06 January 2009

The Epiphany of Our Lord

Today brings us to the great feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord. It has also been called "Christmas for the Gentiles," and, in fact, has been celebrated for much longer in the liturgical year than Christmas, December 25, itself. On this day the Church celebrates not only the Word made flesh, but also the fact that the very Word, the Son of God, has revealed Himself as the salvation and life of the world.

The Eastern Church celebrates this day by hearing the story of Jesus' being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Forerunner. Here the Holy Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--is clearly revealed. Here the Son of God reveals Himself as the one who steps into the chaotic, death-filled waters of our world and our lives in order to conquer sin, death, and the devil. It's a wonderful preview of His ultimate work of mercy and salvation when He goes to the cross and rises from the grave to smash the serpent's head, forgive our sins, and bring life and immortality to light. In the Western Church, we celebrate our Lord's Baptism on the Sunday following the Epiphany.

On this day of Epiphany the Western Church looks to the story of the Magi visiting the Infant Christ as the Gospel reading for the day. When these "wise men" (scientists? scholars? royalty? One reads various opinions.) pay a visit to the Infant Lord Jesus, two things happen. First, our Lord Jesus--God in diapers, remember--reveals Himself to the Gentiles as the salvation of the world, the source of God's grace, life, and light. Second, the Magi respond in the only proper way possible: they pay Him homage by giving gifts and they bow down to worship Him.

A star may have led the Magi to the Infant Savior, but He is the true light of God who shines His light of truth, forgiveness and life to dispel our lies, our sins, and our separation from God. But this glimpse of light in a house in Bethlehem pales by comparison with the revelation of God's forgiveness, mercy, and life in the darkness of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb. The Magi certainly brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the Infant King is the true gift from God to us. In Him we see the boundless love and mercy of God. In Him we have remission of sins. In Him we are restored to the image of God that Adam and Eve disposed of in the Garden. And so we most certainly can bring Him our gifts, especially the gift of faith (which we receive from Him in the first place) and the gift of our "bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1).

Isaiah 52:7 says, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'" The One who brings good news sits on His mother's lap as Magi from the east adore Him. The One who was born of the Virgin brings good news of our happiness and peace with God Himself. The One who was laid in a manger also publishes His salvation for all to receive, trust. and enjoy.

This Epiphany Lord, this Infant Savior, this Bringer and Publisher of good news and salvation, is also our light and life. He is the focal point of our worship and of all our life, because He is our temple. As we heard on Christmas Day, "The Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us." As the Apostle John says in Revelation 21:22-26: "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations."

So, on this day when the Church observes the Epiphany of Our Lord, we do well to consider and celebrate it as one of the highest feast days of all. God's Light reveals Himself in the flesh and for the salvation of all people. Yes, the nations, the Gentiles--you and I--are brought into God's eternal kingdom. The only fitting response is to bow down and worship.

"As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold;
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward beaming bright;
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led by Thee.

"As with joyful steps they sped,
Savior, to Thy lowly bed,
There to bend the knee before
Thee, whom heav'n and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat." (LSB 397:1-2)

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