Jesus Christ: Born for All - Matthew 2:1-12
Do you know someone who always seems to know people everywhere they go? I had an uncle like that. Every time I went somewhere with him, he always seemed to know someone. When I was a kid, he came to my karate grading and he knew the Grandmaster. When he came to a Boy Scout fundraiser, he knew one of the leaders. One time we went out to eat at a restaurant and somebody there knew him, and then afterward we stopped at a gas station and the person at the pump next to us knew him too! It became an ongoing joke for the family, no matter what town we were in, no matter what we were doing, if we were with my Uncle Dick odds were we were gonna run into somebody who recognized him!
The amazement I felt as a kid was probably similar to how Mary was starting to feel when all these people seemed to know who her baby boy was. First it was the shepherds, now the wise men, soon it will be Anna and Simeon in the Temple. All these people, none of whom Mary knew, all seemed to know who Jesus was. She must have been astonished.
The coming of the wise men is particularly significant in this story, because they were people who weren’t even from the same country as Mary and Jesus nor were they even the same religion. Up to this time Mary may have understood Jesus as the Savior of the Jewish people. But now she sees that these foreign religious leaders recognize Jesus’ importance too. Perhaps it’s becoming clear to Mary that Jesus has come not only for the Jewish people, but for the peoples of the whole world.
The Magi or “wise men” were religious leaders from Persia. Most scholars say they were priests of the Zoroastrian religion, or religious elders of some kind. Often they were royal advisers who interpreted dreams and used astrology and other methods to guide their king. Using the stars or any method to try to tell the future was forbidden in ancient Judaism. But it was encouraged in Persian religion. Which explains why the Magi would have understood the stars aligning a certain way to mean a certain thing, while Jewish people like Mary and Joseph, and even Herod and his advisers had no idea about it. The fact that a practice like astrology—which was forbidden for the Hebrew people in the Old Testament—is now being used as a way to connect foreign people with the birth of the Messiah, is an important message for us about how God works to connect all humanity with the Child born in Bethlehem.
This reaching out to foreign peoples is a constant theme in the New Testament. There was a word for non-Jewish people in the time of Jesus, and that word was Gentiles. The question Jesus’ first followers had to ask was: did Jesus come just for the Jewish people or did Jesus come for Gentiles too? Was he the Savior of one group or of all humanity? And the answer is made abundantly clear from the start when the Magi, these Persian religious elders, come to Jesus’ birth. So this day of Epiphany is the celebration of God making known to the Gentiles the good news of Jesus’ birth.
This welcoming of the Gentiles was an important theme of Jesus’s adult life and ministry too. He made it clear when he ministered to Samaritans, Romans, Syrophoenicians, and Gentiles of all ethnicities and religious traditions. It was made clear to the early church by Peter’s dream about eating unkosher food and in Paul’s writings about the intense debates concerning whether to require circumcision for becoming a Christian. Circumcision was probably the most important specific law, but was symbolic of all 613 laws of the Torah. And the message was made clear over and over again: Jesus came for the whole world, not just the people of Judah but all Gentiles too. Furthermore, it was not just for human beings either, but for all life and all creation. All flesh, all physical reality is holy and loved and set in right relationship with God.
We human beings have a way of wanting to limit who is included in the salvation story. It’s human nature to want to feel secure, and perhaps it makes us feel secure when we think of ourselves as being part of the inside group and others as being on the outside. The holy day of Epiphany shatters our illusions that we can limit the good news of Jesus’ birth to just our own group. God reached out to Persian religious leaders through a practice forbidden in the Hebrew Bible to proclaim to them the birth of the Messiah. It didn’t matter if they would never become Jewish or Christian. Because God’s love for all people means all of us are part of God’s salvation story.
The birth of Jesus at Christmas is a truly cosmic event. And the coming of the Magi at Epiphany is likewise an event of cosmic significance. It demonstrates that this little baby is God incarnate for all people and all creation. From the poor Jewish shepherds to the wealthy Magi from another land and another religion, the story of Jesus’ birth reveals just how all-encompassing God’s love is!
And lest we focus too much on the cosmic implications, we should also be reminded that the birth of Jesus is a deeply personal event too. The mystery of Christ is both enormously universal and very specifically personal. The good news revealed at Christmas and Epiphany isn’t just that God loves the universe, but very specifically that God loves and cherishes you. You and me, each one of us personally. More than any human being can possibly express, God loves and cherishes you.
Both the cosmic transcendent message and the personal, loving message together make up the good news of Jesus’ birth, the good news of God’s love. Love that is for all people, not just Mary and Joseph and their particular religious or ethnic group. But all people, including the Jews, the Persians, the Romans, and the barbarian tribes of Northern Europe where most Lutheran ancestors probably came from. From the poor shepherds to the wealthy wise men. From the most pious Jew to the most unbelieving Gentile. From people alive in Jesus’ own time to those of us living 2000 years later. Jesus’ birth is for all people of all times and all places, and for all life and all creation. And it is for each of us specifically, individually, loved and cherished.
This is the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ. Of God’s coming to experience the joys and the pains of human existence. The Incarnation which ultimately led to the cross and Jesus’ death and resurrection for the redemption of the world. Today we celebrate the good news of Jesus’ birth for all people. Of God’s love for Jews and Gentiles, for all humanity and all creation. Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ born for us. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 1/2/22