January 3, 2021

  “The Good News”

(From Matthew 2: 1-12)

Arise, shine: for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60: v. 1&3, NRSV)

     Throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons, we have been following the promises about the coming of the Messiah that are found in the words of the ancient prophets.  Many of the writings found in the book of Isaiah have been understood to proclaim great truths about the future arrival of the promised Messiah.  These early messages form for us the beginnings of the good news of God’s plan of salvation.  For example, Isaiah 60, often read during Advent, clearly speaks a prophecy of hope through the promised Messiah, stating: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”    

     This morning we celebrate the Epiphany, which literally translates as “manifestation.”  What has been manifested to us is Emmanuel—our God-incarnate to us in the flesh; for he was born to live both with us and among us.  Through him, God’s plan of salvation was put into motion.  On Epiphany Sunday, we also celebrate the fulfillment of the words the prophet Isaiah spoke above, foretelling that kings would come to acknowledge the miraculous and wonderful event of the Messiah’s birth.  They would follow the guidance of a bright new star’s light to find the Christ-child in his humble dwelling place.  There, these kings, these “wise men,” would pay him homage, emptying their treasure chests, to present him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

     More than 2000 years after these historic events occurred and were captured for all generations by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, we still joyfully celebrate Epiphany.  Certainly, the story of visitation of the Wise Men from the east provides a further validation that the baby Jesus truly is the “promised one” foretold by the prophets of old (as if the visitation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary to announce her impending pregnancy, or the proclamations and prophecies of Simeon and Anna about this child when he was brought to the Temple for dedication, were not fully convincing).  But, there is a further significance to the story of the visitation of the Wise Men.  It may not seem immediately obvious, but it should not remain unspoken during our celebration of Epiphany.  You see, the Wise Men were Gentiles.  They are believed to have been astronomers of priestly status from regions in the east who were familiar with the prophecies of the Hebrew people regarding the coming Messiah.  Upon viewing the rising of this bright new star, they travelled following its movement to see what it might reveal to them.  When it stopped, they found the child Jesus with his parents; and they worshipped him, presenting to him the gifts they had carried with them on their journey.

     Gentile kings, wealthy priests from the east, traveled for many miles and many days seeking to find the promised Christ-child.  When they found him, they worshipped him as the “king of the Jews” who had been made known to them through the words of the Hebrew prophets of old.  The story of their journey to the Christ-child provides a foreshadow for us of the universal nature of God’s plan of salvation.  Even though Jesus was born to the Jewish people, and would concentrate his ministry of compassion and healing on them, holy scriptures reveal that the good news of salvation found in his life, death and resurrection would, ultimately, be for all people—for all who truly believe.  It came to pass that, just as the prophet of Isaiah had proclaimed: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”  This truly is “good news.”

     Matthew’s gospel does not provide our only record of the universal nature of God’s plan of salvation. For example, the Gospel of John, in its opening chapter, further confirms for believers the ultimate and universal truth of God’s plan of salvation.  The author states:       

     The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the  

     world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his

     own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his

     name, he gave the power to become children of God.”  (John 1: 9-12)

“To all who believe”—these very words ring with the good news that God’s salvation in Christ is open to everyone, and that “Nations shall come to his light and kings to the brightness of his dawn.”

     On this Epiphany Sunday, we have come full circle, for the message of salvation foretold by the ancient prophets, and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, was shed abroad to both Jew and gentile by the ministry and mission of the Apostle Paul. As we read this morning from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Church, Paul’s gospel message, his good news, was that in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus, the promised Messiah and Savior.  Through him, both Jew and gentile now have access to eternal life through believing in him. And so, nations have now come to his light, just as kings came to bear witness to the brightness of his dawning.

    The year 2020 is now over, Church, and the New Year 2021 has just begun.  So, today, this Epiphany, I share with you the good news that God sent Jesus into the world so that all who believe in him, everyone, can receive marvelous and eternal new life in his name.  Even as we face these most difficult and uncertain of days ahead, waiting for the light to emerge at the end of the tunnel, the light of Christ’ love has already shown upon us.  No darkness can overcome his light, nor can our frustration or apathy match the life-affirming power of his unconditional love.  This is truly good news for each of us today, wherever on our life’s journey we may currently be navigating.  And, it will always be good news, if we pause in our life’s business to center our hearts upon God’s love for us revealed in our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.  A Blessed Happy New Year to you and yours.  Amen.        

  “The First Noel” (words, Jean de Brenbeuf; music, French Canadian melody)

And by the light of that same star three Wise Men came from country far; to seek for a king was their intent, and to follow that star wherever it went.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the king of Israel.

Then entered in those Wise Men three, full reverently upon the knee, and offered there in his presence, their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the king of Israel.