Being Led to Faith


Matthew 2:1-12     The Epiphany of Our Lord    January 6, 2019

 

Today is the Epiphany of Our Lord.  It’s unusual that it falls on a Sunday.  I want to take advantage of this opportunity.  (I’m not assuming any knowledge of what the Epiphany is!)

An epiphany is a manifestation.  It is an instance of seeing; of something coming clear; of illumination; of insight; of understanding.  An epiphany is an instance of receiving revelation.  In the liturgical calendar, The Epiphany of Our Lord is the day we celebrate the Wise Men arriving to visit the newborn Jesus, the Christ, God born into human flesh.  Do you notice what do they do when they see the infant Christ?  Their response is immediate: they kneel down and worship.  Why have they been led to such faith that they respond in that way?  That’s the question that interests me this morning.

This morning’s story, from the gospel of Matthew, has nothing in common with the story in Luke, except that Mary and Jesus are in both stories.  On Christmas Eve, we read the story from Luke.  That’s the story with Mary and Joseph, and their journey to Bethlehem, and the inn keeper and manger, and angels and shepherds.  But there are no wise men!

In the gospel of Matthew, there is no inn keeper or manger or angels or shepherds.  Instead, there is a star, and King Herod and wise men – and there is Herod’s ordering of the mass murder of the youngest males among his people.  (King Herod compares with the late President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, or current Syrian President  Bashar al-Assad, as mass murderers of their own people.)

If you have a good study Bible, when you get home, check the footnote for “wise men” in verse two.  You’ll see that “wise men” could be also be translated “astrologers,” or “magi.”  There is no supporting evidence for what we’ve added to the story: that there were only three of these mysterious figures, or that they were kings or, even, that they rode on camels!    And we often ignore something that’s important, and is in the story: these mysterious figures were “from the East.”  That means they were not members of God’s chosen people!  That means they were Gentiles, outsiders, unclean!  They were not included in the covenant of God and God’s people.  Imagine this: these religious outsiders — unclean and outside the covenant God had made with God’s people – are the first ones who come to faith in the newly-born Lord Jesus, the Christ!  To those first hearing this story in the gospel of Matthew, that would have been shocking and offensive!

Why are the wise men led to faith?

Just as importantly, why is Herod closed off from faith?  (After all, he is the Jewish king – which means he is a member of the people who have been watching for the coming messiah for several centuries now.)

The wise men and Herod are all given the same revelation: a child has been born who is “king of the Jews.”  The wise men respond with openness and even desire.  They follow the star.  They feel compelled to seek for this newborn Christ.  Herod doesn’t even see the star.  He responds with fear, rather than openness.  He’s closed off from faith.  (That’s what sin is.)  Herod acts to deceive with murderous intent, and then with actual mass murder – killing all the males among his people who are two years old and younger.[1]  As the story in Matthew continues, we find that Joseph takes his family to flee into Egypt because their child would be killed if they stay.  (If you see a parallel with those today fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and who are pleading for asylum in the United States, that’s because it’s there!)

King Herod is closed off from what God is doing, which is what sin is.  Herod reacts with fear and responds with violence.  Why are the wise men led to faith, on the other hand; the last ones you could possibly imagine being led to faith?  What is it that causes them to seek Christ?

Here is the mystery of faith: Christ has died.  Christ is risen. Christ will come again.  Why do some respond to the movement of God the Holy Spirit, being drawn into that mystery, being led to faith, while others are closed off?

God the Holy Spirit cannot cause someone to respond.  But you have responded!  (Otherwise, you wouldn’t even be here!)

So, a few minutes of silence will follow.  Give some thought and contemplation to this.

How have you been led to faith?

Who told you the stories and taught you and formed you?

What events in your life have formed you in faith?

How are you being led into faith even now?

In the name of God, who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine

[1] See Matthew 2:16-18.


About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!