Recently BJS has published some pastoral letters to congregations from their congregational newsletters. It is great to see the solid and assuring words that pastors are putting in our mail boxes. Here is another fine pastoral letter from The Valley Evangel, newsletter of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Scottsdale, Arizona, January 2016, by Pastor David Jay Webber.
Epiphany: The Christmas of the Gentiles
The Festival of the Epiphany of Our Lord is one of the four major festivals of Christ in the church year. The other three are Christmas, Easter, and Ascension. The word “epiphany” means “manifestation.” The theme of the Festival of the Epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the Magi to the boy Jesus, is the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles.
God had established his chosen nation from the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But most of us who are reading this article are, according to our ethnicity and family heritage, gentiles. The patriarchs of Israel are not our ancestors. But this does not mean that God forgot about our forbears, or about us. When the Messiah of Israel was finally sent, he was sent also for us.
When Jesus was born, the angel announced to the Jewish shepherds outside of Bethlehem that their Savior had been born. And they then walked the few miles that they needed to traverse, to find him and worship him. But Jesus came into the world not only for those who were close to him – religiously, culturally, and geographically. He came also for those who were far away. He came also for our ancestors, and for us.
The story of Epiphany is the story of the star announcing to the Magi in the East – many, many miles from Bethlehem – that also their Savior had been born. And so they launched out on a major trek, traversing deserts and plains, crossing rivers, and exposing themselves to all kinds of danger, so that they could find, and worship, the Redeemer of the entire human race. Epiphany is, in a sense, the Christmas of the gentiles. It is, in a sense, our Christmas.
Those in the world today, who are invited by the story of Epiphany to come and worship Christ today, are indeed often very far away from him when they receive that invitation. Their hearts are enslaved by the fear of death. Their minds are darkened by the satanic lies they believe. Their wills are perverted by a self-destructive yearning after sin. Their consciences are twisted by a hatred for that which is their only hope. But these gentiles of today are nevertheless invited by the star of Bethlehem to come and find Jesus, and to worship Jesus, as he makes himself available to us today in his Word and sacraments. Even if they must come, as it were, from a great distance, they are still invited to come. The star of the gospel draws them, and energizes them, to come. That star invites all gentiles – and all Jews as well! – to receive Christ into their hearts, minds, wills, and consciences. The star offers to all gentiles – and to all Jews! – the liberation, the enlightenment, the purification, and the peace that only Jesus can give.
The visit of the Magi was an important event in the life of Christ on earth. The Festival of the Epiphany is, accordingly, an important observance in the church year for us. Especially if you are a gentile, go to church on Epiphany. Worship the Savior who was sent for you, and who has been manifested to you. This is your festival! This is your Christmas!