2nd Sunday of Christmas | January 4, 2009
Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12
Psalm 147:12-20 (12) or Wisdom 10:51-21 (20)
John 1:[1-9] 10-18
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you have filled all the earth with the light of your incarnate Word. By your grace empower us to reflect your light in all that we do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
O God our redeemer, you created light that we might live, and you illumine our world with your beloved Son. By your Spirit comfort us in all darkness, and turn us toward the light of Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. All the ends | of the earth
have seen the victory | of our God. Alleluia. (Ps. 98:3
As noted above, since the Lutheran and Common Lectionaries use John 1 for the SECOND Sunday after Christmas, the Book of Common Prayer for
the FIRST, exegetes are urged to consult the Lectionaries before
preparing homilies for these two Sundays. Here again is an exegetical approach to John’s Prologue by the Anglican theologian O.C. Edwards, author of A History of Preaching (Abingdon, 2004):
la. CONTEXT: John 1:[1-9] 10-18
Any effort to discuss the context of the Johannine Prologue has to grow
out of some theory not only of how the gospel as a whole came to be
written but also of the relation of the Prologue to the rest of the gospel.
Bultmann (Gospel of John, pp. 16-18), for instance, thought that the
Prologue was a part of the Discourse source which had originally come
from a Gnostic community around John the Baptist and that this source
had been edited in a Christian direction after the Evangelist was
converted. Haenchen (John I, 77),on the other hand, believed that the
evangelist, who edited his source away from an emphasis on miracles as
proof Jesus' identity, introduced his gospel with an early Christian hymn.
Still others have offered the theory that the Prologue was written after
the gospel to serve as an introduction to it (Harnack, reported in
Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John, I, 221).
These notes will not try to decide whether the Prologue came into
existence independently of the rest of the gospel. The canonical form of
the gospel includes it and thus (a) it must have made sense that way to
whomever put it into its present condition and (b) that is the canonical
form that the church accepts as authoritative.
This decision, however, means that the fascinating question of
whether some of the verses are poetic or hymnic and others are prose
insertions and thus later redactions cannot be answered in as
thoroughgoing a way as they could be when they were part of an
integrated theory of the origin of the Prologue. The decision, however,
will not exclude issues of the background of the thought of the Prologue.
The position to be taken about the authorship of the gospel as a
whole will be similar to that advanced by Raymond Brown in The
Community of the Beloved Disciple. The original tradition of the
Johannine community came through the Beloved Disciple, a disciple of
Jesus who was not one of the Twelve. Someone in that community wrote
that tradition down around A.D. 90, incorporating a higher christology
that had come into the community with a group of Samaritan converts.
The gospel was probably written after the community had moved to
Ephesus and also reflects some gentile influence.
A modern context parallel to that in which the gospel first appeared
is the situation of contemporary Christians who wish to profess the
christology of the councils as that is understood today from the
standpoint of a critical hermeneutic. We are surrounded by a secular
world that disbelieves in anything outside the sphere of natural
explanation, others who call themselves Christian who have a much lower
understanding of the person and work of Christ, and still other Christians
who hold the historic faith in such an uncritical way that it is hard to feel
that they and we mean the same thing by the affirmation. Anyone
affirming the faith which developed from the Johannine Prologue it bound
to feel like a lonely voice.
1b. Text: John 1:[1-9] 10-18.
The Word Became Flesh
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life,  and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,  and his own people  did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,  who is at the Father's side,  he has made him known.
 1:4 Or was not any thing made. That which has been made was life in him
 1:11 Greek to his own things; that is, to his own domain, or to his own people
 1:11 People is implied in Greek
 1:18 Or the only One, who is God; some manuscripts the only Son
 1:18 Greek in the bosom of the Father
[ 1εν αρχη ην ο λογος, και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον, και θεος ην ο λογος. 2ουτος ην εν αρχη προς τον θεον. 3παντα δι αυτου εγενετο, και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν. ο γεγονεν 4εν αυτω ζωη ην, και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων: 5και το φως εν τη σκοτια φαινει, και η σκοτια αυτο ου κατελαβεν. 6εγενετο ανθρωπος απεσταλμενος παρα θεου, ονομα αυτω ιωαννης: 7ουτος ηλθεν εις μαρτυριαν, ινα μαρτυρηση περι του φωτος, ινα παντες πιστευσωσιν δι αυτου. 8ουκ ην εκεινος το φως, αλλ ινα μαρτυρηση περι του φωτος. 9ην το φως το αληθινον, ο φωτιζει παντα ανθρωπον, ερχομενον εις τον κοσμον. ]
10εν τω κοσμω ην, και ο κοσμος δι αυτου εγενετο, και ο κοσμος αυτον ουκ εγνω. 11εις τα ιδια ηλθεν, και οι ιδιοι αυτον ου παρελαβον. 12οσοι δε ελαβον αυτον, εδωκεν αυτοις εξουσιαν τεκνα θεου γενεσθαι, τοις πιστευουσιν εις το ονομα αυτου, 13οι ουκ εξ αιματων ουδε εκ θεληματος σαρκος ουδε εκ θεληματος ανδρος αλλ εκ θεου εγεννηθησαν. 14και ο λογος σαρξ εγενετο και εσκηνωσεν εν ημιν, και εθεασαμεθα την δοξαν αυτου, δοξαν ως μονογενους παρα πατρος, πληρης χαριτος και αληθειας. 15ιωαννης μαρτυρει περι αυτου και κεκραγεν λεγων, ουτος ην ον ειπον, ο οπισω μου ερχομενος εμπροσθεν μου γεγονεν, οτι πρωτος μου ην. 16οτι εκ του πληρωματος αυτου ημεις παντες ελαβομεν, και χαριν αντι χαριτος: 17οτι ο νομος δια μωυσεως εδοθη, η χαρις και η αληθεια δια ιησου χριστου εγενετο. 18θεον ουδεις εωρακεν πωποτε: μονογενης θεος ο ων εις τον κολπον του πατρος εκεινος εξηγησατο.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
ANALYSIS: John 1:[1-9] 10-18
Jn. 1:1 - en archei en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos
en ho logos -"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God" (AILL, An Inclusive Language Lectionary) -
The "beginning" is the time before creation. Brown insists that preexistence
in the Pauline hymns in Phil. and Col. do not go back so far; in
Col. 1:18, God's Son is "the first- born of all creation" (Community, p.
46). As he points out in The Birth of the Messiah (pp. 29-32), the
moment at which the divine identity of Jesus was made clear is
understood differently by different NT writings: the resurrection,
baptism, or birth.
John pushes that moment back before creation (cf. Haenchen, I,
124).Although Johannine use of the term logos (which occurs in the
gospel only in the Prologue and only in reference to the pre-incarnate
Lord) has been studied at various times in relation to OT concepts such
as "the Word of God" and against a range of Greek thought, most
scholars now consider it to be a development of the concept of
personified Wisdom as seen in Proverbs 8 and Wisdom, as evolved
through speculation on the Aramaic concept of memra and Philo's
understanding of logos.
The New English Bible says that the Word "dwelt with God" and
Brown translates "was in God's presence" (The Gospel according to John,
I,3). There is much debate about theos without the article. Brown says
"God," Haenchen says "divine"; perhaps NEB handles it best by saying:
"what God was, the Word was." It is essential to remember that we do
not have a Trinitarian understanding, but only the raw material that made
such an understanding necessary.
[ Jn. 1:3 - panta di' autou egeneto, kai choris autou egeneto oude hen ho
gegonen -"all things were made through the Word, and without the
Word was not anything made that was made" (AILL) - The Word not
only pre-existed but was the divine agency in creation (cf. Proverbs 8:22-
31). Haenchen (I,114) argues convincingly that ho gegonen should end vs.
3 (as in KJV) rather than begin vs. 4; there is little difference in meaning.
Jn. 1:4 - en auto zoe en, kai he zoe en to phos ton anthropon - "In the
Word was life, and the life was the light all."(AILL) - "Eternal life" is John's
basic term for salvation; thus life and light are virtually interchangeable.
They belong to a series of antithetical concepts that John uses to refer to
the absolute good in Christ and that which is outside it.
Jn. 1:5 - kai to phos en te skotia phainei, kai he skotia autou ou katelaben -
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
(AILL) - Haenchen (I,114f.) makes much of the difference between the
present tense of phainei and the aorist of katelaben. He argues that this
verse is not a reference to the incarnate Lord, but rather to the attempts
of the Logos to offer salvation to humanity before the incarnation, relating
this passage to the Wisdom myth in Enoch 42:2: "Wisdom went forth to
make her dwelling place among the children of men; and found no
Brown, on the other hand, relates it to Gen. 3. In either case it
would appear that vss. 6-8 misunderstand, treating vs. 4 in relation to the
incarnation and thus feeling it necessary to introduce John the Baptist at
this point. They also are more prosaic than the rhythmic vss. before and
after, which reinforces the impression that they are redactional. ]
Jn. 1:10 - en to kosmo en, kai ho kosmos dictionary autou egeneto, kai ho
kosmos auton ouk egno - "The Word was in the world, and the world
was made through the Word,yet the world did not know the Word."
(AILL) - If vss. 6-8 are a prose insertion, then 10 and 11 could still be
referring to the Word's pre-incarnate activity, as Haenchen argues. But
to agree with that, one would also have to admit that vss. 12 and 13 are
redactional. Brown, on the other hand, thinks that 12a and 12b belong to
the hymn the evangelist is using for an introduction (ibid., I,11). For
preaching, the issue is not important since both pre-incarnate and
incarnate activity of the Logos are referred to somewhere in the
Prologue; both are taught in the passage.
Jn. 1:14 - kai ho logos sarx egeneto kai eskenosen en humin, kai
etheasametha ten doxan autou, doxa hos monogenous para patros, pleres
charitos kai aletheias - "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
full of grace and truth; we have beheld the Word's glory, glory as of the
only Child from [God]the Father [and Mother]."(AILL) - As Bultmann
says (ibid., p. 60), "Just as the incarnatus est marks a turning point in the
Mass, so too here the character of the Prologue changes....Now the riddle
is solved, the miracle is proclaimed: the Logos became flesh!" As
Haenchen pointed out (I,119), the Wisdom myth is left behind and the
Christian experience of Jesus Christ takes over.
As St. Augustine says in Confessions VIII.ix,13, the Christian doctrine
that he did not find among the Platonists was that the Word became
flesh. "Became flesh," of course, means "assumed full humanity." If space
permitted, every word in the sentence could be studied profitably, e.g.,
those that pick up and apply to Jesus the OT concept of the Shekinah, the
"tabernacling presence of God's glory." Vs. 15 is regarded by most
scholars as a redactional interpolation. Thus 16 follows 14 in the original,
whether it was written by the Evangelist or his source. Vs. 17 makes the
transition to the story of the life of Jesus by mentioning Jesus by name at
last as the human being the Logos became. The significance of the
enfleshment of the Logos is the subject of vs. 18.
3. STRATEGY : John 1:[1-9] 10-18
This Sunday provides a rare opportunity for thoroughly theological
preaching. The community has just gone through the feast of the Nativity
with the Lucan focus on "sweet baby Jesus in the manger" that has
permitted the clustering of everyone's sentimentality. This, of course, is
not to blame Luke but to recognize what so often happens in our society.
By getting all goose-fleshy over the scene in the stable, we are able to
avoid any consideration of its impact on our lives. John's pushing the
christological moment back before creation does not allow such selfindulgence.
(Unless, God forbid, someone simply becomes intoxicated
over the language and renders it harmless by treating it as if it were mere
poetry--as if real poetry were ever "mere" and was only supposed to
sound good and not to mean anything.)
John reminds us that we need a christology that is adequate to our
soteriology, which, in turn, must be adequate to our anthropology. Thus
we can begin with an analysis of the human condition and go on to see
what it would take to save us from that and what sort of Savior would be
necessary to do that. When that is done well, no one is likely to imagine
that the doctrines of the creeds and councils were just something thought
up by the theologians to make it hard.
4. REFERENCES: John 1: 1-18
Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. Garden City,NY: Doubleday, 1977.
_______________. The Community of the Beloved Disciple. New York:
Paulist Press, 1979.
_______________. The Gospel According to St. John, 2 vols. Anchor Bible Series.
Garden City,NY: Doubleday, 1966/1970.
Bultmann, Rudolf. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, transl. G.R. Beasley- Murray, et al.
Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971.
Haenchen, Ernst. A Commentary on the Gospel of John, transl. R.W. Funk,
2 vols. Hermeneia Series. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.
Schnackenburg, Rudolf. The Gospel according to St. John, transl. Kevin Smyth, vol. 1.
NY: Herder and Herder, 1968.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: John 1: 1-18
NOT "Away in a Manger!" Most of the Traditional Christmas Carols
would be inappropriate for a sermon such as is sketched above. Two
possibilities are OF THE FATHER'S LOVE BEGOTTEN (HB 82, LBW 42)
and JOY TO THE WORLD (HB 100, LBW 39). More christological
hymns such as AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY KNEE SHOULD
BOW(HB 435, LBW 179) and WHAT WONDROUS LOVE IS THIS?(HB
439, LBW 385) are more to the point. GOD HIMSELF IS WITH US(HB
475,LBW 249) and CHRIST IS MADE THE SURE FOUNDATION (HB
518,LBW 367) with the strong Purcell tune, "Westminster Abbey," are
other real possibilities for this Day.
Exegete: O.C. Edwards, PhD
Epiphany of Our Lord | January 6, 2009
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 (11)
Prayer of the Day
O God, on this day you revealed your Son to the nations by the leading of a star. Lead us now by faith to know your presence in our lives, and bring us at last to the full vision of your glory, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star. Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands, and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Everlasting God, the radiance of all faithful people, you brought the nations to the brightness of your rising. Fill the world with your glory, and show yourself to all the world through him who is the true light and the bright morning star, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. We have observed his star | at its rising,
and have come to | worship him. Alleluia. (Matt. 2:2)
1a. CONTEXT: MATTHEW 2:1-12
This pericope has little to connect it with the preceding chapter except
the birth of Jesus, but just as with the foregoing, the interest is not
biographical. The story has two main emphases. The first is the struggle
between King Herod and the baby king. This conflict calls to mind the Old
Testament story of Pharaoh and the Infant Moses (cf. Hebrews 3:1-6). As
in the birth of Jesus, Moses' birth was foretold by an Egyptian scholar-
astrologer and a turmoil ensues. Pharaoh calls together all the Egyptian
astrologers. Based upon their information he orders the execution of all
Hebrew male infants, hoping to slay the newborn savior of Israel
(Josephus, ANTIQUITIES, ii 205-6, 215). In like manner, Herod convenes
the chief priests and teachers of the law to learn what he can about this
newborn king, but he relies upon the return of the Magi for complete
information. One wonders why he didn't send soldiers or at least spies,
rather that trust strangers.
Matthew has an interest in establishing Jesus' birth in the royal city of
David, Bethlehem. This is done by means of inserting Micah 5:1-2 in his
story at verse 6. This quotation already was interpreted in a messianic
way by the Jews. The last line of verse 6 suggests Micah 5:3-4, but its
actual wording is found in 2 Samuel 5:2, which is a promise to David.
The "Herod" of verse 1 is undoubtedly Herod the Great, thus Jesus' birth
is dated in 7 B.C. when a brilliant conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter lit up
However this date is not easily confirmed, for about 11 B.C. Halley's
comet shot across the skies, and in the years through 2 B.C.l, there was
another rare phenomenon. On the first day of the Egyptian month of Mesori,
the dog star Sirius rose at sunrise and shone incandescently. There is
unusual significance here, for the name Mesori means "birth of a prince"
and to astrologers such a star would herald the nativity of a great king.
To further complicate the matter, the Lucan narrative dates Jesus' birth
6-7 A.D. because of the tax enrollment and the governorship of Quirinius.
But the Matthean author knows nothing of a journey to Bethlehem.
There is some evidence from Herodotus that the Magi were Medes, a
part of the Persian Empire which became a tribe of priests much like the
Levites in Israel. They were knowledgeable in the sciences, interpreting
dreams, and were men of wisdom and holiness; hence the name "wisemen."
Like all learned men of their day, they practiced astrology. Since it was
their profession to watch the heavens, such a brilliant heavenly display
bespoke the birth of a king.
Tacitus tells of the belief widespread throughout the known world at
the time of Jesus' birth that a king was to be born: "There was a firm
persuasion...that at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and
rulers coming from Judaea were to acquire universal empire." (Tacitus,
HISTORIES, 5:13.) We find other such references in Josephus, Suetonius,
as well as Virgil, the Roman poet who wrote of the golden days to come.
In Numbers 24:17, the messiah himself is referred to as a star. The phrase
"king of the Jews" (basileus ton Ioudaion) places the infant Jesus in
opposition to Herod the Great, as does yearning of foreign dignitaries to
"fall down and worship him."
In this story we see one of the central themes of Matthew, the
relationship between Israel and the gentiles illuminated both by the
pagans who worship the child and the Jewish king who refuses to accept
him. Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses, sent by God to save the people
of Israel and at peril from those holding worldly authority, even in the
manger. Unlike Moses, Jesus is worshipped as king of the universe. The
messiah is exalted by those who nothing of God except the beacons they
see in the heavens, while the recognized authorities reject him. Hence
both Israel's rejection and the nature of his kingdom are indicated, and
even the city of the messiah....Bethlehem...will not be a haven for long.
Matthew's author wants to portray the unique status of Jesus as the
savior of all humankind. Additionally, he is concerned with the image of
Jesus as a forerunner of the life of Christian discipleship. At birth Jesus
is Immanuel, the Son of God; forced to wander, at enmity with the world
whose servant-king he is, but guided and protected by God Almighty.
1b. TEXT: MATTHEW 2:1-12
The Visit of the Wise Men
2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men  from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose  and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
-- ESV: English Standard Version
GreekBible.com Online Text Copyright Info
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
1του δε ιησου γεννηθεντος εν βηθλεεμ της ιουδαιας εν ημεραις ηρωδου του βασιλεως, ιδου μαγοι απο ανατολων παρεγενοντο εις ιεροσολυμα 2λεγοντες, που εστιν ο τεχθεις βασιλευς των ιουδαιων; ειδομεν γαρ αυτου τον αστερα εν τη ανατολη και ηλθομεν προσκυνησαι αυτω. 3ακουσας δε ο βασιλευς ηρωδης εταραχθη και πασα ιεροσολυμα μετ αυτου, 4και συναγαγων παντας τους αρχιερεις και γραμματεις του λαου επυνθανετο παρ αυτων που ο χριστος γενναται. 5οι δε ειπαν αυτω, εν βηθλεεμ της ιουδαιας: ουτως γαρ γεγραπται δια του προφητου: 6και συ, βηθλεεμ γη ιουδα, ουδαμως ελαχιστη ει εν τοις ηγεμοσιν ιουδα: εκ σου γαρ εξελευσεται ηγουμενος, οστις ποιμανει τον λαον μου τον ισραηλ. 7τοτε ηρωδης λαθρα καλεσας τους μαγους ηκριβωσεν παρ αυτων τον χρονον του φαινομενου αστερος, 8και πεμψας αυτους εις βηθλεεμ ειπεν, πορευθεντες εξετασατε ακριβως περι του παιδιου: επαν δε ευρητε απαγγειλατε μοι, οπως καγω ελθων προσκυνησω αυτω. 9οι δε ακουσαντες του βασιλεως επορευθησαν, και ιδου ο αστηρ ον ειδον εν τη ανατολη προηγεν αυτους εως ελθων εσταθη επανω ου ην το παιδιον. 10ιδοντες δε τον αστερα εχαρησαν χαραν μεγαλην σφοδρα. 11και ελθοντες εις την οικιαν ειδον το παιδιον μετα μαριας της μητρος αυτου, και πεσοντες προσεκυνησαν αυτω, και ανοιξαντες τους θησαυρους αυτων προσηνεγκαν αυτω δωρα, χρυσον και λιβανον και σμυρναν. 12και χρηματισθεντες κατ οναρ μη ανακαμψαι προς ηρωδην, δι αλλης οδου ανεχωρησαν εις την χωραν αυτων.
2. ANALYSIS: MATTHEW 2:1-12
MATTHEW 2:1 - Bethlehem was a little town 6 mi. to the south of
Jerusalem. Also it was the place Ruth lived after she married Boaz, and it
is the site of the pillar beside the grave where Jacob buried his beloved
Rachel. Most of all Bethlehem was the city of David. It was here that
Jews expected the birth of God's anointed one. The name Bethlehem means
"The House of Bread" and it was here the one who as the bread of life
entered the world in a stable.
Mt. 2:2 - The verb "to worship" (proskuneisai) refers to prostration in the
presence of the king or God and means worship in the literal sense of the
word. Hence the desire of the Magi to worship him stresses the universal
significance of Jesus from the very beginning.
Mt. 2:3 - Herod's terror at the idea of a messiah was well-founded. Herod
was half Jews and half Idumaean. There was Edomite blood in his veins
and his parents were Jewish converts. He had been a tool of Rome. He was
called "The Great" because he had brought peace and order to Palestine.
And he was a great builder, having built the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet his
nature was bitter, warped and murderous. He killed his wife, his
mother-in-law and three sons when he thought they might rival his power.
Thus he feared any messianic movement that might dispute his right to the
Mt. 2:4 - There was a history of severe tension between the chief priests
and the teachers of the law of the people. It is difficult to believe that
even Herod could have successfully called them together.
Mt. 2:10 - The astrologers' joy at finding the baby is powerfully portrayed
in the Greek. "When they say the star they rejoiced (echareisan) with
exceeding (sphodra), great (megalein) joy (charan). How happy they were,
what gladness they felt" (cf. Luke 2:10).
Mt. 2:11 - The gifts are royal gifts (Ps. 72:10-11, 15; 45:7-9; also Isaiah
60:6; Song of Solomon 3:6) of gold (chrusos) for the king Jesus "the Man
born to be King," frankincense (libanos) for the priest and bridge-builder to
God, and myrrh (smurna) for the embalming of the dead, and Jesus is the
one who is to die.
Mt. 2:12 - Once again a dream plays an important role as the vehicle for
God's message. The magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod and
they do not. Joseph was told in a dream "...take Mary to be your wife...she
will give birth to a son...he will save his people from their sins."
Matthew's church is thought to have been located in Syria around AD 70.
An association with Palestinian Judaism and the fundamental
interpretation of the law is clearly delineated. Likewise a familiarity
with the gentile world and the admission of pagans into the church are
accepted facts. The Jewish background of Matthew's gospel is apparent.
The debate on keeping the Law is a central question (5:17-20) and the
Sabbath is being observed (24:20). Plainly the evangelist author of
Matthew was a Jewish Christian of the Syrian church, who had to deal
with Gentile and Jew. Hence the universal theme of Matthew 2:1-12 would
have struck a responsive chord with his community, as would the call to
follow Christ's life as a wanderer, yet obedient to God in the life of
3. STRATEGY: Matthew 2:1-12
The Universal theme of this Matthean pericope is strengthened when
combined with the Lectionary text Ephesians 3:1-12. There Paul speaks
of how "...the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of
one body, and shares together in the promise in Christ Jesus." It is a
powerful message for the universal church which has become a reality
Psalm 60:1-6, which states that "kings will come to the brightness of
your dawn...bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the
Lord," shows in the visit by the Magi the fulfillment of the promise given
in the Old Testament. There is a reluctance today to see the New
Testament as a fulfillment of the Old Testament. Though this can be
overdone, certain great scholars, such as Gerhard Von Rad, affirm the
validity of doing so [see THE MESSAGE OF THE PROPHETS].
Hence it would be possible and authentic to develop a sermon based upon
the similarities between the Moses-Pharaoh story and the Jesus-Herod
story. This could become quite interesting. One would have to be cautious
and clearly delineate the differences. Only one, Jesus, was the Son of
God, the one who died on the cross.
Another theme that might be explored is what it means to be a disciple
of Christ...the wanderer, the king with no throne, the lover of the world
who is the brunt of its enmity and the savior of all the nations...still
unaccepted by even those who know him well. If this is to be our way,
how do we live in such an alien place?
Our text divides its participants into three groups:
(1) Herod, who despised Jesus and sought to kill him rather than
share his power.
(2) The chief priests and teachers of the Law who were indifferent to him.
They were preoccupied with their rituals and legal discourses. They had
little time for him.
(3) The Magi, the outsiders, the aliens who sought him out and when they
found him were overjoyed and worshipped him. How are we to exist
in this world when we face these same three types of people?
What do we do? We have our moments of seeing, but the journey of faith
is sometimes in darkness.
John Killinger wrote a small piece entitled "At the end of the journey is
Christ." In it he pointed out that we often think that the Christian is to
experience Christ as the journey's beginning. But the real surprise in store
for us all is that he is at the journey's end as well. He goes on to develop
the theme of pilgrimage through the darkness, noting that for the wise
men there was no question about whether the journey was worthwhile.
Killinger says this is "good news to those who are in a darkened phase of
their life's journey, isn't it? When you have lost the star, hold on; you will
come out on the other end of the darkness, and there will be light you
cannot no believe. That is what our faith is all about: He has been there
all the time. Through all the darkness and all the struggles, past all the
pitfalls and all the valleys, he is there. And that is what sustains all wise
men, or women, on their journeys" (p. 116).
Paul ends his message with these words, "I ask you, therefore, not to be
discouraged..." This word of encouragment might be the most powerful theme
of all as we celebrate the Epiphany, the festival of the manifestation
of Christ to us, the Gentiles. Immanuel--God is with us.
4. REFERENCES: Matthew 2:1-12
Josephus. COMPLETE WORKS. (See Book Two: THE JEWISH ANTIQUITIES.)
Grand Rapids,MI: Kregel, 1960.
Schweizer, Eduard. THE GOOD NEWS ACCORDING TO MATTHEW. Atlanta
John Knox Press, 1975.
Killinger, John, "At the End of the Journey is Christ," in James Cox,ed.
THE MINISTER'S MANUAL 1986. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.
von Rad, Gerhard. THE MESSAGE OF THE PROPHETS. New York: Harper and
5. WORSHIP SUGGESTIONS: Matthew 2:1-12
Three hymns that are suggested for Epiphany by the United Methodist
IN BETHLEHEM 'NEATH STARLIT SKIES (UMH 377),
AS WITH GLADNESS MEN OF OLD (UMH 397, HB 119,LBW 82), and
BRIGHTEST AND BEST OF THE STARS OF THE MORNING (UMH 400,LBW 84,
HB 117/8). Two of these are based on the Matthean pericope.
Other recommended hymns for this day are:
IN CHRIST THERE IS NO EAST OR WEST (UMH 192,HB 529,LBW359)
COME THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS(UMH 350,HB 66, LBW30)
WE THREE KINGS OF ORIENT ARE (UMH 402,HB 128)
O LOVE, HOW DEEP (LBW 88,HB 448/9)
O WONDROUS TYPE, O VISION FAIR (LBW 80,HB 136/7)
There is a scarcity of children's messages which address this theme, but
one which I have used to develop the universality of Christ for children is
the song "Ordinary Baby" from a song in the cantata HE STARTED THE
WHOLE WORLD SINGING by Bill and Gloria Gaither. When presenting this
message I try to help the children grasp the significance of Christ as an
infant, hungry, helpless, crying and needing love as we all did and do.
Exegete: Rev. Saundra Craig
Dartmouth, Massachusetts 02747-1925
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