Sermon ~ Sunday, January 1st, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Matthew 2:1-12

I must admit I’m not much of a fan of the so called “home improvement” shows. (Unless it is old reruns of the one starring Tim Allen!) I rarely watch the DIY channel or the Flip or flop that whatever show. Occasionally I will stay with the PBS “This Old House” if I happen upon them while channel surfing. But I’m not into any of the current popular shows like “Rehab Addict,” “Love It or List It,” “Fixer Upper,” and “House Hunters Renovation.”

To be honest much of my attitude stems from a indirect experience with the once popular Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. While we were with the Maine Sea Coast Mission, Ty Pennington brought the Extreme Home Makeover crew into our area and built a new house for a family. While this family was very deserving there were others who had in more need of a new home but their background story would have made as for as good a television! This and having experienced the crew’s behavior and the actual condition of the finished product from the other side of the television screen after the production crews left has left me a bit jaded by such “altruistic” projects by network producers!

On the other hand, I’ve have seen enough of them to know that there is often a climactic moment when there is the “big reveal!” (Another case in our modern lexicon where a verb has become a noun reveal!) The highpoint of the show is the tour by the anxious/excited homeowners and well placed cameras as the finished space is reveled after the renovation is complete. Everything that happened in the show before this moment has been scripted to help the viewer anticipate, but not quite envision, the full picture of the finished space, the remodel, the new home.
So what does this have to do with today’s Scripture readings? If we want to “makeover” this idea of the big “reveal” and apply it to our Christian faith in terms of the person of Jesus Christ, we might point to today, Epiphany Sunday as the climactic moment of the annual Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season. For sure we could be talking about New Year’s and all the potential and hope that comes with the turning of a calendar page. But without something more in our hearts it is just this: a turning of a calendar page!

Now while the story of the magi following the star to pay homage to the child Jesus may not, at first glance, seem like the first moment in which we have the “reveal” of Jesus, that’s exactly what it is.
Why? Because the reveal in this Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season is not the birth of Jesus: it comes in the confirmation, the full picture of his true identity. And this is what the Magi bring. More than gifts, their story shows us the full identity of this child who is born “king of the Jews.”

Often as preachers we will focus on the professions of the magi pointing out that they were more like what we would call astrologers today. The budding scientists among us attend planetariums shows about the science of the star. Some like to delve into dream analysis, or Herod’s narcissistic behavior, or the meaning and purpose of the gifts.

I would like to focus on the response of the magi.

From Matthews’ account, we know that these travelers from the east observed a star rising in the sky. And they understood this star to signal the birth of a king, and not just any king, but specifically, the king of the Jews.
How they came to this conclusion we’re not sure. We can read speculation from scholars and others on the subject. We can mine the history of astrology. We can explain it as the work of hindsight on the part of the author of Matthew’s Gospel. We can attribute it to science, or prophecy, or eastern religion. But the fact is we don’t exactly know how they knew. We know only what Matthew tells us: they saw a star rising and they hit the road for the land of the Jews, bearing gifts, to pay homage to a recently born king.

The way faith understands and teaches how the star participates in the story of the coming of the magi can be either a stumbling block to a skeptical mind or a point of revelation and wonder. We often explain it as some sort of early GPS system with the star moving about in the sky in a very unlike star manner. If this is the case, why the detour to Herod? Just follow the star! Yet they go to Herod and there, in a sense, tip their cards to him as to their purpose?
And it was Herod, not the star, sent them on to Bethlehem.

We are told that they did this and the news disturbed not only Herod, but “all of Jerusalem with him,” so that Herod called all his cabinet to a meeting to gather information on exactly who this child was and what his birth might mean to his reign.

After he had consulted his own consultants, he summoned the magi back and proceeded to tell them an outright lie. He sent them forth to visit the child with instructions to let him know exactly where the baby was located so that he too could supposedly pay homage to the newborn king.

Continuing on their way, Matthew tells us when the Magi entered the house in Bethlehem where Jesus and his family were staying. Overwhelmed with joy, they knelt before him and presented him with gifts. After the visit, they left for their own country “by another road.” We can conclude from the story that they took a different route to protect the child from Herod, but Matthew doesn’t say that directly. All he says is that they were “warned in a dream” not to return to Herod, and just like Joseph in the story from an earlier chapter and later in chapter 2, they acted on that dream as if it were real.

So this is all we really know. These are the hints, clues, the glimpses into the meaning of the visit of the magi from the East. The question is, what is the big reveal offered in this episode of Extreme Makeover: World Edition? What picture of revelation or completion does it provide for the readers of Matthew’s Gospel?

What does it tell us about who Jesus really is?

Although the magi follow a completely different belief system from that of the family of Jesus, or even the people of Herod’s empire, the signs they see through the window of their own religious views compel them to respond to the beliefs of this other faith tradition. Not only that, they see in this other religious tradition that in this child, the divine is not just mystically present, but touchable, tangible. Seeing Jesus for themselves not only confirms that he is indeed the one of whom the prophets spoke, but that the sign they read in the sky had led them to something very real and something very joyful. They experience the divine presence and power personally. And they respond by kneeling down before him; that is, essentially, worshiping him.

This is indeed big news, giving the people at the time a mind-expanding view of who Jesus is and how the world is different because of this epiphany of God: Jesus is not just King of the Jews; he is God’s big reveal, revelation to all people.
Isaiah saw it: In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. (Is. 2:2)

We have with the Magi the public acknowledgement by those who are very much outsiders that Jesus is Lord.

The confirmation that all the earth falls under the Sovereignty of God.

That even the heavens cooperate to reveal his identity.

Religious leaders from other lands not only recognize him as the king of the Jews, but respond to him as a divine presence in the world.

And it is a confirmation to the Herod’s of our world that this “King’s” power transcends theirs.

If Jesus can be revealed as Lord to leaders from another religious tradition, then the Lordship of Jesus can be revealed to anyone in the whole world!

First, there is Incarnation, God with us in the flesh, as a child is born to a young woman in a stable.

Then there is Epiphany, this God with us in the flesh, is for all the flesh all the peoples of the world.

I guess my New Year’s question for you and for me is this:

What is going to be our response to the good news of this Epiphany?

How, when and where has Epiphany happened in your life?

How have our lives been changed, and how are our lives still being transformed, by the big reveal that Jesus Christ is Sovereign over all?