Monday, January 12, 2009

First Sunday in Epiphany

First Sunday in Epiphany
Matthew 2:1-12
Bror Erickson

[2:1] Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, [2] saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." [3] When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; [4] and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. [5] They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
[6] " 'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.' "
[7] Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. [8] And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." [9] After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. [10] When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. [11] And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. [12] And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother and they (the Magi)
fell down and worshiped him.

This is an absolute phenomenal passage of scripture when you consider who the Magi, the wise men were. I’m not sure how it came to be translated that they were wise men, but I suppose it is true enough. They were wise enough to worship Jesus, they were wise enough to discern that He is God. Most people might not be able to discern a suckling baby to be God. But the magi that came were wise enough.
In truth, that is what they were, magi. That is pagan priests who made their living in the black arts of astrology, necromancy and other forms of divination. They were idol worshipers, and stargazers, and interpreters of dreams far more skilled than Sigmund Freud. These are things pious Jews did not do, as they are not things pious Christians practice. They are black arts, and violations of the first and second commandments. Today there is a tendency to write all this stuff off as mere quackery or harmless fun. Yet there is a growing fascination with these dark arts. Wicca, and other forms of neo paganism have found unprecedented popularity. Earth day has become witch fest in Liberty Park. Horoscopes can be found almost anywhere from checkout stands, the backs of respected newspapers, 1 900 numbers, to a gypsies store front office. Usually written with such sugary compliments that people find them hard to resist. They speak to what we want to believe about ourselves, that we are good, competent etc. They lie and their source is the father of lies, Satan, who would deceive you into thinking you don’t need Christ and the cross. They are not harmless fun.
Neither are they always quackery. Of course there is plenty of quackery passing itself off in this fashion. Forgive me though; I don’t think it is all quackery. I too firmly believe in the existence of demons to write it all off.
Spending two years in Africa I heard plenty of credible people recount mysterious works of witch doctors. The witch doctors were truly evil regardless of whether they made their magic work or not. My brother and I scared our parents and a whole neighborhood one night when we were thought to be missing. In truth we had fallen a sleep under a bunch of blankets in a tent in the back yard. But my parents looking in and not seeing us, had a whole crew of natives looking for us before the witch doctor who had recently moved into the area found us, knowing he might like practice his art with us, leaving us dead in the process.
I once had my palm read unsolicited, and thinking it a joke. at a Chinese restaurant. The reading became hauntingly true, and it was nothing I ever dared wanted to happen. The wise men were ones who could pull it off. They made a living manipulating the evil spirits to do their bidding, in exchange for their soul. The same way Pharaoh’s priests were able to match Moses trick for trick in Exodus, and the witch of Endor was able to conjure up the Spirit of Samuel for King Saul. These are not things to be trifled with.
But this is what makes this passage so fascinating. Here the devils henchmen are pulled to Christ. Here even the priests of pagan gods are forced to recognize Christ and bow their knees to him in worship. Here the practice of pagan arts lead people to realize the reality of God. They read the stars, and the prophecies they had read come to light, and pagan priests are convinced even before Israel. They bow their knees, and worship their savior. There is a proleptic fulfillment of prophecy here, or if you will the partial fulfillment that will find it‘s fulfillment in the future. It is meant to show who Christ is. . The prophecy that says every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess.
[23] By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
'To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.' Isaiah 45:23 (ESV)
And so here pagan priests from a pagan land are called to worship the God of gods, the light of light. And here this little baby boy suckling at the breast of Mary, in the town that has scorned his Father, Mary, the donkey she rode in on, and the illegitimate flesh she gave birth to, so as to make her give birth in a barn. This the treatment from his very own, the chosen people whom he came to saved. Yet here he is honored with Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh as the God of gods, by the pagan priests of false gods, and the king of kings by the envoys of Pagan Kings, (For it is no stretch of the imagination that Magi would serve both functions.) Even as his own king would seek to destroy and kill him. Such is the way with God. He calls, and those who are called by the Gospel bow their knee, and he becomes their God. Yet others scorn him, and despise him, and scorn and despise those who worship him, the God who dies for his people, and for those who are not His people, so that he might save them from the devil and his dark powers of death, people are so fond of playing with and manipulating.
But then on the last day the fullness of this partially fulfilled prophecy will come to pass and every knee will bow that day, and every tongue confess, Jesus, the babe that suckled at Mary’s breast, is Lord. Jesus is Lord, our lord and savior, who has conquered the principalities of this world with his death and resurrection, and makes them bend their knee to him.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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