Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

Epiphany Sunday

Epiphany.18 “Still Guided by a Star” Matt. 2:1-12

If you are guided by a star, if that is your sole compass through life, you will end up in some strange, but wonderful (though dangerous) places. That is my one sentence summary of the Epiphany of our Lord. “May the Peace that passes understanding…” uh, er. OK. Maybe that’s a bit short, even by my standards. We’ll say just a little more…

Because they didn’t always see the Star. It appeared and disappeared from view, which had to be frustrating. Really, this is the key element of the story and yet few seem to notice it. All of the trouble and all of the joy comes from losing sight of the Star and then picking it up again, exiting Herod’s palace. I love all the legends of the Magi—almost none of which have any basis in Scriptures(!) and so can neither be confirmed nor disconfirmed. I like our bulletin art this morning. They only have one (tiny!) Magus who, like Baby Betsy in “Doll People”, looks like he came from a different set. But Jesus loves him, anyway. You can tell it’s the Lord Jesus in the picture because He levitates a couple feet off the floor. Sure, that happened! But why He can’t have a blankey I don’t understand…

I learned on Tuesday morning the early 20th century legend of the 4th wiseman who brought a pearl. But he never made it to the Christ Child with his pearl because he saw appalling social injustice on the way, stopped, sold his pearl, and opened a soup kitchen or something. And ah, the Social Gospel ye have with ye always—but Jesus ye do not have always! It really says so much, that little story—kind of sums up 20th century theology right there. I’ll resist further commentary… except that, uh, actually making it to the Christ Child to worship Him, ourselves is kind of the real point to Christianity; and if you miss that—no matter how noble your reasons—you’ve really missed the core concept, obviously, of the whole thing. Which is so, so easy to do these days…

Easy to do back then too! You notice there’s not exactly a crowd at the manger or the house to worship the Newborn King. The worship of Christ as Lord is a taste that very few acquire, and even among those who do, fewer still do it with a proper liturgy and accoutrements. The first Magi did it right. No drums or guitar in that service—you better believe it! Magician-Kings set a nice tone for Christian worship, don’t you think? Why would you want to worship Him any other way, right? Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving—plenty of incense, too. High church, baby. That’s the way you do it…

It was not the establishment church that worshiped Him this way. It was outsiders, strangers, Gentiles, magician-kings. Not the usual suspects. “Wise men” is a poor translation of the Greek magus. Literally, they are magicians. They were employed time out of mind by the Egyptian Pharaohs and (when their kingdom collapsed) by the Persian plutocrats. They were the most highly educated and erudite dudes around in the ancient world and they could do real magic. And, if you could do magic, why wouldn’t you rule, right? Isaiah saw them clearly riding on camels (one hump camels, as I learned last Tuesday also because dromedaries are one hump camels. Bactrians are the 2 hump and not in the picture). And Isaiah clearly saw them as kings come to the brightness of Your rising; so, magician-kings, riding camels they are! We know that much from Scriptures…

We don’t know, though, how many they were, or where exactly they came from. 3 is a guess from the three different kinds of gifts. I’m going with 3 (or 4? One, sidetracked?). And it says they came literally from “the place of the rising” which is often a euphemism in Greek for “the East”. But literally they say they saw His Star in the rising, which doesn’t really tell you where they came from geographically, but how they were guided. They saw a star in the rising that told them the Christ’s, the Messiah’s, the Son of God’s Star is rising, that He is come, born to save. And being wise men, they knew they had sins that only God could fix. So, they dropped everything and made this rising Star their compass and their guide…

I like the legend that names them: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar—all good names for boys. And the legend says they came, one from Asia, one from Europe, one from Africa; and were each guided by the rising Star of Christ and met up in Jerusalem where they lost sight of the star and had to improvise. This much, though, seems sure from the text… they lost sight of the Star, right in the vicinity of Jerusalem. They knew this was the King of the Jews, so they figured they’d turn in and ask directions at the Jew King’s palace. Only, Herod turned out not to be the real King of Israel (he wasn’t even Jewish, actually). And there was no newborn royal son in the palace that day, but only an awkward silence when they asked of the wizened, old, fake king where the Real King was…?(!)

It could easily have gotten them killed. So, Herod gathers his advisors, some of whom had read the bible, who tell him the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (not too far from Jerusalem). And Herod coopts the wisemen, figures when the star appeared, and sends them to Bethlehem to find the Child and bring back word to him so he could worship Him too—only Herod’s idea of worship is a bit more contemporary, a little bit less traditional than the Magi’s; it involves killing the newborn King!

This is how we know they lost sight of the star: because as soon as they emerge from Herod’s scary palace (and let this be a lesson to you men why it is dangerous to turn in and ask strangers for directions!) they see the star again, greatly rejoicing, because the Star guides them exactly to the place where the infant King lay. And they fell down at His feet and worshiped Him, and opened their treasures to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (the latter two of which are burial anointments!)—showing they knew this King had come to die and only then to truly rise

They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, but to go home another way. Still guided by their Star, it would seem…

What is the Star? Easy! It’s the Word, the eternal Logos that is made flesh in Jesus and always guides us to Him, to worship Him, and in the worship of Him to find our light, joy; our compass Star through life. In what form exactly IT appeared to the first Magi, we can’t say. But I know how the Star appears today, to you and to me: by the Gospel Word of Holy Scriptures, by the Story that absorbs all worlds into His own. By Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Supper.

To be guided by this Star, by Gospel Word and Sacraments, will take you to some strange and dangerous places. And we can lose sight of the Star sometimes (like the Magi!) and end up in Herod’s palace—a highly awkward situation! Following the Star could cost you your life! But, oh!, the places you will go; the things you will see—following this Star. The world will think you’re weird, like it thinks the Magi (and Gandalf) are weird. But we like them. We find them kindred spirits. Because the world’s compass is broken. Only this Star, God’s Word Incarnate in Christ Jesus—points true North, actually guides you home—by guiding us unerringly to worship; for, in such worship of the King is Peace, surpassing understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Advent Vespers – Wednesdays, 7:00 p.m.

16 December 2018  3rd Sunday Advent

8:30 Matins

11:00 Divine Service with Communion

9:45 Sunday School – children ages 3 through high school

Adult Bible Class with Pastor Martin


Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.