Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
One of the most overlooked festivals in the church year falls on Jan. 6, which is the Epiphany of Our Lord. This is a major event in the life of Christ, and it is an especially important event in the life of the Church, for it was then that He, who was born King of the Jews, was also revealed as the Lord of the Gentiles (non-Jews).
We read in Matthew 2 that men traveling from the east — outside the Jewish world — came to Jerusalem, seeking to worship Him. There was the Christ child, already in His toddler stage as to His human nature, King of the Jews, Lord of the nations, true God and true Man. It’s a joy to celebrate the day Christ is revealed (epiphany means “revelation”) to the nations of the world. We should be like the wise men following the star until it stopped over the house where Jesus was.
What did the wise men do? Saint Matthew notes, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” (Matthew 2:10) They weren’t just glad, or happy, or joyful. They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy! That’s what we get to do, not just as we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord, but every Lord’s Day as Christ our Morningstar reveals Himself to us in Divine Service through the reading and preaching of His Word and in His body and blood, given to us in His holy Supper. Even as the star led the wise men to the house where He lived to give Him gifts — gifts fit for a king, the Holy Spirit leads us to our Lord’s house, where He comes to us and gives us His gifts — gifts coming to us from our King!
So what do we do with this day? We celebrate. We hear His Word. We receive His forgiveness. We pray, praise, and give thanks to God. We sing hymns celebrating this great day. These hymns sing of the greatness of Jesus, who by His epiphany inserted Himself into our lives as our Lord, revealing glimpses of His divine majesty through the miracles He performed — all of this leading us from His cradle to the cross, from Epiphany to Easter, from the Babe of Bethlehem to our risen and victorious Lord!
The wise men rejoiced with exceedingly great joy because there was no greater place to be than in the house where the Lord, the Child Jesus, lived. There, too, is no greater place for us to be than in the house of the Lord, for it is there that the Lord reveals Himself to you through His Word and Sacraments. This is His epiphany (revelation) to you.
As He grew, He would no longer be in that house in Bethlehem where the Wise Men worshiped Him, no longer in that house of the temple, for the Temple was his very body that He would give for the life of the world, for you and for me. He would no longer be in the holy city of Jerusalem, cast outside its city walls to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where He would be crucified, where He would bleed, and where He would die in our place, to shepherd His people Israel — Christ, the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for His sheep, for you and for me! He laid down His life, giving His body and shedding His blood from the altar of the cross, the very same body and blood He gives you from the altar of His house for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Jesus’ journey was much greater than the wise men had coming from the East, for He came down from heaven, took on human flesh, was born, crucified, dead, buried, risen, and ascended into heaven and still comes down to us in Divine Service in the reading and preaching of His Word and in Holy Communion.
All this He has done for you willingly, so that you would receive the gifts from your heavenly and yet incarnate Host, that you would indeed be at home in the house of the Lord and one day in our heavenly home into all eternity. That’s how we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord: we receive Him as He comes to and reveals Himself to us in His Word and Sacraments, just as He does each Lord’s Day during Divine Service, revealing to us His goodness, His love, and His forgiveness.
We in turn respond to Him with thanksgiving, for “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15) To this day wise men still seek Him. The prophet Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)
How near is He? He is in His Word and Sacraments. As we hear the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation” (Zechariah 9:9a) — your salvation, which He won for you on the cross and gives to you in His Word and in His body and blood. That’s how we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord!
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.