Epiphany: The Father Unwraps the Gift of His Son
If Christmas celebrates the Father’s giving of the gift of Christ Jesus to us sinners, then Epiphany might be said to be the Father unwrapping this gift for us. Epiphany means “manifestation.” In the three primary events of Epiphany - the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), the baptism of our Lord in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17), and the turning of water into wine at Cana’s wedding (John 2:1-11) – the Father is making His Son known to the world. In the words of the Apostle Paul, what has been kept secret for the ages is now revealed: “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it is has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Ephesians 3:4-6).
The coming of the Magi, these strange pilgrims from the east who are guided by a star to the bed of the infant King, are the first of an unending procession of Gentiles who will come to worship Him, finding access to God’s kindness and favor in Him. The gift of Christmas is intended for the whole world as an angel announces to shepherds: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
If the shepherds who came to Bethlehem to adore the new-born Lord represented the dregs of the culture, the untrustworthy and uneducated, then the wise men represent the other end of the spectrum. They are educated. They have reliable knowledge. They must have had wealth or how would they have had the leisure to make an overland journey to Jerusalem and purchase expensive gifts for the One whom they seek?
But the contrast between the poverty of the shepherds and the wealth of the wise men is not the point of Epiphany. Epiphany has to do with manifestation and revelation. It is about the incarnation. As one of our hymns puts it, “God in man, made manifest” (see Lutheran Service Book #394). Jesus is made manifest for the Savior He is. This Lord is true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity and true man born of the virgin Mary, as the Lutheran Catechism confesses. In this manifestation given by God’s Word to the wise men, we are given to see the contrast between the carnal wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the cross by which God confounds the wisdom of the wise (1 Corinthians 1:18-20).
The wise men followed what they had seen in the skies-this mysterious star-which they reckoned indicated the birth of the King of the Jews. They run the path of their logic: The King of the Jews must mean Jerusalem. So off to the holy city they go with their treasures in tow. Coming to Jerusalem, they go to Herod’s palace. This must be the place for a prince destined to David’s throne. Their question - “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”- causes King Herod panic! Herod consults his court theologians. Bethlehem of Judea is the answer. The Prophet Micah said that out of this Judean village would come a ruler who will shepherd God’s people forever. The prophetic Scriptures will provide a course correction for the Magi. Only when the Word of God is joined to the star are these eastern men led to Jesus. Without God’s Word, there is no Epiphany, no manifestation of the mystery.
This Jesus is the King revealed to the Magi. They do not find the Christ child by any compass of their own reason or strength. Human reason leads them astray. Human reason concludes Israel’s King must be born in the holy city, the seat of government. But Israel’s King is not found within the halls of Herod, but in Bethlehem. This is where the Scriptures point these wise men. The King of heaven and earth is bedded in a manger. The King of Glory is handed over to sinful men, crucified by sinners and dies on a cross. There on the Cross, He is epiphanied, revealed and manifested as the Savior that He is. The authentic King of the Jews is not Herod, but Jesus. That’s what His cross proclaims!
Jesus’ cross is for dull shepherds and bright magi. It is for the whole world. It is for you. In the events of the Epiphany, it is demonstrated how magi do not find the one born King of the Jews by their own wisdom. No, in fact, these wise men will become what all believers finally are: little children. Little children for whom the Lord Christ gives thanks when He prays, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such is Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:25-27).
Jesus was revealed to wise men. They are made to be like little children, capable only of receiving. This is what Epiphany makes of us, children of the Heavenly Father who do not stand before God based on our own wisdom or understanding, but as those who live by faith alone. Living by faith, we look for the King only where He has promised to be found: In the manger of His Holy Scriptures, in the foolishness of preaching, in the waters of Baptism, and in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Holy Supper where He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink for the forgiveness of sin. It is here the Father continues to unwrap His Christmas gifts given in His Son, declaring they are for you.
 In other words, the wise men need a preacher. Here note Steven Paulson: “Without a preacher, one tries to stumble forward in life and in thinking within the limits of words as signs but always seeking to escape to a far-away freedom. The world becomes a spider web of signs pointing in some hopeful direction, but signs only end up pointing to other signs (as our postmodernists have proved) and fail to give the thing itself” – Luther’s Outlaw God, Vol. I: Hiddenness, Evil, and Predestination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018), 6. Without the prophetic promise preached from Micah, the star would have remained a riddle and Christ Jesus would have stayed shrouded in darkness beyond their penetration.