Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests! In the name of Jesus, who was born to save us, dear fellow redeemed by His blood, dear friends in Christ, her name was Esther. She lived in one of the apartments that my wife and I managed while I was attending Seminary in Milwaukee. As managers we took care of any issues that people had with their apartments. One day Esther called and complained that she had this white dust all over her apartment and she couldn’t get rid of it. So, I went over to check it out. And, sure enough, she had this white dust everywhere. She was older and suffered from emphysema and so was particularly concerned. She had cleaned everything off and sure enough the next day this white dust was again all over her apartment. She claimed that it was coming from the heater. But I knew that couldn’t be possible because the heat was hydronic baseboards, simply hot water, there was no air heat being blown in. It was really a mystery. So, I, as a product of my generation, did what anyone would do when there was a mystery: I googled “white dust all over apartment.” And sure enough I discovered what it probably was: if you use tap water in ultrasonic humidifiers it can cause the minerals in the water to become dust all over your house. So I went back to Esther’s and sure enough she had this humidifier that was just caked with white mineral deposits. Mystery solved! But Esther refused to believe. It didn’t matter what I said or how much I explained it, she insisted it was from the heat. Ugh! Has that ever happened to you? You have the answer, you solved the mystery, you know the truth and you try to explain it to someone and they just don’t see it, they refuse to believe it, even though the answer is right in front of them!
Today we’re celebrating “Epiphany.” And “epiphany” literally means “appearing” or “revealing.” And what we see is the mystery of the gospel is revealed. The mystery that Jews and Gentiles alike are heirs of eternal life and children of God simply through believing in the Christ-child, the Savior. Some people see the truth, many have no clue and refuse to believe it. We see that here in our text. The truth of who this Christ-child born in Bethlehem is, is revealed to some, but many in stubbornness and unbelief refuse to believe it!
This account is filled with all kinds of questions. Who are these Magi? Where did the come from? How come they knew so much about the birth of Jesus? What’s with this star that led them to Israel? How come they weren’t incredibly discouraged by everything that happened?
Imagine being these Magi. Can you imagine how disappointed they must have been when they finally arrived at Jerusalem? They saw this special star, somehow they knew that this signaled the birth of the Savior-King. They set out on a journey of who knows how long- weeks, months, a year? Apparently at some point the star disappeared so they when to the capital city of Israel. They finally arrive in Jerusalem and…no one knows what they’re talking about! No one has a clue that their King has been born! No one really cares. Herod is disturbed and the whole city is acting cold and strangely to them. They direct them away from the capital city and to some small little village. No one offers to go with them. No one is excited. No one seems to care one bit about this Savior King who was born!! Martin Luther surmised about what they must have been thinking, “Oh how odd and unusual everything appears at the birth of a king! If a young pup were born, there would be a little noise. A King is born here, and there is no stir. Should not they sing and dance, light candles and torches, and pave the streets with branches and roses? …There is more noise when a child is born to our shepherd, and a calving cow is more talked about than this King.”
Can you imagine how discouraged these Gentile Magi must have been? They come to the very nation through whom the Savior was to be born, right after this WORLD’s Savior is born, and no one has a clue, no one seems to care. The truth is right in front of them, but they refuse to see it, refuse to believe it. Imagine if these Magi relied solely on their human reason and senses. They would have given up, packed up, thought of themselves as foolish, and left in despair. But faith goes far deeper than what we see or feel. Faith takes God at His Word no matter what the outward appearance of things seems to be.
And so it can be with us. It can be so easy for us to become discouraged when we look at this world, when we look at our own lives, when we rely only on our feelings. And it’s not just long, cold winter days or news headlines of more problems in our world, it’s things that we face on a day to day basis. Sickness makes a feel miserable or our plans don’t happen the way that we want them to. Friends or family disappoint, make poor decisions, or fail to come through for us. We enjoy some good times but then are always ready for the disappointments to come around the corner. So, yes, if we relied simply on what we see or feel or on outward circumstances, we could easily become discouraged, give up hope, and despair. But that’s not what faith does. Faith clings to God’s Word and promises in spite of outward appearances. Martin Luther said, “Grace joyfully steps out into the darkness, follows the mere word of Scripture, no matter how it appears.”
The Magi, in the face of everything that appears contrary to the way things are supposed to go at the birth of the world’s King, cling to the word of Scripture that says that the baby was born in Bethlehem. And even though, no one else cares, no one else bothers to come with them, they go. They rely on the Word. And notice what God does, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” The star re-appeared! And it directed them right to the Savior. They clung in faith in spite of outward circumstances and kept going. And what happened? They were overjoyed. In fact, the Greek is far greater than “overjoyed.” It literally says, “Seeing the star they rejoiced joy great very.” I’m not sure if there is a more superlative way to say that they rejoiced. And they found the Christ-child, they worshipped him and presented their offerings to him.
The Magi believers were met with so much discouraging news, but it didn’t discourage them. The very people who should have known the truth didn’t get it, had the Magi given up and gone home they would have missed out on seeing God’s grace and love. Even though no one went with them, they went, they saw, they believed, and they were blessed. In our world full of doubts and deception and discouragements, don’t be discouraged! Why? Because look at God’s love and mercy. Though many may stare blankly at God’s message, His Word, His Sacraments, the Means He uses to come to us, you know the truth, you know the secret! God has revealed the secret to you! You know that in the Word God strengthens you, equips you, nurtures your faith, and gives you joy! You know God gives you forgiveness of sins in the Supper! You know that He washed you clean in Baptism! Indeed, you know the secrets! God in grace has revealed the truth to you. Don’t be discouraged!
You know the secret because God has revealed it to you! God has called you by the gospel, enlightened you with his gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith! No, God didn’t use a star to bring you to faith in Him, but He did use the “sign” of His Word. His Word leads you again and again to the manger to see your Savior, His Word guides you to Bethlehem to see far more than an ordinary Child, but the Redeemer, the Savior, His Word allows you to gaze at glimpses of glory, His Word lets you see the shimmers of the bright, shining brilliance of eternal glory in heaven that awaits you! Many have come and gone in our world who have rejected God’s “signs” and refused His message and have missed out on eternal glory. Many…but not you! God has called you to faith in Him, you see the hidden glory, you know your Savior, give thanks! You know the secret! What grace! Amen.