Yesterday was Epiphany. This celebration, which began in the Christian East in association with the baptism of Jesus, later became associated in the fourth century (in the West) with the visit of the magi to the home of the young Jesus in Bethlehem. The account in Matthew 2:1-12 introduces us to the events that followed the most amazing historical record regarding the birth of a King of the Jews in a cave-stable in Bethlehem. The sense of impending disaster literally jumps out at you in the first two verses of Matthew 2.
Herod the Great, an insanely suspicious fellow who assassinated his wife, mother-in-law, eldest son, and later two other sons, was no friend to anyone who was called the "king of the Jews." His actions reveal just how mad he really was about protecting his own power and place.
What is most striking about this passage is generally missed by modern readers. Magi were the least likely folks to be invited to such a celebration. One Jewish rabbi, just prior to the time of Jesus, suggested that any Jew who had dealings with magi should be put to death. When you combine the genealogy of Matthew 1, with the four women listed there (not one of them was of respectable character, some being sexually promiscuous while others were foreigners), with the visit of magi in Matthew 2 you have a missional moment like very few in the Gospels. The followers of Jesus were not to become a "members-only club" for the select few people.
As I read this text during the past week, and preached from it yesterday, I had to ask myself: "Who would I leave out of the Church if I had my way?" Many people came to mind. I immediately saw the sinfulness of my response in light of the epiphany, the unveiling of the Christ who came to redeem the earth, not just to redeem my kind of people. The gospel of Jesus is about inclusion. There is no doubt that some will finally be excluded since Jesus warned about such a tragic end so plainly. But for now we must humanly make sure that we do not build a fortress that excludes the people we don’t like. That’s what I took away from Epiphany Sunday this year.
I wrote an entire ACT 3 Weekly on Epiphany today and both the article and the podcast of this article will soon be available at our ACT 3 Web site. You can subscribe to these weekly articles if you sign up on our home page. I hope you will.
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Have you seen the new movie The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson? It is really beautiful. He makes a convincing argument that the Epiphany actually occurred on about December 25, 2 BC, the day Jupiter fully stopped and retrograded in the southern skies over Bethlehem. He also argues that the Magi were not mere Gentile magicians, but serious scholars and probably followers of the Torah, perhaps even descendants of Daniel. I highly recommend the movie, or and his presentation at http://bethlehemstar.net.
The gospel IS also exclusive in one sense.. IMO, Jesus’ statement, “No one comes to Father but through me” totally dismisses all other religions as ineffectual for eternal life. So I think those who reject HIM are probably the ones we OUGHT to exclude, and I mean “not include” not “reject”.
But “whosoever believeth in Him” is the one we embrace without reservation.