Pastor Russ Norris
A Star in the East
The Christmas season ends with Epiphany, celebrating the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Sometimes known as the Feast of the Three Kings, Epiphany always falls on January 6th, twelve days after Christmas. In 2019 something rather rare will happen. Epiphany will fall on a Sunday! When it doesn’t (which is most of the time) Epiphany tends to be ignored or forgotten.
That’s a shame, because Epiphany is very important for those of us who are not Jewish. I suspect that’s most of us. Epiphany marks the revealing of Christ to the nations – the gentiles – the whole world. Remember, Jesus was Jewish. He was a Jewish Messiah. The first Christians were all Jewish too. According to the story in the Gospel of Matthew, the first non-Jewish people to worship Christ were the Wise Men, the Magi, who came from the East, “following yonder star”.
Who were these strange visitors from afar? Some people think they came from Persia, in modern-day Iran. There’s no evidence to support that. There’s no evidence they were kings, either. They were probably astrologers, who studied the stars and planets for advice on how to live our life here on earth. The word “Magi” comes from the same root as “magician”. But we don’t really know who they were. The Bible doesn’t even say there were three of them – only that they were “wise men” from the East.
Epiphany was much more important for the first Christians than Christmas. In fact, Christmas was not widely celebrated until centuries after Jesus’ birth. In the Eastern Orthodox churches Epiphany is still considered more important. Epiphany means “to reveal” or “to manifest”. Beginning with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th and continuing through the Epiphany season, we celebrate the revealing of Jesus to the whole world, beginning with the visit of the Magi.
The lessons for the Sundays in Epiphany all focus on the revealing of Christ, beginning with his baptism in the River Jordan. This year’s gospel lessons are mostly taken from the Gospel of Luke, and include Jesus’ first sermon in his home town of Nazareth, the calling of the first disciples, and his Sermon on the Mount. Throughout the Epiphany season we learn that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jewish Christians were uncertain about whether gentiles, or pagans, could even be members of the church. Some thought that Greek and Roman believers should be circumcised and become Jews first, and then join the church. Others, like Paul and Peter, argued that Jesus was Lord of the whole world, including both Jews and gentiles. Eventually, the early church sided with Peter and Paul, which is why we are all Christians today!
Come and join us on Sunday, January 6th, as we sing “We three kings of Orient are bearing gifts we traverse afar – field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.”