The Out-of-Towners

January 3, 2021 The Epiphany of the Lord (Cycle B)

The tie in between today’s readings: The Once and Future King

Psalm 72:1-2;7-8;10-13, Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:2-6, Matthew 2:1-12

When it comes to legendary kings, who pops into your mind? Do you think of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table? Maybe, Tolkien’s Aragorn, the king of Gondor? How about Charlemagne? Let’s not forget to give Good King Wenceslas his props. For the most part, great monarchs make our list because of the admirable traits that they possess. We expect them to be compassionate, just, and principled. They should also be peace-loving, but, if it came to war, our sovereigns need to be powerful and fearless, crushing all oppressors in battle. They would be along the lines of the king in today’s reading, Psalm 72:1-2;7-8;10-13. If you could find this ruler, would you traverse the earth to become a citizen of his country? Would you pledge your fidelity and bow your knee? Since Psalm 72 is a Messianic Psalm, we know that there is such a one worthy of your sacrifice and loyalty: Jesus Christ. Today’s gospel in Matthew 2:12 tells us about the magi who did make that trip to seek Him out. We don’t know much about these wisemen. Can’t tell you how many there were. We aren’t sure why the sighting of that star motivated them into action. Even today, people still speculate on what the Christmas star, itself, actually was. What we do know is that one they came knocking on Herod’s palace door asking for directions.

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” they asked. The question shook Herod, the current king of the Jews, to the core. The treachery in those days required rulers to always be looking over their shoulders. Notorious for murdering all suspected rivals, the paranoid Herod was no exception. But now, the star heralded prophesized One was on the horizon!  A vastly different matter than he was used to altogether. After making his guests comfortable in the court’s green room, he went on a one-man rampage to seek and destroy this usurping Messiah. Summoning the chief priests and scribes they told him, that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. I never understood why the Jewish clergy didn’t join the magi in the quest, after all, wasn’t He was their Messiah? Wouldn’t they at least want to know if it was true? Instead of dispatching spies, Herod directed the wisemen to Bethlehem with the promise that they would come back and tell him where the child was so that he may worship Him also. After leaving the palace, the Christmas star reappeared and led them to the now toddler baby Jesus’ house. They worshipped Him and gave their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. With their mission accomplished they took the long way home after God told them about Herod in a dream. Realizing the double cross, Herod ordered all male children in the Bethlehem area two years and under to be slaughtered. Too late, the Holy Family had already escaped into Egypt. We can learn a few things from this part of the Christmas story. First, like the magi, God blesses those who diligently seek Him. Second, evil will do its’ damage, but the Lord will win in the end. Third, some in the church do not take scripture nearly seriously enough. May that not be said of us.

Once you cut through all the compound-complex sentences of our New Testament reading in Ephesians 3:1-6, the takeaway from the Apostle Paul is that, through the gospel, the Messianic promises made to the Jews also belong to the Gentiles. He is the Savior and King of the whole world! It is common knowledge in the church today, but back then this revelation was ground shaking. Paul’s letter ties into our reading in Isaiah 60:1-6, which although is primarily about the future has applications for us now. In the passage we see a parade of people from every nation leaving the darkness of the world behind and coming to Zion (Jerusalem) where the radiance of God resides. They bring all that they have with them, particularly gold and frankincense (vs 6). Gold representing their oath to His Kingship. Frankincense standing for His deity. There is no myrrh, which stands for His death. The dying is over. He is risen and He shall reign forever and ever. It is a picture of the gospel reaching out to the Gentiles as Paul spoke about in today’s epistle. But it begs the question: is He your Savior King?

Do not be an enemy of Christ like Herod, who engaged in a foolish and futile attempt to destroy God’s anointed and failed. Don’t be like the Jews who knew the facts but did not follow up on them. Shake off your apathy! Truth requires action! Seek and find the Lord of Glory like the wisemen. Discover the Son of God who gave up everything to die on a cross for the forgiveness of sins so that you may come into His kingdom of light. Become a citizen of heaven! By faith, let the blood of Christ cleanse you from your transgressions and bow before Jesus, the once and future king.

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