Matthew 2:1-12 (The Epiphany of Our Lord—Series C)
“By the Leading of a Star”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
January 6, 2019
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Holy Gospel for the Epiphany of our Lord, recorded in Matthew 2:
1 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, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
“O Morning Star, how fair and bright! You shine with God’s own truth and light, A-glow with grace and mercy!” (LSB 395:1). Could these be the words of the magi who “saw his star when it rose” and came all the way from Persia to Jerusalem to worship the new “king of the Jews”? After all, it was “by the leading of a star” that God made known His “only-begotten Son to the Gentiles,” as we prayed in the Collect of the Day.
The star that these “wise men” or “magi” saw apparently had appeared to them some time before they had arrived in Jerusalem, perhaps as much as two years earlier! After they arrived, the star led them by moving in some way when the magi required further guidance, until that star stood over the exact place where the child Jesus was. I don’t see any way to regard this star as a “natural occurrence.” It was a miraculous event, a gift of God to lead the magi to the infant Christ, the Savior of the world. Did anyone else see this star? Matthew doesn’t say. If anyone did notice it, no one that we are told about seemed to perceive it as having any significance.
So, let’s talk about a star for a moment. A star gives off heat and light—think of our sun which is the closet star to Earth. God created the stars on the fourth day, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:14-18 ESV).
Light is indeed good. I am so glad that we have passed the first day of Winter, the day of the year with the least amount of daylight, and are ever so gradually adding back minutes of light day by day. Light is necessary for life as we know it. What happens to plants when they don’t get enough light? They whither and perhaps die. When people are deprived of light, as in the shorter daylight hours of the Winter, they also can suffer physical and psychological damage as those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder can attest.
Darkness, the absence of light, is a theme that is frequently found in the Bible as a metaphor for that which is not good. Which of you wants to go into a dark alley at night? In back streets and alleys, behind closed doors, in hidden places evil flourishes “in the darkness.” Are not evil deeds considered to be worse when they happen “in broad daylight”? In addition to the darkness “out there,” the metaphor also reveals the darkness within each of us. Jesus said in John 3, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20 ESV).
I certainly don’t want you to see me in my sinfulness. I don’t want you to know about my sins. I’m pretty sure you feel the same. We also want to hide our sins from God, just like Adam and Eve hid in the garden. We try to conceal our “darkness within.” We attempt to shield our evil deeds from the light of God’s Word that exposes our sins for what they truly are—thoughts, desires, words, and deeds that are contrary to God’s Word.
How would you feel if you were doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing and suddenly, someone walked into the room and turned on the light? How mortifying to get caught! How embarrassing! Immediately the guilt courses through us, the shame penetrates us! Our deed has been exposed to the light and the knowledge of another. The light of God’s Word of Law searches us out and finds us in the darkness of our sin and exposes us to God as those who are guilty of disobedience and rebellion against Him. People are not guilty of sin because of some human opinion on some issue of morality but because they are convicted by the clear Word of God. It is the Word of God in Holy Scripture that determines what is sin and what is not, whether or not you and I like the verdict that Scripture gives. We are bound to that Word because it is the true Word of God.
So God through His Word turns the light on the darkness of our sin. And what He sees is exactly as horrible and awful as we feel when we are “caught in the act” by someone. But God doesn’t turn on the light to expose our sin in order to humiliate us, drag us through the mud before the world, or even to ruin us. He lightens our darkness in order to rescue us. Remember, light is good. We read in John, chapter 1, “In [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn. 1:4-9 ESV).
And the true Light is none other than the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ. We who have been shrouded in the darkness of sin and death have the Light of God shown upon us in the person of Jesus. This Light does not kill or destroy but rescues and makes alive. This Light, who is Christ, enables us to see and to know God in His mercy and grace, who’s One-of-a-Kind Son came into this darkened world of sin and death to bring the light of forgiveness and life to everyone no matter the nature of their sins.
And so it was that Jesus allowed Himself to be enveloped in the darkness of our sins, oppressed by the darkness of our failure to do good. On the cross, for us, Jesus entered that darkness: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45 ESV). Jesus became the “darkness of the world” for us so that we might become the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus for us, John can write us this Good News, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:7-9 ESV).
How good it is indeed to be in the Light of Christ! It is the light of the Gospel of Jesus that shines on us and delivers to us by faith the forgiveness of sins and the new life of salvation that we have by God’s grace. “[God’s] word is a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path” (Ps. 119:105 ESV). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6 ESV).
It is to this Light, Jesus Christ, to which Epiphany and its Season directs us. It is this “Season of Light” which emphasizes Jesus’ manifestation (His “epiphany”) as true God and true Man. As we read in Revelation 22, it is to Jesus, the root and the descendant of David, the bright Morning Star, to whom we are guided by the Word of the Gospel. You see, the wise men were guided to the infant God-Man Jesus by the Scriptures of Micah 5 and by the leading of a very real, yet miraculous, celestial star. By the leading of “star,” Jesus Himself and His Word, we are brought to saving trust in Him as true God and Man, the Light of the world, our Savior. By grace through faith in Jesus, we receive the forgiveness of all our sins and the ability to walk in the light even as He Himself is the Light.
“O Morning Star, how fair and bright! You shine with God’s own truth and light, A-glow with grace and mercy!” (LSB 395:1). These could not have been the words of the magi who “saw his star when it rose.” Rather, these are our words of praise and honor to Jesus, not a star in the sky. For Jesus is the bright Morning Star, the true Light which enlightens everyone through His Holy Word, whereby we receive the forgiveness of our sins so that we no longer walk in darkness but have the light of life (John 8:12). Let us pray:
Lord, when You look on us in love,
At once there falls from God above
A ray of purest pleasure.
Your Word and Spirit, flesh and blood
Refresh our souls with heav’nly food.
You are our dearest treasure!
Let Your mercy
Warm and cheer us!
O draw near us!
For You teach us
God’s own love through You has reached us. (LSB 395:3)
Text: © 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110000752
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.