December 27, 2022 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
THE EPIPHANY-observed/ABC, (01/01/2023): Ps. 72:1-15; Isa. 60:1-6; Eph. 3:1-12; Mt. 2:1-12
[T]he mystery of Christ … that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise … through the gospel … made known … through the church … (vv. 4b, 6, 10b, transl., Dr. Thomas Winger).
The Epiphany of Our Lord, so called “Gentile Christmas”, occurs thirteen days after the birth of Jesus to conclude the Church’s Christmas season. With Christ’s nativity among the Jews, the Epiphany emphasizes a new church in a new creation; that the Light, has now entered the world for men to know “the mystery which was kept secret for long ages” (Rom. 16:25b).
In ages past there existed an intractable Jew-Gentile divide. God called Israel out of Egypt his “firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22; Mt. 2:15), his agent of redemption in the world (Isa. 49:6, 7). Jewish Torah conveyed divine mysteries through veiled and hidden types and tropes (Ex. 33:23);
But with Jesus’ birth the veil was pulled aside (Col. 1:27), enlightening of God’s long held mystery, “first to the Jew” (Rom. 1:16c; Mt. 2:2; 27:37), not overwhelm Gentiles by Jewish word and Light (Lk. 2:8-10). Messiah’s coming was associated with God’s temple presence (Mal. 3:1); yet Christ’s temple arrival with its constricted regulations and rituals would seem only to exacerbate a Jew-Gentile impasse.
Temple precincts consisted of a progression of “gates and courts” advancing on the place of God’s presence, his Holy of Holies. It is axiomatic, sinful men are not permitted into the presence of God; apart from sin resolved, mortal danger increased with every step drawing near to Shekinah.
The outer-most “court” was named for “Gentiles”, considered by Jews the epitome of uncleanness and dead in sin. Therefore, Gentiles were segregated from the inner “Jewish courts” by a “soreg wall” that inscribed in three languages, “no stranger is to enter … whoever is caught will be responsible for his ensuing death”.
Given Mosaic law, especially male circumcision, temple authorities strictly administered ethnic “closed communion”. It is the revelation of The Epiphany celebrating Christ, the previously hidden mystery of new Israel, universal sonship in a new exodus, that all men “serve God” (Ex. 9:1b) in holiness and new Temple presence, (Jn. 1:15; 29, 36; Gen. 22:8, 14).
God’s new Temple, the body of Christ also administers “closed communion”; but in Christ, Jew and Gentile, male and female have equal access to the church’s in-most courts of salvation. Christians are no longer restricted by Abraham’s gene pool and circumcision; rather our access is by the HS’, our baptismal faith. In Christ, we approach God in confidence who is available to us without fear or destruction; “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23).
On Christmas, the Babe came to men “a thief in the night”; the same sudden manner by which he will come again manifesting the universal “eternal gospel” (Rev. 14:6) at the in-gathering of nations on the Last Day (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15). Ironically, it was Gentiles, following the Child’s light, who announced to the Jews their hidden “King” in Bethlehem on Jerusalem’s doorstep.
The OT Jew-Gentile divide aside; both share this, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and that sinful man prefers the darkness to divine enlightenment; still the mysterious Light of man’s release from sin in Christ is for all who will hospitably receive him. Of course, antipathy toward the Light is inexplicable; yet, that is precisely what Matthew conveys.
Some approximate 1 1/2 to 2 years following Jesus’ birth, “magoi” from the East arrived in Jerusalem to honor the “King of the Jews”. “When King Herod heard, he was shaken and with him all Jerusalem …” (Mt. 2:3). Herod was enraged and Jerusalem distressed at the news of a new king being delivered by “magoi”, that would result in the wholesale murder of Bethlehem’s “Holy Innocents”.
Modernly secular Gentiles ignore Torah and observant Jews reject grace aside from Moses’ law. Of course, the shepherds who witnessed the Nativity could only marginally comprehended the midnight angelic revelation; still Christ, the Light of heaven impels our advance out of ignorance’s darkness by the revealed mystery of God’s peace in his one holy catholic and apostolic church, as Mary (type of the church) “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51b).
Contrary to modern piety, the “magoi”, long-riders out of the East were not “wisemen”; quite the opposite, the Jews and early Christians, understood them ignorant, superstitious fools; Chaldean sorcerers and necromancers, knowledgeable in devilish arts, the epitome of all Jews despised of Gentiles.
You might well imagine that Jerusalem’s priests, scribes, and later Christian congregations, were non-plussed at “magoi” being first responders to the news of Scripture’s long-awaited mystery in Christ. The “magoi” arrived to honor the infant Jesus was totally unexpected, as is all else about God’s revelation in Christ.
Knowledge of God is gift from the Father, that comes only in knowing Christ, whether that revelation was given to treacherous Peter confessing Jesus’ identity (Mt. 16:17) or idolatrous, ignorant, and naïve “magoi” called to witness Christ’s royal new birth.
The “magoi” reasoned a new Jewish king would be born in their capitol city; but heaven’s Light is not ordered by human reason; so, the “magoi” sought further direction from the Jerusalem Scripture experts; Bethlehem-Ephrathah was the prophesied place. Refreshed by God’s word, these Gentiles would behold the mystery, who is Christ.
Many avert their eyes from the Light. By word and sacrament, the Church is engrafted onto her crucified Jewish Branch, remnant destined as new Israel. St. John, of our Baptism tells us, “[Jesus] is in us and we in him” (Jn. 14:20, 17:23). Today, The Epiphany reveals Abrahamic lineage no longer locates our salvation; rather a circumcision of repentant-faith reckons us righteous, resolving the Jew-Gentile divide.
Jesus was born, “King of the Jews” (19:19); but on death was reborn in the Resurrection, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16), that all who enter Abraham’s righteousness and Mary’s faith become sons and daughters of God. No longer are believers under law for salvation; but newly begotten children, priests, kings, and lords oriented in our Father’s heart.
Christians like the shepherds and the “magoi” are on journey together in following Christ’s light, the fulness of God’s Torah, and “lamp unto [our] feet” (Ps. 119:105). Enlightenment begins, not from “wisemen”; rather by the gift of God’s wisdom in whom is the “fear of the Lord”.
Torah’s long hidden mystery in Christ is baptismally written by his word upon hearts and engrafted by participation in his crucified and risen flesh, the place of God’s new Eucharistic worship.
Eight days post-birth, a Jewish rabbi circumcised Jesus under Mosaic law; on the cross a Gentile spear, under Caesar’s law circumcised Jesus’ heart, out of whom living water and blood flowed (Jn. 7:38), grace’s mysterious content for all who receive it. Amen.