“Epiphany blessings” | January 3, 2021
(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)
Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12
Today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the magi (“wise men from the East” as the Bible calls them). We don’t know if they were ‘kings’ and we don’t know if there were three of them. The Bible doesn’t say. Some traditions hold that there were actually four. We assume there were 3 because 3 gifts are mentioned (and of course because of the carol we sing “We three Kings of orient are…”).
Anyway, we don’t have a lot of detail but we are given details about the gifts they brought. And we may already know that the gifts were not just random gifts. They were very symbolic in acknowledging and revealing Jesus as the Messiah and also in foretelling things about His ministry. So, from the wise men that came to visit the Christ child, their gifts and the circumstances at that time, here are 3 insights for our meditation this morning.
1. The symbolism of the gifts
We know that:
- The gift of gold acknowledged the Kingship of Christ
Gold was a gift that denoted royalty, authority, and power. It is a gift befitting a ruler.
- The gift of frankincense acknowledged the Priestly Ministry of Christ
Frankincense was used in the offerings in the temple. They added a fragrant aroma to the sacrifices. Frankincense also was added to the oil that anointed the priests. The incense added a dimension of beauty to the worship.
- The gift of myrrh acknowledged the Sacrificial nature of Christ
Myrrh is an interesting gift. In the Old Testament we see it used as a fragrance. In the New Testament we see it used in two different ways. In Mark 15:23 we see that Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh while he was on the cross. Myrrh had a medicinal use as a mild anesthetic (Jesus didn’t want it).
In John 19:39 we see Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea preparing Jesus for burial using a mixture of aloes and myrrh.
Myrrh points to the sacrificial death of Jesus. We don’t know whether these Magi understood the significance of these gifts or not. But they were designed by God to carry a symbolic meaning.
2. The inclusiveness
Epiphany celebrates the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. It also marks the first manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles. It signals that God loves Gentiles as well as Jews—that God’s plan of salvation includes Gentiles too.
It is a celebration of the breaking down of dividing walls—the end of hostilities between groups of people. Epiphany challenges us to consider all the people whom we see as ‘outside the fold’ as actually be within the circle of God’s Grace and Love. It challenges us to abandon our tribalism (racially, nationally, linguistically, denominationally, socially, orientation-wise, politically, etc.) and to expand our tents to welcome even those whom we tend to leave out. Loving those outside our tribe is difficult—but Christ makes it possible. Christ breaks down every barrier and binds us with the common experience of His Grace and Love.
3. The Blessings – in unlikely circumstances (people, places, etc.)
It’s easy to miss because sometimes God tiptoes in at the most unlikely times and surprising places, and uses the most unlikely people.
Those magi, for example, had a star to follow but they almost missed it, by about nine miles – the distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They didn’t expect to find a king in small town, in a manger. They asked for directions in a more logical place – in Jerusalem, at the king’s palace.
The magi would be the least likely ones to come seeking the King who would be Messiah. From the Jewish perspective, who could be more foreign, unscriptural, than a group of stargazers who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? They did not know the stories and genealogy and promises of God. They had neither Torah nor tradition to go by. And yet – they were the ones who came looking for the Messiah even when the Jewish courts and kingdom of Herod wasn’t. In fact Herod told them to go ahead and find the child and then let him know where He was. Of course, the wise men did not, but the point is that the people outside of the Jewish tradition were expected to lead the way to the Christ. They were closer to finding and worshiping Christ the King, the Messiah.
Who expected God to work so silently and unobtrusively and behind the scenes in that time and that place through those people?
Miracles happen in unlikely places. They happen in small towns and small churches and even outside them. The Magi, unlikely people, were blessed: clueless (clueless about the full import and significance of the Messiah) but obedient and hopeful people.
With such unlikely people and circumstances, God shatters our human framework of beliefs, and God tiptoes in and takes the future out of our hands and our control, to reveal Himself – to reveal who He is – He is God.
God is God. His Love is Love: limitless, profound, deep and true, sometimes incomprehensible, but always inviting us to surrender and to rest. We cannot begin to fathom His awesome ways. This year as we begin our journey through 2021, let’s put ourselves in God’s wonderful and able Hands. In journeying together with God we will find ourselves truly blessed. Wish you a blessed NEW YEAR and as you follow the STAR of God’s Plan – Jesus Christ – in your life, not only will you discover blessings for yourself but that you will be a blessing for people around you.
Thank you for your wonderful plan for each of us. As your plan unfolds in our lives, give us the mind to follow you and to make ourselves available for what you would have us do. Teach us to love all people even those that are different from us. Help us find and enjoy your blessings that are meant for us as your family.