Beloved. The Church has ended her 12 day celebration of our Lord’s birth, of God becoming man to be our Savior. Yes, this is a great mystery—the holy eternal God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, became also a true man and was born in time, at a certain time and place in human history. Certainly we could spend our entire lives contemplating this great mystery and never exhaust it. But God did not just become man, one of us, just for the sake of doing it. He had a reason and purpose: And all this for us and our salvation! There was Christmas so that there could be a Good Friday and an Easter Sunday. There was Christmas so that we could be born anew in the waters of holy Baptism. There was Christmas so that we could one day enter heaven.
In the Church, we have spent the past 12 days contemplating and rejoicing in this great work and mystery of God. And as time marches on one year into the next, so does the Church Year as we today enter the season of Epiphany. In this season of the Church Year, we will see who exactly this Baby is who was born that first Christmas Day. We will see by His miracles and teachings that this Baby is indeed also the very God Himself. The traditional Gospel account we in the Western Church associate with Epiphany is the coming of the Wise Men. As they come on the scene their question is: Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? And why? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. Let that be us not only this Epiphany, not only in 2019, but also throughout our lives. Let us always be seeking Jesus in His holy word and sacrament; let us always be seeking to do His will; let us always be coming to worship Him, remembering that faith—trusting in Him for forgiveness of sin and peace and reconciliation with God; faith that receives from Jesus all of His gifts and blessings—that is our highest worship.
Our text begins: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, when Herod was king, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem. It is worthwhile to point out that the Wise Men were not at the stable in Bethlehem when Jesus was born: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea... they came. Notice that towards the end of our text, St. Matthew records: After they went into the house –not the stable—and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. Evidently Mary and Joseph stayed for some time in Bethlehem after Jesus was born. It certainly is not wrong to include the Wise Men in the nativity scenes, after all they are an important part of why Jesus came—not just for the Jews but also for the non-Jews, the Gentiles—like these Wise Men.
The Wise Men were a particular class of people. In the ancient world, they were the learned men and scientists of the day. That’s why they were studying the stars: We saw his star when it rose. So how was it that they had even known about a star, a star that would indicate the birth of the King of the Jews, who would be the world’s Savior? Although Scripture is silent, it does give several clues. There is a prophecy spoken about Jesus’ coming in which He is depicted as a star. Balaam, the unwilling prophet had to speak the Holy Spirit’s word about the future coming of the Savior from the Israelites [Nu. 24.17]: I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel. So when the Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” So how did these Wise Men, these non-Jews/ Gentiles come to know about this prophecy of the Savior of the world described as a star and of the actual star that would announce His birth/ arrival? Perhaps it was from the OT prophet Daniel who was in Babylon. Of him Scripture records [Dn. 2.48]: Then King Nebuchadnezzar…promoted Daniel…made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. St. Daniel was the head Wise Man of his day. So perhaps it was through the prophet Daniel that precise knowledge came about this star announcing the Savior’s birth—what is was and what to look for. In other words, centuries later, Daniel’s mission work, his telling the good news about the Savior, bore fruit.
Be that as it may, however it came about that the Wise Men heard, they heard; the saw the star; and they believed! So in that faith, they came to Jerusalem in longing and hope: “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
The coming of non-Jews/ Gentiles to faith in Jesus —is clearly prophesied in the Old Testament and the coming of the Wise Men is the first of the many billions of Gentiles to come to Jesus in faith over the course of the centuries. We catch one of these prophecies in today’s Epistle from St. Isaiah in which he depicts the coming of the Gentiles to the Savior, Christ Jesus; of Jesus through His Church gathering all people to Himself: Caravans of camels will cover your land, young camels from Midian and Ephah. All of them from Sheba will come. They will carry gold and incense, and they will announce the good news of the Lord’s praises. How can we not see at least a hint of the Wise Men? Also notice their question: Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? They knew that they, Gentiles, would have a share, a portion in the kingdom of the Savior of Israel. After all, if the Savior, King of Israel only had benefit and blessing for the Israelites, why would these Wise Men even care to come to worship Him? What would it benefit them? But the fact remains: Jesus, that Baby born in Bethlehem, is the Savior of all people. What joy we now have as we follow the Wise Men asking: Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?
The very fact that these Wise Men were longing for the Savior to come, shows that God had worked in them faith in that Savior. He had worked in their hearts. They wanted to embrace their King and Savior—and so they came: Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? The beginning of this divinely worked gift of faith is the longing for salvation and the seeking of that Savior, Christ Jesus. That’s why the Wise Men are also a picture of each of our Lord’s dear Christians. Each of us, dear Christian, recognizes that we are sinners who by our sin earn nothing but God’s wrath and punishment, who cannot earn our way back into God’s good graces, who cannot earn our way into heaven. We feel our sins and their accusations in our heart and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that left to our own devices God’s wrath and damnation await. But, like the Wise Men, we heard of the Savior of world, the Savior of sinners; the Holy Spirit has worked faith in Him in our hearts—faith that longs for Him, faith that wants what He wants to give us: forgiveness of sin, peace with God, a stilled conscience, salvation, heaven. And so we ask in fervent longing with the Wise Men: Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? The Wise Men went to Jerusalem, the capitol city of the Jews; but we have it better than they did—we go to where our Lord has promised to meet us: in His holy word and Sacrament. Each week we come to church, looking for Jesus, for Him to meet us and give us what we need and long for the most: forgiveness of sin. Dear Christian, each time we go to church or even each time we open our bibles we may our question/ our demand be: Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? Jesus will not disappoint us. Just like it was for the Wise Men, Jesus was in Bethlehem, exactly where the Scriptures said He’d be, so also for us: Jesus will be with all His gifts and blessings where He promised to meet us—in His word and Sacrament. May our prayer be: Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?
Notice that the Wise Men said: We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. This is a word of hope! Through His word—perhaps through the prophet Daniel—God revealed that a certain star would announce the coming of the world’s Savior, who would be born King of the Jews. In other words, God intended, created and did set a specific star in heaven and He revealed its meaning—again, perhaps with Daniel—and preserved that word/ prophecy down through the ages until these Wise Men saw and recognized it and followed it. Although we today don’t have that star or even know exactly what it was, we have a “better star” leading us to Jesus—and that is the holy Gospel. It is that good news about Jesus. Not only does it tell us who Jesus is, not only does it tell us of His saving work for us—His holy life, innocent, suffering and death for our sin and His resurrection from the dead—and so not only does it lead us to Jesus, but it also gives us the very fruit and blessing of Jesus’ work: forgiveness of sin, life, peace with God, etc.
The word of God, the holy Gospel, shines with the beauty of Christ. He comes to us in His word. By the work of the Holy Spirit in the word, we are brought to faith in Jesus and as we follow, make use of, believe God’s holy word we are not only given every gift and blessing Jesus won for us, but the Holy Spirit is at work to deepen and strengthen our faith. Like the Wise Men were blessed as they followed the star, we, too, are richly blessed spiritually as we follow the star of the Gospel, that word/ good news about Jesus.
Interestingly enough, for a time the star must have disappeared. Our text: After listening to the king, they went on their way. Then the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them, until it stood still over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. It seemingly disappeared but reappeared. When it disappeared, they must have thought that their journey was in vain and the star deceived them. But no—by the star disappearing these Gentiles had to go to Jerusalem to announce to the Jews that the Savior had come. God was leading them in their quest and when the star reappeared, there was their assurance that the Lord was leading them. Perhaps they had lost their hope for a time, but it was only for a time.
As Christians, at times for us, the star of the Gospel that leads us seems to disappear. Our spiritual life becomes dry; we seem to be without hope; we seemingly get no comfort from the word; God and His word and promise seem so distant. At those times, we don’t know why this happens. But looking at the example of the Wise Men we see that God is still working then, leading and guiding us—as He was them, bringing them to Herod. For us, the vital thing is that we keep close to the word, prayer and church; just as the Wise Men scanned the heavens for the star all the more fervently when it was gone, let us keep even closer to the word, the church and be more fervent in our prayer. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. We will have great joy, when after a time, the star of the Gospel and God’s grace shines on us once again.
And what great faith we see in the Wise Men. Not only, on the basis of the prophecy, do they go on this long trek, but we read: After they went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They put everything out of sight and mind—this Baby and its young mother and poor surroundings—and followed the verse of the prophet and the testimony of the star. Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? They saw this Baby as He truly is, a King. They saw Him the Light of the Gentiles and the Salvation of the Lord. For us that’s our Epiphany—we look into the Christmas manger and see there the almighty eternal God, our King and Savior. Here is our Epiphany faith. INJ Amen.