Although we left the Christmas season this past Thursday and entered the season of Epiphany, we are still filled with Christmas joy; and in this season of Epiphany that we are now in, we are still reveling in the joy of Christmas. The Epiphany season is like unwrapping a gift we received at Christmas. At Christmas we received the gift of Jesus–the Baby Jesus born of the Virgin in that stable in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling cloths. And now, we are “unwrapping” Him and seeing exactly who/ what that gift is. That is, in the season of Epiphany we focus on Jesus’ teaching and miracles and there see beyond any doubt that the Baby born in Bethlehem is indeed also the true God. In Advent the Church cried out: Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth; at Christmas He came; and now in Epiphany we see that He is the divine Savior/ Redeemer of the earth.
At Christmas, we heard along with the shepherds the angel proclaim who was born, who was in the manger [Lk. 2.11]: There is born for you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. But what is it that we hear now in Epiphany? Who announces to us who Jesus is? Is it again the angel? Hardly! It’s the Wise Men. Our Gospel: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, when Herod was king, 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.” Not only is this not an announcement from an angel, it’s an announcement from people who were not even Jews, people who were outside the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; from people who did not even have the Hebrew Scriptures but somehow had heard of the Savior who would be born King of the Jews.
And this is why Epiphany is often called “the Gentile’s/ the non-Jews Christmas”: because we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him. What would these Wise Men, these Gentiles care about one who was born King of the Jews? –Unless it somehow affected them; unless somehow they too could be helped/ benefitted by Him. And that’s why Epiphany is also called “the Gentile’s Christmas”: Jesus, born King of the Jews, came, was born for all people. With Epiphany we see the fulfillment of the Church’s Advent prayer: Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth. Jesus is the Redeemer/ Savior of the earth/ of all people–you and me.
But what do we read in today’s Gospel when the Wise Men showed up asking for Jesus? When King Herod heard this, he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. Instead of being met with great joy, there was alarm. Herod is understandably alarmed–he’s king; Jesus, he thought, would be a rival to the throne. But all Jerusalem with him? Wouldn’t the Jews be happy that their long awaited and promised Savior/ Messiah had finally come? But the same thing applies today– why aren’t people happy when they hear the good news about Jesus–that they have a Savior? Why do so many reject and fight against Jesus and His saving word? Like Herod looking to preserve the throne, like the people fearing that with One born King of the Jews that the Romans would come in and wipe out their nation and temple, is it that people today are too much focused on the world and the things of the world, that people are too satisfied with the status quo, and that Jesus upsets that? That Jesus’ coming reminds them of an inconvenient truth that they have been trying to suppress in their hearts: that there is a heaven/ hell and a judgment; that there is something more than this life?
The other thing about the Wise Men is that they seem just to burst on the scene: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, when Herod was king, Wise Me from the east came to Jerusalem. It’s almost like they are the relatives that show up uninvited for Christmas dinner. But also don’t forget–Epiphany is the “Gentiles’ Christmas”. The Wise Men were Gentiles/ non-Jews. They seemingly didn’t belong there. But they come bearing the message that the Jews themselves–except for a handful like the shepherds, and Simeon and Anna in the temple and any they may have told and who believed them–didn’t know, and didn’t want to know: “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, with the coming of the Wise Men we have the great comfort and joy that Jesus has come for all people–even for you and me; Jesus has come to be the Savior of the world.
That Jesus has come to save all people, that Jesus is the Redeemer of the earth, is the point that St. Paul drives home in our epistle: This mystery is that in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise through the Gospel. So what this teaches us so beautifully is that Epiphany is a feast of unity. In Jesus, in His Church all people are one and united. That’s because unity in the Church is a unity of faith. The Holy Spirit has worked one and the same faith in Jesus in the hearts of all Christians. All Christians believe that Jesus is their Savior from sin, death, devil and hell; and that we believe that is because the Holy Spirit has worked that faith in our hearts. Although Jesus came born King of the Jews, He wasn’t just the Savior of the Jews, the people from whom He came, but of all people. In the days of the early church, that was the big question–the relation between Jew and non-Jew/ Gentile. How “Jewish” do the Gentiles have to be in order to be Christians/ to be saved–what Jewish laws and customs must they follow? And here St. Paul says that all believers–Jews and Gentiles–are equally and mutually one body.
In the Church, there is no division–only a unity of faith. In the world, there are all kinds of division–by race, social class, language, etc. And the devil uses differences among people to try to create division and to separate people. But in the Church, although we are no less different from the world with our different races, languages, social classes, customs, etc.--we are united by faith into the one body of Christ. There is a great diversity among Christians but these differences do not divide us; we have a unity that far transcends any differences–the unity of faith. St. Paul writes [Gal. 3.27]: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. That’s what we see in Epiphany, that great feast of unity: the non-Jewish Wise Men coming to Jesus, the first in a long line of non-Jews who come to worship Him.
So you see what is happening in the Church– in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise through the Gospel. Notice the phrase: in Christ Jesus. Yes, although we all keep our various differences and diversities, in Christ Jesus, through faith in Him, we are one and united. With Satan working through his allies in the world around us today to try to create division and hatred among different people, we dare never forget that no matter how different we are from our fellow Christian, we are still one with them in Christ Jesus. Because why? By Jesus’ work by His Holy Spirit in the Word and Sacrament Jesus is gathering all His people into one flock, the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said [Jn 10.16]: And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
What a glorious scene/ image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gathering His flock/ His Church–remember, it is the devil that scatters–and He presents us/ His Church to God as a united and renewed humanity. In spite of all our outward differences and diversity, we are, through Spirit-worked faith in Christ, a united people. Let the Gentile Wise Men coming to Jerusalem seeking to worship the newborn King of the Jews remind us of that; let us see there the working out of God’s plan to unite all people into His Church. Don’t let Satan work enmity and division between you and your fellow Christian. After all, in Christ Jesus [they and us] are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise through the Gospel. And in His Church, Jesus presents us to His Father as that united and holy people– holy, forgiven our sins and covered with the perfect holiness of Jesus and with His Holy Spirit in us, leading us into a life of faith and good works. Epiphany–truly a feast of unity.
On top of that, Epiphany is a feast of grace. It was God’s pure grace that He revealed to the Wise Men that star that would announce the birth of the King of the Jews; it was His grace that announced that His birth would mean the salvation of not just Jew but also Gentile. Epiphany teaches us God’s grace because it shows us that He wants to have fellowship with us. This is nothing but God’s pure grace. Because of our sin we broke our fellowship with God; our sin divides us sinners from the holy God. And from us, from our side, we could not go back to God; we could not establish fellowship with Him. But God, in pure grace, wants fellowship with us; He wants to restore what we by our sin have destroyed. That’s what Christmas shows us–to save us; to rescue us from sin, death, devil and hell; to bring us back to Him, God Himself came into this world; He became a true man to be our Savior: There is born for you…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And He didn’t keep it hidden. He had it announced by angels to the shepherds and to the king and all Jerusalem by the Wise Men; He had preserved that promise and prophecy down to the time of the Wise Men so that they would be scanning the heavens. And He keeps announcing it down through the ages until it came to you and me. That’s God’s grace! That’s God’s desire to save all people.
But like we see here–that we have His holy word, that the proclamation of Christ has come down to us today, that’s God’s grace. We didn’t earn/ deserve it. But He loves us and wants to save us so He has His word come to us. Jesus could have been born, lived a holy life, suffered and died for us and rose again from the dead, but that would do us no good, unless He in grace tells us about it, reveals it to us.
Our text: Surely you have heard of the administration of God’s grace given to me for you, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation. This mystery was not made known to people in past generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.
Yes, God gave the promises and prophecies of the Savior in the OT times. That’s what the faithful looked to and believed and which created and preserved faith. Even the promises for the Gentiles and that they would come to faith and be one people/ one Church with the Israelites–that too was in the OT. But it was not as clear as in the time of the fulfillment, as it has now been revealed. The Lord had shown special grace upon the Israelites, set them apart by His law and special revelation, through the prophets showering them with promises of the coming Savior, so that they would be a people prepared, ready to welcome and receive Him when He came.
And now that Jesus has come and carried out His saving work, God, in grace, entrusted that saving word and grace to His holy apostles and sent them out into all the world to bring the message of Christ crucified and risen. He established His Church so that message and the benefits of Jesus’ saving work would continue to resound through all the world and in all times–that all people have in Jesus the forgiveness of sin and every heavenly and spiritual blessing. Epiphany is a glorious feast of unity in Christ and a feast of grace. INJ Amen.