EPIPHANY MESSAGE – THE BETHLEHEM STAR
January 10, 2021
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘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’…
Holiday seasons are filled with memories of many kinds. Some warm our hearts years down the road, some remind us of longing and loss, and some are just a little embarrassing.
And one of those for me is of the director of the youth choir in Oradell, NJ telling me as a youngster, “When we are singing in front of the congregation, you may move your lips, but please do not let any sound escape from your mouth.”
Now that may be because I can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket, but what she told my mother was that she was afraid of the altered text I would come up with.
I just couldn’t help myself. “We three kings of Orient are, smoking on a rubber cigar. It was loaded, it exploded… We two kings of Orient are…”
So let us talk about those kings.
To begin with, they almost certainly were not kings.
The text calls them magoi, which in Latin becomes Magi, which in the translation I just read from is rendered Wise Men, adding the description, “from the East.”
The magi of Jesus’ time were Zoroastrian priests and astrologers, known to the Roman world for their supernatural wisdom and insight, mages who practiced magic. They were followers of an ancient Persian wisdom teacher Zarathustra, and thus were almost certainly not Jews.
And there may or may not have been three. We take that number from the three gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Later story telling gives them names, and in some cases expands the number.
They followed a star, which has given historians and astronomers fits ever since, trying to come up with a plausible candidate for the heavenly phenomenon.
Just recently, some of us have been looking for the “Bethlehem Star” an especially bright planetary conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter which was supposed to be particularly brilliant on December 21, but for us was hiding behind the clouds.
Following a “star”, whatever it might have been, they were come to pay homage to the King of the Jews.
Which did not make Herod, who fancied himself as the current and future King of the Jews, very happy, for if there is one thing that kings and would be kings throughout history have in common it is their hatred of the very thought of someone replacing them.
Thus Herod’s instructions to them to go find this child and report back to him, pretending a desire to join them, but really looking for information to help exterminate a rival.
And so the themes of Epiphany, that we may have a plan, but that God acts in God’s own way and time…
A humble child, born to humble parents, eclipses the power of a king.
And that child, grown to be a man, wanders the highways and byways, preaching of God’s love and proclaiming the kingdom of God to be at hand, in the hearts and actions of God’s faithful, not in the palaces and parades and proclamations of the rich and powerful.
And that child, grown to be a man, is put to death by the machinations of the politicians and power-brokers, but death cannot hold him, and through their zeal in loving God and neighbor, his followers go on, to use the words of the book of Acts, to turn the world upside down.
Jesus, whom John calls the Light of the World, says to those who would follow him,
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
In days to come, may we each make that our guiding star, our joy and our delight.
In the name of God,
our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.