Epiphany Sunday

Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2:1-12

The Holy Gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer


Laura & I have just come back from visiting Laura’s family in SC over the holiday. I’ve been going there for a decade now and I am still stumbling across small towns. I grew up in the small town of Logan, OH and Laura grew up in the small town of Newberry, SC so we are used to small towns. Our towns are like the county seats but these other smaller places are more like villages that you can pass through and not see a gas station or a market.

The thing about growing up in rural areas is that they are a lot of other smaller towns around you. Again, I’ve been going there for a decade and still encounter places I never seen before (or sometimes an area I know but from a different direction and it all looks completely different.) I still can’t get around without GPS, and sometimes the GPS doesn’t even know where I’m trying to go 🙂

But there is also a lot of curiosity and wonderment when GPS lets me down and I’m left to my own to wonder around. These are not always Laura’s favorite part of our trips though because I’m like “oh, look at that over there” and she’s yawning and like “yelp, that’s such and such.” (To be fair the roles are reversed when we go to the Hocking Hills and Laura is ooh’d and awed and I’m bored.) But there is some excitement in wondering…whether it’s a new store, a new hiking path, a new town…there’s always a sense of awe.


The wise ones are wondering around following a star in awe of what the astrology is telling them. They cannot know they are the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, they are not from the region and not Jewish. They are only pursuing a star, not a world-changing encounter between God and humans.

The wise ones who descend on Jesus’ childhood home are both “royals” and of the “nations.” They do not belong on Jesus’ doorstep. They do not belong in the story of salvation. But when they park their camels in the driveway, when Mary opens the door, when they lay their expensive and inappropriate gifts at the feet of a toddler Jesus, they become central characters in the narrative.

  • Is their epiphany a flash of insight, a lightning bolt of recognition? 
  • Or is it a gradual awakening, a gnawing wondering, a slowly unfolding understanding? 
  • And will the wise ones, years later, still are memorized by Jesus? 

Remember the followers of Jesus who don’t recognize Jesus after his resurrection UNTIL they see him break the bread at Emmaus? Do they not say to each other and probably their friends, “How could we not have known? Why did it take us so long? What were we thinking?”

In Jesus’ epiphany, much is revealed. About Jesus. About God. About us. And whether that epiphany explodes like a bomb in our brains or unfolds like a flower in our hearts, all are drawn to his light.


On a more personal note, I find myself relating to the Magi here on a few levels: As someone with a tendency to spend too much time in his head, the Magi are a reminder that the mind and the soul can become one in our quest for the Divine. 

As much as anyone can tell, astrology was an odd combination of science and magic in the ancient world, so perhaps their commitment to spirituality and to the observance of the natural courses of creation leading them to God is a helpful example in a time of changing climate and uncertainty about our future. Their heeding divine warnings about a perilous future if they keep their present path and deciding on an alternate course to prevent needless tragedy seems like a wise example here.

The other level at which I find myself appreciating the Magi here is being a Lutheran in the rural southeast and southwest Ohio. When we have visitors from the local Baptist, Methodist, or non-denominational churches, one gets the impression that sometimes they have no idea quite what to do with us and our peculiar ways as we offer vessels of gold and rich incense at the altar of the Lord while adorned with unfamiliar vestments and saying or chanting strange prayers. Still, the message here is clear; gifts given by sincere hearts are acceptable to Christ whether they come from unfussy shepherds or boogied up Magi.

The story of the Magi and Epiphany is a message of warning to those who are trying to stop the flow of God’s gracious and liberating work in the world; you can do whatever you want, pull any strings you want, commit any atrocity you want, but you will not win. More importantly, it is a story of comfort to those who are on spiritual journeys or who find themselves feeling strange or outside of the regular come-and-go of life in either their church or their communities. 

Whether the light of the Epiphany enables us to get a taste of our old home as we make a different life in new lands; or encourages us to be more welcoming of those who are traveling across borders; or shows the cruelty of rulers who abuse children in the name of politics; or brings our minds and souls into a singular commitment to God; or helps us own our place adoring and following a Christ who accepts our quirkiness without shame; or helps us to be more appreciative and understanding of those with different religious traditions than our own; or some other profound message that is no doubt embedded in this rich, but surprisingly brief, story, it is a light we need in our time. May it shine all the more brightly on all of those who encounter it.


The wise ones we meet in Matthew’s Gospel would have passed through many small towns in pursuit of the star, as out of place in ancient Israel as south of the border immigrants are in Dayton, or this Buckeye Boy (with all my OSU stuff) going to SC. Mary does not hesitate to invite them into her home, to introduce them to her son, to receive their well-intentioned but wildly inappropriate gifts. Because she knew they would come. Maybe not these particular strangers, but she knew that the world would come to meet her son. And she knew that she would welcome them in his name. That this child would be light to the nations. That in opening her door to the traveling strangers, she is opening her door to the world.

Mary also knows that they cannot stay. Their departure is not a slight. It is a necessary part of the story. They will carry news of Christ the king to their own people, in their own language, in their own way. Expanding the love of God in Christ to places of which Mary cannot even dream.

As we hear this message tonight/today and then go about our week as usual, let’s remember that not everyone is welcome all the time. Not in churches; not in synagogs; not in masques; not in our towns; not in our state; and definitely not in our country. And not far from us now, migrants bused to our city (and others) from our country’s southern border, will be settling for the night in converted hotel rooms, police station lobbies, and tent cities in public parks. They are tired and terrified and far from home. Strangers to us and we to them.

In welcoming the wise ones into her home, Mary opens the door to the whole world. We are invited to do the same: to welcome the stranger to our country, our state, our cities, and our congregation. Sometimes they stay; sometimes they continue on. But they will always, if Mary has her way, be invited in and welcome at our door.