The Epiphany of our Lord

Preached: January 8, 2012

Recognize the Epiphany Star
Matthew 2:1, 2

Other listening options or try the podcast at iTunes (You will be leaving our website.)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is Matthew 2.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jew? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1, 2 NIV1984).

This is the word of our Lord.

Do you have your Epiphany cards sent? Are the Epiphany presents wrapped? Did you get a real or artificial Epiphany tree this year? Unlike Christmas, Epiphany doesn’t have all those trappings. On January 6, the date that marks Epiphany, more people celebrated that it was Friday this year than even knew it was Epiphany. For the world this is the lull after the holiday celebrations. It’s a time to watch football and get ready for the Super Bowl, a time to get back to the normal routines of life, a time to make it through the winter until spring comes. But do we, like them, also forget Epiphany?

At this time of the year the nights are still long. It’s still over fifteen hours from sunset to sunrise, plenty of opportunity to notice the stars. I don’t recognize most of the stars by name. Usually I can find the North Star and pick out the constellation Orion. Venus, shining brightly, often draws my attention. Even though it’s technically not a star by our modern definition, it still looks like one. Dear friends, pick out any of the night stars whether you know its name and constellation or not, and let it teach you about Epiphany. Recognize the Epiphany star.

A. It breaks through the darkness

I don’t know how the wise men recognized the star that led them to Jesus. I don’t even know whether what they saw was a natural event, like a supernova or comet, that God arranged to come at just the right time and in just the right way or whether it was a special phenomenon created by God just for this occasion. Either way it was miraculous. And how did they know what it meant? Did they know because of the prophecy from fifteen centuries earlier of a star coming out of Jacob and a scepter rising in Israel (Numbers 24:17). Was their knowledge of the Messiah part of the legacy of Daniel when he was numbered among the wise men of the East in the days of Nebuchadnezzer and Darius? I don’t know. The account of the wise men’s visit raises questions for our curious minds.

But don’t let these questions cloud what Epiphany is all about. As curious as we may be, those are unimportant questions that God did not answer for us. Rather look up at the stars and see how they break through the darkness of the night. That’s our first lesson as we recognize the Epiphany star. It breaks through our darkness.

Darkness can picture ignorance. We were all in the dark about Jesus. And just as our eyes can play tricks on us in the dark, so the human mind imagines Jesus to be many things. Some imagine him to be a coach to instruct us on how to win this game of life. Others imagine him to be a cheerleader who keeps our spirits up or a specialty player who usually sits on the sidelines except in those special circumstances when you need his unique skills, like a long range field goal kicker. And some like to imagine that Jesus didn’t really exist at all. But the Epiphany star makes him known for who he is and what he has done. It breaks through the darkness of our ignorance.

The wise men knew. They came and worshiped him. How sinful that would be, if Jesus were just a human being! But no! This baby is also our God, the eternal, almighty Son of the Father. As you witness the wise men present the gift of incense, sometimes called frankincense, think of prayers ascending to our God. It is wrong to pray to a mere human being, whether they are a saint or otherwise. But we pray to Jesus, because he is our God. As you look up at the stars and remember how God called each of them into existence on the fourth day of creation, know that Jesus has made them and arranged them. He is our God.

So worship Jesus. Honor him. Bring all your needs and desires to him in prayer. He is your God. Don’t keep him on the bench except for those special times that you feel that you really need him. That’s treating God as if we were the boss who decided when he gets to play. What sacrilege! And yet how often haven’t we pushed him to the sidelines because other things grab our attention? Does Jesus always reign in our hearts as our King to whom we present not only our gold, but our time, our talents, our mind, our soul, our strength, our all? What competes for the throne of your heart? You see, whatever takes Jesus place in our hearts even for a short time, has become our idol, our false god. We’ve broken the very first commandment, failing to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

But Jesus, our God, came to save us from our sin. If you can recognize Orion in the south sky, let it remind you of Jesus, your mighty hero. He isn’t a coach training you how to save yourself. He isn’t a cheerleader routing you on to try and win the game of life. He is your hero who saved you from sin, Satan, and death. When your sins surround you like a pack of wolves ready to devour you with guilt, Jesus breaks through that darkness. He has driven away your sin as far as the east is from the west. See him take your sins all the way to the cross, nailing them there. For on that cross he crushed Satan’s head, breaking the power of that ancient serpent, that dark lord. Jesus is your Hero, your Savior. Even when death stalks you, don’t be afraid. You Hero is with you. He has defeated death. His dead body, which had been anointed with myrrh for burial, rose in victory over the grave. He has broken death’s dark shroud.

Yes, dear friends, Epiphany makes Jesus known as our God and Savior, our mighty Hero. Like a star breaking through the darkness, his truth breaks through our ignorance. His grace breaks through our sin. His victory breaks through our death. Recognize the Epiphany star. Recognize who Jesus is. He is God and Savior. He is your God and your Savior, dear friend.

B. It shines for all to see

Now then how can you know that he breaks through the darkness even for you? How can you be sure of that with the full confidence of faith?

Think of the wise men again, dear friends. They were not from Abraham’s family line. They were not from the people of Israel or Judah from which Jesus came. They were foreigners. Was the Savior for them? Was the One born King of the Jews, also their King, their Hero? Yes! And he is yours as well. For he shines for all, which includes you, dear friend.

Recognize the Epiphany star. For it shines for all to see, including you.

The prophecies of the Old Testament made that clear. Think of the first prophecy of the Savior. As the Lord spoke to Satan in the presence of Adam and Eve, he said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal” (Genesis 3:15 NIV1984). Who are the offspring of the first woman, Eve? Everyone, of course. Jesus came as the Hero to crush Satan’s head for all of us descended from Eve. Later, the Lord promised Abraham that through him all peoples on earth would be blessed, not just his physical descendants, the people of Israel (Genesis 12:3). And the prophet Isaiah calls Jesus “a light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6).

Some of the best know passages of the New Testament make it clear that Jesus shines for all. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (John 3:16). “God, our Savior, wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3, 4). “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

And Jesus takes this universal message and makes it personal to you. In Baptism he said to you, “I wash away your sins, dear child. You are born again of water and the Spirit.” In the Lord’s Supper he says to you, “Keep believing that I sacrificed myself for you once and for all on the cross. Here is my body. Eat. Here is my blood. Drink. This is my last will and testament in which I leave to you forgiveness, life, and salvation. You, dear child, are my heir.”

Recognize the Epiphany star. Because it shines for all, you can be sure that it shines for you. That’s faith.

This most personal conviction that Jesus is your Savior moves us to want others to know, so that they are no longer lost in darkness. Let them see the Epiphany star shining for them.

Think of the stars in the night sky. They just don’t shine down on certain people or certain places. The stars fill the night all around the world from Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strand. They shine down on all kinds of people: rich and poor, young and old, the good and the bad, male and female, all races, languages, groups, and nations.

How many are still lost in the darkness? How many still struggle with their guilt? How many are still headed toward eternal death and hell? Jesus has come as the Epiphany star for them. Will they see him before it’s too late? Let his light shine through you. Your neighbors can see the light as you share with them that Jesus is the reason for the hope that you have. Jesus is the source of the love, kindness, and forgiveness you show others. Support the work of proclaiming Jesus here and abroad through your offerings, even as the wise men laid their treasures before Jesus. And pray. Pray that his kingdom come into the hearts of others so that by the power of the Holy Spirit they too believe his saving Word. Then they too will recognize the Epiphany star, breaking through their darkness, shining for them to see, just as it shines for you. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313