Plenty of people have been packing up their Christmas decorations since December 25, but the celebration of Christmas continues for twelve days. It only ends at the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th.
And then at Epiphany we remember the visit of the magi, or the wise men, to young Jesus.
Sometimes we rush past this remembrance as we put away our trees and head to the gym armed with New Year’s resolutions. But we need Epiphany. The magi are essential to the Christmas story and essential to our faith.
They are not essential because they were there on the night of Jesus’ birth (they likely weren’t) or because they were earthly kings who bowed to the one true King (they likely weren’t kings either). They aren’t essential because they round out our nativity scenes and Christmas pageants and greeting cards.
They are essential because they carry the Gospel. They themselves are an announcement, a proclamation, a living, breathing sermon about who our God is.
See the magi were not Jewish. They weren’t part of the chosen people. They were Gentiles, outsiders. Strangers.
Worse, they were likely priests in another religion. Pagans. Idolaters. False prophets.
They studied and/or worshiped the stars looking for signs and wonders. They were astrologers, they were magicians and sorcerers, not the kind of people who get much applause in Scripture or Christianity.
They were from foreign lands and spoke foreign tongues. Potentially from people groups who were enemies of the Jews. Definitely from other cultures and values.
These folks did not belong.
And yet here they come.
Present before Jesus. Included in our celebrations. Sign posts of the good news.
This is the Gospel of the magi: God has come.
God has come not just to a select few but to every person on the face of the earth. God has come for those who are close to the truth and those who are far from it. God has come for pagans and sinners and saints. God has come for us and them and those people over there.
God, in Jesus, has come for us all.
Jesus is the revelation of God’s character – he is what God looks like, the Bible says.
And Jesus is revealed not just to his people, the Jews, but to Gentiles and pagan priests and shepherds and wise men and midwives and governors and janitors and kings and presidents and teachers and bus drivers and pastors. He is revealed to insiders and outsiders, clean and unclean, right and wrong, poor and rich and everybody in between.
The magi are an announcement about the wideness of God’s mercy.
The love and grace and mercy and heart of God don’t stop at national borders. It is not reserved only for those in the right religion. It doesn’t have a specific language. There are no prerequisites or hoops to jump through.
The grace of God shows up first.
This is good news.
In the magi we can see ourselves. We have been wrong. We have been outsiders. We have been far from God. And yet the grace of God has come for us anyway. Calling, wooing, changing us.
And in the magi we can see every person. Every skin tone and every language. Every religion and political party. In every stranger on the street. And in the person who we’d least expect (or hope). The love and grace of God has shown up for them as well.
Yes, Epiphany is essential. Epiphany reminds us of our story. It comforts us and challenges us to be faithful to goodness of our God.
We need reminded that ours is a God who comes for each person, no matter how far away they have started. We need Epiphany to keep us accountable so that our own love doesn’t sputter out at borders and church signs and party platforms. We need it to keep us from thinking we’ve somehow earned something because of our position or denomination or family of birth.
The magi are preaching the Gospel to us today: God is for us all. For you. And for me. And for them.
May we know and follow and trust this God, the God who draws the whole entire world in. May we find ourselves aware of the presence of God’s grace right here and now. And may we embody the good news of God’s love to all those for whom God has come.