Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany: The Light Has Come

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:1-6 NIV)
Today, January 6, begins the season of Epiphany, celebrated by the Church around the world. Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation,” and in this season we remember how Jesus was first revealed to the world. The story is told in Matthew 2.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)
These wise men were not Jews but men of other nations. They were pagans, which is to say, they had no covenant with the God of the Jews. Yet they came seeking the King of the Jews, for they had seen His star, and they greatly desired to honor Him.

Throughout the Bible, significant shifts among kings and kingdoms were often indicated by the symbolism of stars and other cosmological events. We see this, for example, in Genesis 37, where Joseph’s prophetic dream of the sun, moon and stars depicted his father, mother and brothers all bowing down to him. Or in Revelation 12:1, the great sign that appeared in heaven, of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars,” bearing the Child (Christ) who is caught up to the throne of God, and from there rules over all the nations of the earth. Likewise, Biblical language about sun, moon and stars being darkened signifies the fall of kings and nations. We can see this in prophecies concerning the fall of Babylon, Edom and Egypt (respectively, in Isaiah 13:10, Isaiah 34:4-5 and Ezekiel 32:7-8).

So, these wise men were watching the stars. But they may also have been aware of a prophecy about it in the Hebrew Scriptures: “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Now they had seen that Star and followed on to find the One it represented, who was born King of the Jews.

They went to Jerusalem not because the Star had led them there but more likely because Jerusalem was the capitol city of Judea — and where else would you expect to find the new King but in the capitol city? “Where is He?” they asked. After discovering another ancient prophecy that God’s great Shepherd King was to be born in Bethlehem (which was the “city of David”), the angry and deceitful King Herod (who was not of the line of David) sent them on their way.
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (Matthew 2:9-10)
Earlier, they had lost sight of the Star when they headed into Jerusalem, but now as they reoriented themselves toward the little town of Bethlehem they saw it once again. They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. Or, to use the words of Isaiah, they looked and were radiant and their hearts throbbed and swelled with joy. And the Star led them all the way to the newborn King.
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
In Epiphany, we remember that the promise of Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled. The Star has appeared, the glory of the Lord has arisen and the Light has been manifested in the world, not only to Israel but to the nations. The wise men who followed that Star brought their treasures of gold and incense to proclaim the praise of the Lord and honor the King of the Jews. This was but the beginning, for at the end of the book of Matthew, we find Jesus possessing all authority in heaven and on earth and sending out His disciples to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20).