Download or listen to the Epiphany of Our Lord: “Backwards” (Matthew 2:1-12)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Everything’s backwards in Matthew 2: the wise are foolish and the foolish wise; those who should know stay where they are and those who should not know leave and follow; Jerusalem is nothing and Bethlehem is everything, and a minor king of a little place tries to kill the King of all the earth.
Foolish to travel hundreds of miles to kneel before a foreign king; wise to take note of the prevailing political winds and stay nine miles away from the trouble brewing in Bethlehem. The chief priests and the scribes of the people, who know the Scriptures and are ready with the obvious answer, stay in Jerusalem; while the pagan philosophers, who have heard little more than a rumor, leave the big city in search of a tiny town with a tiny Messiah. Jerusalem, the City of God, has been left desolate; and Bethlehem of Ephratha, too little to be among the tribes of Judah, is made great because of the King who comes from her, the one who is both newborn and ancient. Herod, a so-called king, trembles at the questions asked about a King of the Jews, whose star has finally arisen. And what comes from all of this? The state-sponsored murder of children, a small family forced to leave for a foreign land, and a few pagans worshiping in a house.
Who knows what was in the minds of those magi? Who knows what they thought they were doing when they started following a star? Who knows what they thought when they followed the word of religious men, and those same religious men did not go with them to see their own Messiah? Whatever they thought, or said to each other, we know this one thing: they heard the Word, and they believed it enough to actually go and see if what they heard was true. Some wind was blowing, some Spirit moving, and they went with nothing but the Word. Do we need more than that? Do we need more than the Word to cause us to seek God where’s He promised to be? Are we priests and scribes, or magi? Will we be unbelievers long enough to believe? Or have we been believers so long we can no longer believe? The bumper sticker says “Wise men still seek Him.” Where is the wise man? Where is the friend of Wisdom in this age? What can we say when the churches are all empty and the bars and movie theaters full? What can we say when all the Bibles have been bought and paid for, but no one reads them? When the comfort of all our conveniences makes hearing the Word inconvenient? When Christians say they believe the Scriptures, and mock unbelievers for going about their lives without God, and yet the unbelievers are more willing to actually seek out what the Scriptures have to say about Christ, even if they never believe it? What shall we say? If the pagans say no, and then go out and worship Him anyway; and the religious people say yes, but stay home, which one does the will of the Father?
This is the mystery of the Epiphany, the revealed, Gospel: that these Gentiles without the covenant, without the promises, without the prophets and the Land—these Gentiles are made heirs and members of the Body of this Jew, and share in the promise of the Jewish Messiah. The Church is the lampstand on which stands the Light of the World, to “bring light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God.” It is the Church through which the wisdom of God is made known to rulers and authorities, powers and principalities. But it’s no more spectacular today: as then, today the place of the Lord is made known by the Word of prophets and apostles; but instead of being revealed in a Baby, the mystery comes in water; instead of on the lap of His mother, He waits on the altar. To those whom the Word comes, those on whom the Spirit moves, they still come to the Light of His revelation. They still come hear, to confess, to be forgiven, to eat and drink. If they did not believe, they would not come. If they do not believe, they do not come. Nothing has changed; it’s still all backwards, but the reversal is coming. A revealing in the full sight of all the people, the full shining of the revelation to the Gentiles and the full glory of His people Israel.
For now, there are no resolutions, no visions, no certainty among the things of this world; there are only the simple things of the Church’s revelation, and that is enough. It is enough, because it is Jesus Himself, as God hides Himself from sight, but reveals Himself to faith. Enough to sustain us on our travels through this land, made strange by an infant Stranger. Enough to draw to Himself all whom He has chosen, even you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/3/12