In our Epistle lesson St. Paul tells us "that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Yes, Jesus was born to be the Savior of every nation, all mankind. Not everyone thought this of the Messiah. The Jews hoped for a Christ to come and sit on David's throne and lead them as a people. But it was part of God's eternal purpose that the Christ would come for all peoples.
This of course is good news. When Adam fell into sin he plunged our entire race into the darkness of sin, not just a small nation in the Middle East. All peoples faced the wrath of God. All nations were stuck in the chaos of their own sinful condition. They all needed a Savior just as much as the Jews. And when God chose the father of Israel, Abraham to be his own nation he said, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”(Genesis 12:3) And so God promised that a descendant of Abraham would bless all nations and peoples.
God spoke to the nation of Israel through the prophet Isaiah, "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising." And so Isaiah prophesied in beautiful language that God would enlighten all nations through Israel.
Isaiah paints a picture of thick darkness, a plague of blackness like that, which cursed the Egyptians, which now covers all peoples. This darkness is sin. It rules by chaos and hatred. All people rebel against a God they don't even know. And then comes the light, God's very glory, which scatters the darkness. And it settles right on Israel. Israel gives birth to this light. And all nations and peoples crawl out of their darkened confusion toward this light. They escape from not knowing God to worshiping and praising the true God.
And this picture painted by Isaiah happened in history. Magi from the east traveled to Jerusalem in search of this light. The Magi were probably astrologers from Persia. They weren't Jews. They lived in a pagan land. They looked at the stars for answers. The people of their land did not know God, but worshipped false gods. They lived in complete darkness. Yet, God revealed to them what the Prophet Balaam prophesied in Numbers 24, "a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel" and these sages departed their land of darkness to be enlightened by the true light, who had come into the world.
They went to Israel, because "Salvation is from the Jews." (John 4:22) They followed the star God placed in the sky until they came to Jerusalem, the city of the great king. They went to King Herod and asked, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" This was a verbal slap in the face to Herod. Herod wasn't born king of the Jews. He was made king by the emperor in Rome, in fact he wasn't even Jewish. These magi weren't interested in seeing him. They wanted to pay homage to a different king.
We know this enraged the jealous Herod so much that after the Magi returned to their country without telling him he ordered a massacre of all boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger. But the Magi weren't looking for the king of an earthly kingdom; a kingdom of paranoia and fear, chaos and murder and darkness. If they wanted to see a kingdom of such madness they could have stayed in their own country. But they traveled to see Christ's kingdom of grace, mercy, truth, forgiveness, and life. They came out of the darkness to be enlightened by God's light.
The gathering of nations to God's light in Israel really did happen in history. Yet, not only with the Magi bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The gathering of nations continues today. Sure we're not all congregating in Bethlehem to see the infant Jesus. But we are gathering around this true light, Jesus Christ.
Epiphany is an especially important holiday for us. Christ is revealed to the Gentiles. We are the Gentiles. Gentiles are the non-jewish nations. We are the families blessed by the promised descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ. Like the Magi we too benefit from this gift given to the Jews. All nations gather to that light, which shown on Israel. Jesus Christ, who is born a Jew is that light. He reflects God's own truth and light, grace, and mercy. And we gather to him through faith in his word.
When the Magi looked for Jesus they came to Jerusalem. Jesus wasn't born in Jerusalem. But it was a good guess. Jerusalem was the capital city of Israel, the city of the King. So they asked Herod, where he was who was born king of the Jews, for they saw his star and came to worship him. But they couldn't find him. So Herod asks his chief priests and scribes where the Christ was to be born. They told him that Scripture promises in the little town of Bethlehem according to the prophet Micah, "And you, 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."And so it was with the light of Scripture that they headed toward Bethlehem to find Christ.
Now the star that led the Magi is no longer in the night's sky. It won't lead us to Jesus. But the Scriptures still shine bright to light the way for all nations to discover the Christ. When Christ sent his disciples into all the world, he sent them to proclaim the truth as it is found in Scripture. This is why St. Paul writes, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17) And so it is through the revelation of Scripture that people are brought to the true Christian faith every day.
The Scribes knew the answer to the question, "Where is he who is born king of the Jews." They knew where the Christ would be born. Herod too learned this news. Yet they didn't accompany the sages to Bethlehem. Herod told them to report back to him so he could worship him too, but that was a lie. He wanted to kill Jesus, so the child wouldn't take his crown from him. How sad it is, Herod hears the truth, just as the Wise Men did, but he doesn't care. The Scribes and chief priests are descendants of the men to whom these promises were first given. They are Abraham's children according to the flesh. To them the prophets spoke. They are the heirs of Scripture! And yet they don't bother to go and see the Christ of whom Scripture speaks, just a few miles away. They rejected the treasure that belonged to them.
This is a danger for us too. Sure, we are not the promised people of Israel, descendants of Abraham according to the flesh. We're Gentiles. But we are heirs of the promise. We've inherited our faith from our parents. We've been raised in the church. We know the Gospel. We know of Jesus. We know where to find him. But do we go to see him? To hear his word? To eat his Sacrament? Do we take advantage of the great gift we've inherited or do we take it for granted like those Scribes and chief priests and the pathetically sad King Herod? But if we do reject this gift, which has been given to us, God will give it to others. There are many still dwelling in darkness, who long to be enlightened by this Christ, to have their sins forgiven, to taste his goodness.
Epiphany teaches us that the Gospel is for all people. All people are in trouble. We sin against God. We hate our neighbors. We're selfish and lazy. What we desire trumps what even our loved ones need. And every soul on earth lives in this chaos, this darkness. Without Christ, not only is everyone condemned to hell to be punished for eternity, but without the light of Christ each person on earth is covered in darkness and confusion, ruled by passions, disoriented from what is right and true, and blind to the love of God. We need Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus.
When the Magi saw that prophecy of Scripture was true and the star rested over the place where Jesus was, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. They worshipped Christ and gave him expensive gifts (which no doubt came in handy when the Holy Family fled the murderous troops of King Herod to live in Egypt). And so the Magi teach us how to receive Christ. Not only with gifts to support the mission of the Church, but with great joy.
To be a Christian is the greatest thing in the whole world. To be a Christian is to be enlightened by Christ. This means to know God as your Savior; to know Jesus Christ as the man who joins all mankind to God. This light reveals to you the love God has for you. And it empowers you to love your neighbor and to battle the chaos of darkness to which you were born enslaved.
And yet being a Christian can be lonely. People leave the flock to slink into the darkness of the world. Christians are looked at as stupid. Being a Christian is time consuming. And in many parts of the world, being a Christian is deadly. In many Muslim nations people are killed for converting to Christianity and believing that Jesus is God, who died and rose for our salvation. And yet Christians rejoice even in their suffering, because to be enlightened by the light of Christ means to have eternal life that surpasses anything in this life.
And so this light, which reveals to us God's love toward us and empowers us to love also gives us the desire for everyone to come to this light. St. Paul, under arrest, said to King Agrippa, "I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains." (Acts 26:29)
I want everyone to be a Christian. I want every atheist, Muslim, Jew and fallen away Lutheran to be enlightened by this Christ. Every American, German, Iranian, and North Korean, I want them to leave the darkness of this world and be illuminated by Christ our Savior. No matter what pain or sorrow or inconvenience being a Christian causes them, I want them all to be as I am, aglow with the grace and mercy God has shown on me through Jesus Christ, who died for me and forgives my sins even today.
God revealed that star to the Magi to fulfill his word, that he would bring all peoples to the light of Christ. He declared at Jesus birth what Christ declared at his ascension, that this Gospel is for all nations. It is God's eternal plan that all nations hear the good news of Jesus. God wants you to hear it, to believe it and be enlightened by it. He wants you to know him through Jesus, to have certainty of your salvation and of a home without sin and sadness. And he wants this for your children, your neighbor, and your enemy; for those far off under the blackness of Islam and for those close to home darkened by materialism and religious apathy. And so God shines the light of Christ into the darkness by the proclamation of Jesus. And he succeeds in making Christians. So may the light of God's Word continue to join peoples of every tribe and nation to the body of Christ, his holy Church where we will be ruled by the Shepherd of Israel unto life everlasting. Amen.