Epiphany Sermon, 2019

Epiphany, 2019
Matthew 2:1-12
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

What do the magi, professional wrestling, and Friedrich Nietzsche have in common?

The magi are a mysterious group. We don’t know who they were, exactly.

And we don’t know from where, exactly, they came.

Scripture says, very clearly, that they’re “from the east” (Matthew 2:1). But can we be more specific?

Some call the magi kings, but not Scripture.

Scripture doesn’t even give us the specific number of magi. We know there were more than one, and we know they brought three gifts.

Tradition teaches that there were three wisemen and kings (of orient), named Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.

But we don’t know.

And that’s just asking who and how many.

Others, trying to answer the why or how of the magi, suggest that Zoroaster, is the magi’s origin.

Zoroaster, an ancient so-called wiseman, from whom comes Zoroastrianism, believed a single god created two spirits: light and dark, good and bad.

And like all forms of moralistic-deism, Zoroastrianism teaches that you just have to do the right thing all the time, and you might be okay in the end.

We don’t know exactly when Zoroaster lived or exactly where. Some say six thousand years before Christ, some say six hundred. And the exact location of his life isn’t agreed upon either, but it’s middle-eastern.

That Zoroaster was an ancient, eastern wiseman, and that the magi, the wisemen, came from the east, suggests—to some—that the magi were sent by Zoroaster.

There’s not a single bit in the Bible that suggests this, and there’s not a thing gained if it’s true.

But to answer my question—the magi, professional wrestling, and Friedrich Nietzsche have this in common: Nietzsche wrote a book called Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Richard Strauss composed music inspired by that book, the most famous part of that music is called “Sunrise,” but the whole work is called Thus Spoke Zarathustra. And “The Nature Boy,” Ric Flair, used, as his walk-out music, “Sunrise” from Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Here’s the connection: Zarathustra, in the Avestan language, is how you say Zoroaster, and some people think Zoroaster sent the magi to worship the Christ-child.

He didn’t. And I have a better guess that’s biblically plausible and theologically helpful and comforting.

The magi are there because of the prophet Daniel.

The term magi seems applicable to a group of people over time. It’s not a race or a family but a brotherhood. Magi can refer to wisemen, philosophers, astrologers, and the like. They’re learned easterners.

But in the Old Testament, the word magi is used only in Daniel.

And, as it is written, Daniel himself is given authority over all the wisemen of Babylon (cf. Daniel 2:48; 5:10-12).

That the term magi, used in the book of Daniel to refer to a certain group of people, coupled with the fact that the magi come “from the east” (Matthew 2:1), suggests that the magi were from Babylon, where Daniel was, and—perhaps, even—that the magi sought the one who had been “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2) because, as a group, they’d received and been brought up in the teachings of Daniel.

Okay. So what? Who cares?

What do we gain from it being Daniel instead of Zoroaster? The magi got there—what difference does it make who sent them?

That it is the Epiphany of our Lord, we must say this:

An epiphany is manifestation of previously unknown information. The magi worship the Christ-child. What was before unknown is now known—who, exactly, the Christ is. Jesus, son of Mary, the Son of God.

But the Epiphany of our Lord can reveal new information to us, as well.

And even if it’s not new information, it’s information that’s worth hearing again and again, every January 6th, if needed.

God desires all to hear His Word, believe, and be saved.

The mighty works of God in the Old Testament—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace, Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar—God performed mighty works that knowledge of Him would be revealed to all and not just some.

Do you ever wonder if God’s Word is truly meant for you? Do you ever think yourself one undesired by God?

Are you ever in terror over your sins? Your thoughts, words, or deeds? Do you feel saved?

Do you pray every night, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, as the Small Catechism teaches?

Are you Christian in name only? Lutheran in name only? Faithful in name only? Happy in name only?

We all have our days.

And on those days you need to know that God desires all to hear Him, believe in Jesus Christ, and be saved.

Epiphany celebrates the revelation of who Jesus is—the savior of the world, learned easterners and all included.

This Jesus is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.

He is the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness has not, will not, and cannot overcome (cf. John 1:5).

We are people who walked in darkness, but we’ve seen a great light. We dwell in a land of deep darkness, but on us a light has shone. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given (cf. Isaiah 9:2, 6).

His name is Jesus, and He was born on Christmas Day to save us all come Good Friday.

It’s always been this way with God.

He desires the world to be saved. He desires the world to come and worship Christ the Lord.

He gave Daniel the words, and Daniel spoke and wrote, and taught. And those who heard him—Babylonians, foreigners, and all—those who believed in God, those Daniel taught, were wisemen and magi, of a kind, who saw the signs and sought the Child, worshipping Him, and bringing Him gifts.

God desires to save the world. And He saves the world. It’s always been this way with God.

And it’s always been this way with the world: the world seeks the destruction of the faith.

Left to the devices of the world, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—and how many others—would’ve been burned in the furnace?

All Jerusalem is troubled when Herod is troubled, because all Jerusalem knew how hot Herod’s anger could burn.

The world seeks victory through conquest, through strength—but never finds it.

Unbelief is a hopeless darkness that manifests as either arrogance or despair.

We all have our days.

And on those days you need to know that God desires you to hear Him, believe in Jesus Christ, and be saved.

Into our darkness shines the Light of the World, Jesus the Christ, and you, the Christian, the Church, the Body of Christ, you receive victory on account of what appears to be weakness.

God is born a child. In Bethlehem the poor. Of Nazareth, no good.

And that child grows and lives and dies, violently, in the city of peace.

We’d never pick these things to save us.

But the things we’d pick would never save us.

They must be revealed. Made manifest.

We must receive an epiphany, and today and every January 6th, we have, we do.

Here is the one born King of the Jews—and King of the World—the Savior of us all—Jesus the Christ. We’ve come to worship him.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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