January 6th marks the beginning of the season of Epiphany on the Christian calendar. The season of Epiphany actually lasts longer than any other in the Christian calendar…beginning January 6th and lasting until the day before Ash Wednesday, or the beginning of Lent.
The Gospel of Matthew gives us the story that sets the context for the Epiphany, the importance of the birth and life of Christ the King.
Lineage (Matthew 1)
The connection to Abraham and to David were a fulfillment of the covenantal promises. Note the use of “Christ” in both the first and last lines of Matthew’s first chapter, but also used a couple of additional times; this is the birth of Christ the Messiah, the anointed one. Many commentaries explain that beginning the first chapter of the first book in the New Testament with this lineage is a critical decision to show the fulfillment of the covenant by the continuation of the story of God and His people. The theme of God’s faithfulness, steadfast loving kindness, mercy, and salvation are all brought forward to continue into the New Testament.
Royal Birth (Matthew 2)
While Luke’s emphasis is on a reluctant inn keeper, birth in a barn and a visit by Shepherds, Matthew speaks of Magi, King Herod, a star and the birth of the Anointed One, placing an emphasis on the royal birth with Magicians or astrologers from the east. Ironic isn’t it, that in spite of the practices so definitively spoken against in the Old Testament, God would use these Magi to set the stage for the announcement of the coming King, the Anointed one? It is important to note that almost all commentaries agree that these Magi from the east most likely come from the land of Persia or formerly known as Babylon. In those countries there remained strong Israelite influence. After the exile, many Israelites remained in those areas and flourished. But remember also that this is the place where Daniel rose to a position of prominence and leadership and he would have spoken to a coming King and Messiah. One Dutch theologian (Ridderbos) tells us that it should be no surprise that in the Star the Magi correctly identified the birth of a King; it was probably foretold often by Daniel.
The Star brings them to Israel and they go first to Jerusalem—eight kilometers or so from the place of Christ’s birth. Herod calls in the biblical scholars, and they know the scriptures well: Bethlehem in Judea. As they leave Jerusalem they are glad as the star continues, and they rejoice again as it rests overhead when they reach Bethlehem. Magi from the east are those who get to worship the newborn King. We don’t know if they connected the divinity of Christ to this little babe, but certainly they knew that this was indeed a royal birth outside the normal laws of nature.
And they left gifts fit for a King—gold, frankincense and myrrh—gifts which must have overwhelmed Mary and Joseph. Reflections of the conviction of the Magi that they were indeed in the presence of a King.
So why do I share this with you today? What meaning do we take forward into 2016? What message is there in the visit of the Magi and a star?
First, as we move into this New Year, know that God will supply our every need. Without being flippant about the gifts of the Magi, it is soon after the Magi arrive that Herod orders his soldiers to Bethlehem to murder the children under 2 years of age. No way will God allow this to threaten His plan. The Heavenly father warns Joseph in a dream and he takes Mary and the infant Jesus and heads off to Israel, financed with gifts provided from an unexpected source.
Second, as the star made the path for the Magi known to them, so does our God make His path clear to us. As we enter each year, we wonder what He has in store for us. Where will this year lead us? Where will it take the institutions we lead? We can enter 2016 confident that His word is a light unto our paths.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, we can go forward confident that Christ is King. In his life, he promised us a Kingdom of God, and now that he has ascended to Heaven, he reigns on His given throne as King. That means that His authority remains today, in spite of a world and culture that appears to fight against this at all times. In spite of growing animosity and hatred to all things Christian, He is ruler yet and always. Though Satan should buffet and trials should come, let this blessed assurance remain—our God reigns.
I encourage you to lead in 2016 knowing that Christ is King. As our King he provides, he lights our path, and He reigns. May that be your source of encouragement through the challenges and successes, joys and sorrows, triumphs and disappointments of this coming year. It is 2016 and Christ is King!