Epiphany Sunday – January 7, 2018
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5”In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6”’But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)
It has been said that no man is an island. I bet Daniel felt like one. At a young age in the Old Testament, Daniel had been pulled away from his family, his home, his people, and his kingdom. He was forced to serve the foreign king of Babylon. Locked away behind enemy walls, Daniel must have felt like an island. He would never again see his loved ones, his temple, his home again.
And he knew exactly why. “I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures…that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” Realizing his situation and understanding God’s judgment, Daniel “turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” And these were the words of his prayer: “We have sinned and done wrong…Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem.”
Daniel may have looked like a lonely island of a man. But he wasn’t. “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!” And the Lord did act. He sent the angel Gabriel to speak this message: “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding.”
That insight and understanding, the wisdom of the Lord, pointed Daniel to what was to come. In one of the most puzzling prophesies in all of Scripture, the Lord showed Daniel that the Jews would return to Jerusalem. He showed Daniel how they would rebuild the temple. He showed Daniel the disasters that were still coming.
And then he showed Daniel what it all would lead to. After all of these things, “the Anointed One, [the Messiah], the ruler” would finally arrive. Daniel himself wouldn’t live long enough to see it himself, but it seems he passed that faithful knowledge on to other generations in the East.
Everybody else seemed to have forgotten God’s promise to send his Messiah. When Jesus finally was born in Bethlehem, only shepherds came to see him. No kings bothered to arrive. The crowds stayed home.
No one gave Jesus’ earthly family a room in the inn. It seemed that like Daniel in Babylon, this family, Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, had become an island unto themselves.
The Gospel of John summarizes the scene with these ominous words: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.” We don’t always understand it either. We just celebrated the birth of Christ at Christmas, but here we are now back into our busy routines. Like Bethlehem and Jerusalem at the birth of Christ, we have become too involved with the world around us. And when we get wrapped up in our daily lives, God and the light of his word get pushed to the side.
Even our new year’s resolutions illustrate how quickly our priorities get messed up. Did you make one of those this year? New year’s resolutions can be good things, as long as our priorities remain where they should. People make resolutions about food, exercise, drinking, working more, working less…but what about the things that really matter?
Did anyone make a new year’s resolution to be more faithful about their personal devotion life? or about attending Bible Class in the new year? or being more faithful about coming to church?
New year’s resolutions can be a good thing, but if they have the wrong focus then we have already started the new year on bad footing. Without Christ at the center of our life this year, things will start to fall apart. Loneliness sets in. And you might start to feel like an island of solitude.
No one in Jerusalem was looking for the newborn Christ. But there were some in the East, perhaps descendants of Daniel’s wise men, that saw the light of the Savior. Making the long, arduous journey to Jerusalem, they asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Surprisingly, Jerusalem’s religious leaders knew the details about the coming Savior. When Herod asked them where the baby was born, they said, “In Bethlehem in Judea…for this is what the prophet has written.”
They followed the star until it stopped, right over Bethlehem. “They were overjoyed,” Scripture says. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” It is not often the wisest people on earth bow before a little boy. But these men knew the importance of the situation. And to show their appreciation for the arrival of the Lord, “They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”
They gave their best to the Lord, because they understood that their Father in heaven had given the world his very best. His one and only Son, born into this world, would suffer and die. And it all went back to Daniel’s prayer in the Old Testament: “We have sinned and done wrong
This morning we join those believers of past ages, men like Daniel and these wise men, people like Joseph and Mary, and we come before Jesus with repentant and thankful hearts. We implore the Lord as Daniel did: Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!” He has. And this year, he will continue to listen. He will continue to forgive. And he will act, working all things for your good.
This year, make it your new year’s resolution to live for your Lord with a thankful heart. You are not alone. You are not an island. Your Father in heaven gave you his very best: his Son. Now we can give him our best in return. Amen.