I don’t know about you, but for so much of my life, I had no idea what the term Epiphany meant. So if that is you, please keep reading because it is so good. For those of us who are Gentiles (not of Jewish heritage), this is an important time. It is a day commemorating the Magi visiting Jesus. Epiphany (this coming Sunday) could be viewed as the day we celebrate our invitation to join the party. It is the day we celebrate the Magi or wise men (Matthew 2) coming to worship Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh and praise.
On this side of history (and 2000 years later), we may at times think the Magi, or wisemen, just contrast the shepherds in signifying that both rich and poor, powerful and those who seem insignificant, are welcomed to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But there is far greater significance.
Israel was looking for a saviour for the Jewish people, or the people of God. They thought of the Gentiles as heathens and that the saviour was not for them. We see in the beginning of Acts the dilemma of whether or not the Gentiles should be allowed to follow Jesus and join the community of faith. It took a vision from God to Peter to open up the doors to the rest of the world.
The wise men came from afar and from other groups of people. They studied and followed a star they knew would lead them to a king above kings. They brought gifts and worshiped this baby who was not from their people. This is a significant interaction. God made a way to invite Gentiles to the party. He was telling us that Jesus is for Jew and Gentile alike.
I can’t even imagine what the reaction of Mary and Joseph was when the Magi showed up. Okay, and why are you here? How do you know who this child is? A star sent you here? What is this, Scientology? I am not sure whether at this point they realized the invitation was to Jew and Gentile alike, but I am certain this was a surprise encounter.
Epiphany is a day we are not just remembering the Magi, but celebrating our being welcomed in to the people of God! I can’t help but think of the time in Acts 10 when Peter receives a vision from God of “unclean animals” being lowered from heaven. This happens just before Peter shares the gospel with a household of Gentiles and they are filled with the Holy Spirit.
At Epiphany we remember the gospel is for all people. We are led to thank God that he did not just come for the Jewish people, but he came for us. He is a saviour for all who will receive him. This is an accepted message today, but at one time, it would have been thought of as blasphemous. Even Peter who followed Jesus around for three years had difficulty with it. Even after a vision and encounter with God he was doubtful as he shared the gospel with some Gentiles and was surprised when they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
As I fix my mind on the significance of Epiphany, I find myself thinking of the hopeless state people were in before this point. People were lost, separated from God, with no promise to cling to for hope. The Magi are our representatives of belonging at this celebration. They may have shown up late, but they were welcomed and shown a way by a star. No angels for them. God’s plan was always to welcome us back in. Jesus was always a saviour for all, but the first sign of this reality is the Magi.
That is why this day is so important to remember. It is important to remember the grace of God shown to us. While we were still sinners, God came to dwell among us. Even when we had no idea there was a plan for our salvation, God had a plan. There is so much to learn about the grace and mercy of God for those who are still lost. Understanding that as Gentiles we were, as a whole people group, absent from the people of God should remind us of the invitation extended to all people to come know and worship Jesus our king.
Did you know the wise men were such strange guests to the celebration of Jesus’ birth? What effect does that have on your life? Feel free to share in the comments.