January 6 has long been the date the Western church has observed the Feast of the Epiphany. From the Greek for “appearance” or “manifestation,” Epiphany celebrates the appearance of the Son of God among us as one of us — both fully divine and fully human. Epiphany also marks the end of “the twelve days of Christmas” that began on December 25.
Epiphany has long become identified with the arrival of the magi, those pagan astrologers who made their surprising appearance in Matthew 2 to worship and honor the baby Jesus. It is not only striking in Matthew 2 that the religiously uncouth magi are seeking to worship the newborn Jewish king, but that the religious leaders of the day are not. This is the great irony in the Epiphany event. The pagan astrologers (the science guys) bow their knee (Matthew 10–11), but the religious of the day turn their backs.
Verse 4 says that King Herod assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people, and he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” We hear about these trained theologians of the day. They know the prophecies and where they point. They’ve read and re-read the Hebrew Scriptures, yet they still wondered where the Messiah was to be born?’ It should have been a no brainer for these guys: Bethlehem. Check Micah!
And so every year we read about how these pagan astrologers travelled hundreds of miles and months on the road while the religious leaders, full of insider jargon, don’t bother to make the relatively short five-mile journey to Bethlehem to check it out for themselves.
It reminds me of the old V-8 commercial; where consumers are portrayed having mini-epiphanies that somehow, they missed out on an opportunity to drink cold soup over another beverage. And when they see the light they smack themselves on the forehead saying, “Wow, I could have had a V-8.”
May the wonder, mystery, and irony of a story continue to baffle our minds given the outcome as we have come to know it. May the truth cause us to slap ourselves when we recognize the everyday epiphanies; surprises that direct and redirect and thus move us to “go home by another way.” And may this new year be one of opportunity; and not regret for having missed something crucial to our growth and further understanding of God’s will and purpose.
See ya’ in church. Pastor Bob