December 25 has come and gone for another year, but many Christian traditions recognize January 6 as an important day in the Christmas season. The Bible tells how Christ and His family received special visitors from the East during His infancy, which is the basis for Epiphany. While we don't know all of the details of the magi's visit, Marketing and Communications Director Dave Walters notes Epiphany illuminates important truths for Christ's followers.
Now that we’re into the first week of January, many have taken down and packed away their Christmas decorations. One home in my neighborhood had its Christmas tree at the curb on December 26! While the rest of the outdoor lights and garlands are stowed for another year, there’s one special decoration still displayed at the Walters’ house, a Moravian star.
In keeping with a family tradition, our Moravian star displays annually into January because it represents the celestial phenomenon that guided men from the East to visit the infant Christ child. The church calendar in many Christian traditions commemorates this occasion with the holiday known as Epiphany, which falls traditionally on January 6. We keep our Moravian star lit on our front porch through Epiphany, the celebration of Christ’s revelation to all nations.
Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation” and the occasion for the church holiday is described in Matthew 2. Despite what popular Christmas carols say, the Bible does not offer many specifics about the magi who visited Christ and His parents. The magi, ancient astrologers of sorts, knew something significant happened because of the special star they saw in their homeland east of Israel (possibly modern-day Iran or Iraq). They followed its light to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews. They learned from the Jewish chief priests and scribes of an ancient prophecy that identified Bethlehem as the Messiah’s birthplace (Micah 5:2). Following the star to Christ’s home there, the magi found the Child, worshipped Him, and brought costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
This familiar part of the Christmas story is not only mysterious but also meaningful. As we start a new calendar year with newsfeeds full of fear and uncertainty, let’s consider some of the truths of which Epiphany reminds us.
God Keeps His Promises
One of Christmas’ central themes is how Christ fulfilled God’s promise to send a Messiah to redeem His people. God made the first promise in Eden soon after the first sin was committed (Genesis 3:15). Subsequent covenants with other Old Testament characters like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David reinforced God’s commitment to redeem and restore His people. Despite their infidelity, God continued to pursue His children and sprinkled glimmers of hope through His prophets until “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).”
Epiphany reminds us Jesus was actually born and God keeps His promises. His followers can live confidently, joyfully, and expectantly no matter how much angst the world endures.
Christ and The Gospel Message Are For All Nations
Matthew’s gospel alone contains the story of the magi’s visit to Bethlehem, which is notable because much of his account of Christ’s life and ministry appeals to a distinctly Jewish audience. The non-Jewish magi’s visit is one of a number of examples in Matthew that demonstrate Christ as the Savior of all people. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Messiah in chapter 11 and said, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious (Isaiah 11:10).”
Epiphany shows us Christ came to save not only the Jews, but He came for all people. I’m not Jewish, but I am a child of the most high God, not a second-class citizen in the kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria!
Man’s Heart is Wicked
Before the magi made it to Joseph and Mary’s house, they stopped off in the capital city of Jerusalem and told King Herod how they had traveled to see the King of the Jews. The mission of these visitors from the East undoubtedly stirred concern in Herod, the Roman ruler over Palestine. Herod asked the magi to let him know when they found the newborn king so he might also worship him. In reality, Herod intended to kill the Child, but God warned the magi to return home another way after they found Christ (Matthew 2:12).
Herod was a very bad man and demonstrated a trend in Christ’s life. As writer Robert Rothwell notes, “Foreigners to the covenant with Israel are those most excited to see the Messiah, but Herod, one who has blood ties to this covenant, refuses to receive Him gladly. This irony will be oft-repeated during the life of Jesus.”
Epiphany reminds us that without Christ and left to our own devices, our hearts can be as wicked as Herod’s. Without Christ, we would be like those who called for His death, mocked Him on the cross, and reviled Him at every turn.
Jesus is Worthy of Our Worship
The magi traveled some distance, which in the time of Christ’s birth took time, energy, and expense. When they finally arrived at Mary and Joseph’s home, they didn’t simply pay their respects and move on. Instead, Matthew tells us as soon as the magi arrived, they worshipped the King and gave Him gifts (Matthew 2:11). While there is much discussion about the symbolism of the three gifts mentioned in the text, it is sufficient to note they brought him gifts of great value. They brought the King their very best.
How is it with you? Are you zealous to worship the King? Are you giving Him your best? It’s hard for me to protect time for daily devotions and there’s no shortage of activities to compete with corporate worship. An investment in God’s kingdom doesn’t show the same return as an investment in stocks or real estate. Epiphany shows us Christ deserves our worship and the very best of our time, talent, and resources.
So when the rest of the Christmas decorations come down, I’m going to leave the Moravian star hung on the porch until Epiphany. As its light pierces the winter darkness, I pray the truth it represents draws me closer to Christ, helps me to live faithfully, and inspires me for greater service in His kingdom.