origin or not, will become part of the pageantry of heaven glorifying the crucified, risen, and reigning Messiah, Jesus Christ. This is the way I read the passage from Isaiah like the one Handel, God bless him, set so memorably to music in Messiah: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee … And the Gentiles shall come to they light, and kings to the brightness of they rising” (Isaiah:1-3).

These are bold claims, politically incorrect in the extreme. The mood in Canada today is hostile to the vision of Isaiah and Matthew. It is widely believed nowadays – in what use to be a Christian nation – that, for those who insist on being religious, one religion is as good as another, and that the missionary zeal of Christianity is an embarrassment. Yet, I don’t see any way out of this dilemma. Christians believe in the unique divinity of Christ and his Lordship over the entire cosmos. The God who created the stars and, as Isaiah says, called them all by name, has not set up a separate system of spiritual discernment apart from Christ.

I have many friends who are secular and never darkened the doors of a church. Some scorn Christianity; most couldn’t care less about it. I believe this is a fact of Canadian life that we believers are going to have to face. It is going to take more intellectual and moral courage to be a confessing, practicing Christian than it used to. There is only one way we can stand up and count ourselves as followers of Jesus in secular world, that is together. If we cannot together let our personal stars focus on Jesus Christ, we will not have the intellectual or moral courage to be confessing and practicing Christians. Unfortunately, in many churches struggling to survive in an increasing unchristian society, Christians, instead of working together towards a new vision for the church, are divided. We blame each other for our financial problems, we bicker about doctrine and moral issues and speak ill of each other. Such internal turmoil only increases the scorn and indifference of outsiders towards the Church. If we can’t get along, why should others want to get along with us?

I believe it’s time to take our stand together before the Herod of our day. The Magi should be a guide for us. They brought all that they had to the Lord, not just their expensive presents, but their very lives. We, too, have our own journeys – you and I. We must come through our own deserts and across our own mountains. We must follow whatever star is given to us. But, dear people of God, let us be sure that our stars point to Christ. Let us be sure that our star points to Christ together. Let us give our all to Christ, as did the Magi, and do it together.

Now please note one more thing. Across the path of the Magi falls the shadow of the Cross: Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume; Breathes a life of gathering gloom; Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying; Sealed in the stone-cold tomb. The baby sought by the Wise Men was born to save, not just the good religious people, but even more, those who are not the chosen, not the beloved, not the initiated, not the deserving. This baby was born to live and die, as the apostles Paul says, “for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). It is for their sake – those who scorn and are indifferent towards us - that our stars point to Christ. It is for their sake that our stars together points to Christ. Let us join the Magi, and stand together this 2005 before a world that scorns and rejects the source of salvation so that one day, they too may join us and the Magi. Amen.