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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 1/6

In some Christian cultures Epiphany is a big deal, on a par with Christmas, even bigger in some cases.  Not so here though.  By January 6th people are back to their regular routines, back to work, back to school, it’s not a federal holiday, not even a postal holiday.  Unless it happens to fall on a Sunday, to mark Epiphany you have to be pretty intentional about it and even then it’s not easy because most churches don’t have Epiphany services or they use the Sunday before to tell the story of the Wise Men.  Anyway, it’s easy for Epiphany to just kind of slip by, part of the post-Christmas doldrums.

          The story of the Wise Men though is a story worth telling.  In our minds it’s hard not to blend it in with the Christmas Eve story from Luke although we really should treat each of them separately, and Matthew’s version is just as wondrous and mysterious as Luke’s maybe even more so, with the arrival of those exotic visitors from the East, visitors who don’t really fit; they’re different.  Even in children’s Christmas pageants, the costumes of the Wise Men tend to be notched up at least a little bit, to show the difference between them and the other characters. 

But then, when you get right down to it, none of the other characters really fit either; the story and all the characters are very familiar to those of us who have heard it since childhood, but none of the Christmas story from a baby being born to two poor people, to shepherds being the first to hear the news, to foreigners coming to pay their respects, none of it is really what would be expected concerning the birth of the Messiah.

  The Wise Men seem especially out of place though particularly because the general consensus is that Matthew was writing for an audience that was largely Jewish, trying to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  He quotes a lot of Old Testament passages but even more, especially regarding the Christmas story, he stylizes things using Old Testament imagery in order to make his point.  For example…Joseph receives messages through dreams like Old Testament Joseph and Jesus’ escape from Herod is very much like Moses’ escape from Pharaoh.  So Matthew uses images that are familiar to tell the story of Jesus.  He wants Jewish people to make the connections. 

But then the Wise Men break into this Jewishness.  In Matthew’s version of things these foreigners from the East are the first to worship Jesus and offer the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Matthew wants to make clear that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who relives the history of his people, the one who brings Israel’s history to its climax, fulfilling the messianic promises.  The arrival of the Wise Men though makes this more than a Jewish story.  Matthew lets it be known that the gospel story he has to tell and will tell in the following chapters, is grounded in the Old Testament but it’s not just for the people of the Old Testament; it’s for the nations, all of them. 

The line that always gets my attention in the story of the Wise Men is the last one, “they left for their own country by another road.”  The Wise Men came to Bethlehem one way, they wind up going home a different way.  The reason, as the story is told, is that they were wise enough to know that King Herod was up to no good, threatened as he was by the word that a new King of the Jews had been born.  To avoid being part of what Herod was up to, they went home a different way.  They had to.

          It wasn’t the first change in direction they had made.  As students of the stars they had observed a star that indicated a royal birth.  Logic and other wisdom they had accumulated told them that such a birth should take place in Jerusalem, so that’s where they went, but they found no baby there.  With the help of Herod’s scriptural consultants though, it was suggested that Bethlehem was where this event would actually take place.  The Wise Men said thank you and went on their way, being wise enough to know that they had been wrong, that just following the star and using their prior knowledge wasn’t going to get them to where they wanted to be.  They were close; their own wisdom got them close; but only with the direction of scripture could they make it all the way.

          They found the child and they worshiped him, but then left for their own country by another road.  Their journey wasn’t over because of course the journey is never over.  They had new roads to take, roads that might take them to places they hadn’t been.  In that way, we’re like the Wise Men, we’re on a journey of faith and hopefully like them, we do have those times when the journey brings us to where we want to be, the light shines in our darkness and it’s all clear and we know it’s true.  The mystery isn’t all solved, it never is; but at least for awhile, we can dwell in the mystery of God’s presence and worship and offer what gifts we have. 

          Like the Wise Men though, we don’t stay there forever.  We go home by another road because we’re changed just as they were.  Following that different road we observe different signs, we pay attention to different texts and different interpretations and maybe sometimes we wind up off by a few miles like they did.  But asking the right questions, always open to new insights and new interpretations, we find something new and come back to the mystery and offer our worship and gifts. 

          The Feast of the Epiphany and the season that follows is about uncovering the identity of the child the Wise Men found and worshiped.  As we travel through life, persistent in our quest, those revelations and insights concerning the Word made flesh do come, but often they are fleeting and always mysterious, moving us on to another part of the journey.  Epiphany is about the journey.  May we be wise enough to follow the signs.     


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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