Son of Heaven
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 2:1–2:11
The Feast of the Epiphany
January 5-6, 2019
“Who is Jesus: “Son of Heaven”
The world around us has long since moved on from Christmas. The New Year is here, the guests have all returned home, the holiday decorations have been or soon will be taken down, and Christmas carols stopped being played after Christmas Day. Yet here we are still singing those familiar and beloved songs of the season on this first Sunday in the new year. The question is not just when Christmas begins, but when it ends. More and more, it seems that Christmas doesn’t begin on December 25, but it’s the whole month of December, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that it starts even earlier. Because of this, it can be mighty challenging to sustain the holiday through what are called the Twelve Day of Christmas all the way up through the twelfth and final day of Christmas, which is today, January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. So in some respects, we are being rather counter-cultural in holding onto Christmas. When the rest of the world has moved on to the next “big thing,” the Body of Christ continues to rejoice in and celebrate the gift of all gifts: Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. On this final Sunday of the Christmas season, the Feast of the Epiphany, we remember and give thanks to God for those first Gentile visitors, the wise men, who were guided by a star and came to worship Jesus, offering him rare and exotic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Our preaching series for the Advent-Christmas season, “Who is Jesus?”, concludes today as we proclaim that Jesus is the Son of Heaven. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The birth of the Son of heaven was heralded by a star of heaven. What do we know of those mysterious wise men, and what do we know about that wondrous star? The wise men were the first Gentiles to come and worship Jesus. Tradition tells us that there were three, but that is based only on the number of gifts presented. Scripture does not tell us how many there actually were. Tradition also tells us that they came from three different areas of the world: Far East, Middle East, and West (Europe), and that they were of three different ages: youth, prime, and old age. Tradition also tells us that their names were Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior. We cannot prove any of this, of course. But what we do know is that these wise men were learned, wealthy, and influential people who came from the royal courts of Persia and Babylon, in what would be today Iraq and Iran. They studied the stars and heavenly bodies, in addition to many other things, as these were believed to influence the course of human affairs. But how did the wise men come to know of this promised King of the Jews? That, too, is uncertain, but it may well be that when God’s people were exiled from Jerusalem and Judea to Babylon beginning in 596 B.C. that the Hebrew Scriptures and the promise of a long-awaited Messiah would have become known to these learned men.
The wise men recognized that something of extraordinary importance had taken place, heralded by the star of heaven. They traveled a great distance – literally hundreds of miles across some pretty inhospitable terrain – in order to come in person and see with their own eyes this Son of Heaven. “The following, then, is a possible astronomical reconstruction of what happened that first Christmas. The remarkable conjunctions of Jupiter [the King planet] and Saturn [shield or defender of Palestine] in 7-6 B.C. alerted the Magi to important developments in Palestine, for the astrological significance closely paralleled what they had learned from Hebrew lore about a star heralding the expected Messiah [Numbers 24:17]. The comet of 5 B.C. (Williams No. 52) dramatically underscored this interpretation and sent them on their way, while it was the nova (or comet) of 4 B.C. (Williams No. 53) which appeared after they had reached Jerusalem and were seeking further information from Herod” (First Christmas: The True and Unfamiliar Story, by Dr. Paul Maier. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1971; pp. 76, 80). The wise men recognized this and went to great lengths to come and worship the Son of Heaven. Do we? Or are our modern lives so overtaken by the stress and pressure of daily living that we do not see the forest for the trees? Dear friends, it is for this very reason that we need Christmas in our daily living!
Jesus, the Son of Heaven, came into our world, fractured by sin, in order to recreate us. Jesus came into this world to redeem and restore the image of God in us; to pay the price of our bankrupted experiment of life and set us free – truly free! Free not to serve selfish pursuits that lead only to disappointment and death, but free to love and serve this Son of Heaven with our whole heart and mind and spirit. Nothing short of a new creation will do! And all this, Jesus has done for us – not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. But how will the world know of Jesus, his birth in Bethlehem and the coming of the wise men, if we do not show forth Jesus in our speaking and living? If people are to know what Christmas is really all about, they need to see it lived out in our daily lives. This is what Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), African-American philosopher, author, theologian, and civil rights leader, wrote in a poem he wrote entitled “The Work of Christmas”:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all,
To make music in the heart.
(The Mood of Christmas, p. 23; published and copyrighted by Friends United Press, 1985)
Dear friends, this is our Christmas calling; this is our Epiphany experience. As Jesus the Son of Heaven has come to love and serve, so are we to do. We are to love and serve all people without regard to race, gender, socio-economic status, or any other distinction. How can we who have received so much from the Son of Heaven do anything less? At the beginning of this New Year, with the days and weeks and months of the year of our Lord 2019 stretching out before us, let us remember that we have only today. Yesterday is past and tomorrow is but a dream, so while it is today, let us do good to all people as God in Christ has done good to us and loved us all. In so doing, we will most certainly keep Christmas the whole year long. A blessed Epiphany to you in Jesus, the Son of Heaven. Amen.