Jesus is Lord, Herod is Not

A Homily for the Epiphany of our Lord (Transferred)

Text: St. Matthew 2:1-12


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, who reveals the glory of the Triune God to the nations. Amen.

Today we observe the Epiphany, the celebration of the Messiah’s manifestation – through his Incarnation and Nativity, through his first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, through the descent of the Holy Spirit at his Baptism (which we shall hear next week), and today, through the visit of the magi, astrologers visiting from Persia in the East (what we would today call Iran).

The visit of the these three magi (also called “wise men” or, incorrectly, “kings”) marks the end of the Christmas season. Tonight is Twelfth Night, the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and tomorrow, the actual feast of Epiphany, transitions us into a new liturgical season.

Now, as we shift our focus to Christ’s ministry, we remember with joy that his glorious majesty was revealed to all the nations.

And yet today’s Gospel reading ends after hinting the story will take a sinister turn.

Hearing that a new King has been born, Herod the Great “was frightened” – and when a despot like Herod feels the tinge of fear, it spreads. Soon, all of Jerusalem is afraid of what this mad tyrant will do.

Herod asks the magi when the star appeared and then asks his own religious leaders where the Messiah was to be born, sending these traveling magicians on there way with a promise that he wants to hear back from them that he may also go and bend the knee before this new-born king. This is not Herod’s typical modus operandi. Herod was king not because he was a son of David, anointed by priests of the Most High God, but because he had curried favor with Rome. His crown came not from heaven but from imperial Senate confirmation, and he displayed that oh-so-Roman ruthless and bloody efficiency. Herod the Great was known for his brutal crackdown on any and all dissent, going so far as to murder his own children.

So it came to pass that the magi, having found the infant Christ, were warned to depart Herod’s territory by another road.

But then, just after today’s reading ends, the narrative actually takes its dark twist: an angel appears to Joseph again, this time warning him to flee to Egypt and to wait for King Herod’s reign to end. Thwarted by angelic messengers and unable to locate the new-born threat, Herod flies into a rage and orders all the children in the area around Bethlehem under the age of two to be murdered, an event now observed in our liturgical calendar as Holy Innocents on the 28th of December.

The bloody deed being done but failing to accomplish Herod’s wicked goal, the Holy Family remained hidden in the relative safety of Egypt. It was only after Herod died that angels beckoned that Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin brought their son Jesus out of hiding.

As we celebrate the manifestation of the Incarnate Word and Eternally-Begotten Son, we do so in the knowledge that Christ entered this world in a manner like Moses, hidden away from the violent powers and principalities of this age. Even the Land of Promise became like Egypt when Israel was held in human bondage as slaves under Pharaoh.

We are now six weeks into the new liturgical year, and in just a few moments you will hear the coming feast days announced. As we turn our attention to the unfolding witness of Scripture this coming year, today’s text points us forward to the End when, on the feast of Christ the King, we will hear these words:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Today, we remember that our Lord comes to us as a refugee, as one forced from his home for fear of violence to seek safety in a strange land. Today, at the outset of the year, we are reminded that Christ has come to deliver us from the oppression of sin and death, but that Christ has also come most of all to the poor, the oppressed, those driven out of their native lands in search of security.

Christ’s revelation to the nations is met with rage, and his arrival is bad news for all who would cling to earthly power through bloodshed. Even from his earliest days, earthly kings rose up against him with fire and fury. But even when the powers and principalities finally triumph over him, even when the grave swallows him whole,  they do not win the day.

Today, it is revealed to all the nations that Jesus is Lord. And because Jesus is Lord, Herod is not. Because Jesus is Lord, Ceasar is not. Because Jesus is Lord, no emperor, king, or president can lay claim to those who have been ushered into the Kingdom of God.

Come, all you who are hungry, and be fed with the Bread of Heaven. You who thirst for justice and righteousness, come be sated by the Cup of Salvation. You who are captive to the sinful forces of greed, of lust, you who have been turned against your neighbor by fear, come find freedom in the Gospel. You who have fled tyrants, come together and worship the one True King. You who would serve earthly kings and presidents, bear witness as Christ topples them from their thrones. Come, you who seek a home and a place of greater safety, for in our Lord’s Kingdom, there are many rooms. Come, you who would hide behind walls and guns, meet your neighbor, made like you, in the image of God through the glory of Christ.

Come, all of you, and behold the manifest glory of God brought into the world by Christ.

Amen.

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