RCL The Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7 and 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12,
Saint Matthew 2:1-12

I have heard it said that the best Christmas Lights are the Tail Lights. Just when you thought Christmas was past, in our rear view mirror, here it is again. For today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, and the Gospel today is the second Christmas Story, the one from Matthew, that you just heard proclaimed.

If your mind works like mine, Christmas Eve seems like an age ago. We have seen the Tail Lights, perhaps; the relatives are gone, and even New Year’s is over. But here we have Christmas once again. Not the registration, not the poor shepherds, and not the glorious angels. But Mary, the Baby, King Herod, and the Wise Men, following the Star. The Gospel tells a different story with some different characters and different marvels.

You know that Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, is all about Christ reaching the Gentiles as the Christian Faith spreads throughout the known world. And Matthew seems to be on the same page as the Wise Men, the Eastern Sages, the Star-led Chiefs, open their treasure chests and present gifts to the newly born King. But something else is going on as well.

You know that Matthew is all about Jesus coming to seek the lost of the House of Israel. And Matthew is all about Jesus fulfilling God’s will disclosed in the Old Testament. And this concern brings the Wise Men to the crib. For the star indicates final victory of God over the nations who have not accepted him. For the prophecy of the star is a prophecy of Israel’s victory over its surrounding nations.

Tucked away in the old story of Balak and Balaam are Balaam’s oracles or prophecies. From Numbers chapter 24 verses 17 and 18 comes the prophecy of the star. I quote that prophecy: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near—a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the borderlands of Moab, and the territory of all the Shethites. Edom will become a possession, Seir a possession of its enemies, while Israel does valiantly.”[1]

It is a prophecy of a star indicating a scepter of kingship and of victory of Israel over its neighbors. This is what the Wise Men know, and this is what they come to worship. It is a different story from Luke’s vision of the universal mission of Jesus.

We say in Advent that Jesus has two comings: first as a baby two thousand years ago and second as our Judge at the end of time. Perhaps it is worth saying on the Epiphany, when we proclaim the second Christmas Story, that Jesus has two manifestations to the Gentiles: first to the Wise Men two thousand years ago and second when he comes again, described in the Book of the Revelation this way: “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is the be. Amen.”[2] Very like the prophecy of the star. The victory will be his and his alone. “Savior, take the power and glory; claim the kingdom for thine own:…Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.”[3]

[1] Numbers 24:17-18.

[2] Revelation 1:7

[3] Hymn 57, Stanza 4.