“An Epiphany in an Ordinary Setting: Under the Night Sky”         January 6, 2013

Matthew 2:1-12                                                                                    Stephens City UMC

Slide 1

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


I.                   While they were standing under the night sky, Slide 2 which was a very ordinary thing for the magi to do, they looked up and saw an extraordinary star.

A.    They wondered about the meaning of the star.

1.     Without the help of the internet they did research on the extraordinary star that had appeared in the ordinary night sky.

2.     They began to follow that star. Slide 3

3.     Eventually it led them to an ordinary looking baby whom by faith they perceived to be extraordinary. Slide 4

4.     Their entire experience has a term connected with it “Epiphany” which means “revelation.”

B.     During the season of Epiphany we Christians celebrate our belief that God, who could remain hidden, has of His own free will chosen to reveal Himself to us.

1.     During the next 5 weeks I will preach on a number of epiphanies that can be found in the Holy Scriptures in which God, in some ordinary settings, made some extraordinary revelations about Himself.

2.     This morning we will consider the story of the magi and there are two aspects of this story on which I want to focus: the matter of gifts and the matter of wisdom.

II.                 Let’s turn now to the first and that is while the magi brought gifts to the Christ Child, it is even truer that God gifted them.

A.    In the carol “We Three Kings” we sing about three very well-to-do men from the East bringing gifts of Slide 5 gold and frankincense and myrrh.

1.     In the carol “The First Noel” we again sing of the gifts of gold and myrrh and frankincense.

2.     Those who wrote those carols based their lyrics on Matthew 2:11 which describes how these wise and gifted men found Mary and the baby in a house (apparently some time has passed since the birth as the wise men, not too surprisingly, were running a little behind schedule) and “they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasurer chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

B.     Those gifts point to this child being King of kings and Lord of lords as well as to his sacrifice and burial.

1.     But those gifts were only presented to the baby Jesus because God had first gifted the magi with an epiphany, a revelation.

2.     In Isaiah 43:19 God says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

3.     While standing under an ordinary night sky Slide 6 the wise men perceived that a sign had been given that God was doing a new thing.

4.     The extraordinary new thing God was doing was that He was going to come to earth in human form to dwell with humanity.

5.     He would reveal His majesty as a new born babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Slide 7

6.     It took an epiphany, a revelation, for the magi to recognize that God had gifted them by allowing them to see the face of God in human form.

7.     Because of the gifts of the baby Jesus and God revealing Himself the magi were able to respond by offering their gifts.

8.     The magi model for us an appropriate response to the experience of an epiphany.

C.     The wise men got it right as had Moses and the Hebrews centuries earlier who after God delivered them from Pharaoh’s army by parting the Red Sea Slide 8 sang “This is my God, I will glorify him; The God of my father, I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2)

1.     Instead, as the late Abraham Heschel wrote: “The normal situation is expressed in the words of Job: Slide 9 Lo, he goes by me, and I see him not; He passes on also, but I perceive him not.” (Job 9:11)

2.     Our God is a God of epiphanies.

3.     Rather than being like Job who “perceived him not,” may we be like Moses and the Hebrews at the Red Sea and like the wise men who followed an extraordinary star that they saw in an ordinary night sky that the extraordinary God might be revealed to us in the ordinary form he took – that of a tiny baby who was born on Christmas Day. Slide 10

III.              Which brings me to the second matter and that is that the wise men proved to be wise because after their epiphany they went another way.

A.    We make fun of the wise men because it does appear they did not arrive on Christmas morn but a number of months later.

1.     Another group of men having difficulty following directions. Slide 11

2.     It probably hurt their ego to have to stop and ask directions but asking King Herod Slide 12 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”  (Matthew 2:2) really wasn’t very wise.

3.     Wise men should have easily figured out that Herod would not find the birth of a new king to be “good news.”

B.     So in the beginning they struggled but in the end the wise men did become wise because after worshipping the new born King Slide 13 they allowed the epiphany of God revealing Himself in this manner to change their lives which is part of what the change of direction was about.

1.     Rather than returning to earthly power they followed the guidance of the divine power to go a different way as they were obedient. Slide 14

2.     Wise people go a different way in life after they have experienced an epiphany of God.

3.     It seemed like an ordinary set of circumstances – get on your camel and head home the same way you came, but instead they did the extraordinary as far as the world is concerned because they followed the guidance of God who had revealed Himself to them.

IV.              Let me quickly wrap this up with a couple of observations.

A.    First, today we will install those who will serve as Church Council members for 2013.

1.     They need to be effective leaders so it would be good for us to pray that they have some epiphanies. Slide 15

2.     But it is also true that all of us, committee members and non-committee members, need to be open to God’s epiphanies – those times God in an ordinary setting chooses to reveal Himself to us.

3.     We at Stephens City UMC in 2013 need such epiphanies if we are to be wise according to God and go in the direction He would have us to go.

4.     That probably means (actually it undoubtedly means) that we will be changed so we’d be wise to embrace that change if we want to be found faithful and to be effective servants for Christ our King and His Kingdom.

B.     And second, today we can start to go in the right direction (and we know it is the right direction) by following the ordinary signs that bring us into the extraordinary presence of Christ and that is by journeying with our wise brothers and sisters to the Lord’s Table. Slide 16

1.     Oh my, who are we to encounter God in such a holy mystery?

2.     Bread and a cup become the body and blood of Christ.

3.     What an epiphany!

4.     And may our experience today lead us to sacrifice and to nurture and to proclaim and to share and to be empowered as Christ’s servants who want nothing more than to go in the direction he would have us to go.