Based on: Ephesians 3:2-12
Do you know what day of the year has the shortest period of daylight and the longest night? It is the day in which the winter solstice occurs. Last year it was December 22nd. In the past, many centuries ago, before certain changes were made to the calendar that we use today, the winter solstice would occur on December 25th. It is possible that Christians started celebrating Christmas on that day to take the place of pagan festivals that celebrated the winter solstice.
Even though Christ’s birth was very likely not on December 25th, can you think of a better time to celebrate Christ’s birth? Can you think of a better time than at this time of the year when darkness comes so early in the evening? In this darkness we have a great reminder of the spiritual darkness that exists in this world. What better time to celebrate the coming of the light of the world, Jesus Christ?
But Christmas was 12 days ago. Today is Epiphany. Yes, and the word epiphany means “an appearance” or “a revealing.” Throughout the season of Epiphany we celebrate how this light who has come into the world reveals himself to us. This light that pierces the spiritual darkness of this world reveals himself as our Savior. We heard in the gospel for today that the Magi came to worship their Savior Jesus. In this we can see that even from birth the Savior was for the Gentiles – that means Jesus is for us as well. Paul says this is a mystery that has been revealed to us. In this mystery the wisdom of God is to us.
Those Magi who came to worship Jesus at Bethlehem were not Jews. They were Gentiles. By definition a Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. Paul tells us that this Jesus Christ who came as Savior of the world came for both Jew and Gentile equally. Paul says this was a mystery that it was his privilege to reveal to as many people as he could. It was a mystery, not in the sense that it is hidden or fuzzy or unknowable, not like some cloud whose shape you can’t really figure out. No, it is like a magician’s trick. How a magician makes an elephant disappear is a mystery. But if he tells you how he did it, it becomes perfectly clear.
For centuries Israel had been God’s chosen people. God had chosen to communicate with them through his prophets and for the most part the Gentiles were on the outside. Of course throughout the Old Testament there were promises and prophecies that the Gentiles would be included. Our first lesson for today is a good example. It describes many nations coming and bringing gifts to the Lord our Savior. Even so, many Jews believed they would continue to be favored by God simply because they were descendants of Abraham. You know that many Jews eventually rejected Jesus Christ. And now the earthly nation of Israel no longer enjoys that favored status with God. Being part of God’s people is based on faith in the gospel. As Paul writes, “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."
This is not something we would have known except that God tells us about it. He tells us about it in his Word and in the sacraments. In the Bible we read about this mystery that this gospel message is for all people and because it is for all people you can be certain that it is for you. The mystery has been revealed. God makes it clear that the Gospel is for all people. And you are part of that group.
Perhaps St. John’s is made up of all Gentiles. I don’t know of any of you who are of Jewish descent, but as we look at God’s body of believers throughout history and around the world we are part of the much larger group of believers that includes both Jews and Gentiles. Through this church, through this one body of true believers, God makes known his wisdom. God used others to reveal the message of the gospel to us and then he in turn reveals that message to others through us. The message of Jesus Christ crucified for sins is that gospel message that is shared as people share God’s Word. And as you read your Bible, you are not just reading stories about the nation of Israel but every page and every word communicates the truth, and it reveals God’s wisdom in rescuing you from your sins.
This too is something we would not have known unless God told us about. It is by grace that this mystery has been revealed to us. It is the wisdom of God that we are saved by God himself coming into the world and taking our place in life and in death. It is God’s wisdom and the human mind could not have made it up. In fact the human mind cannot comprehend it or accept it unless the Holy Spirit creates faith.
And God in his wisdom tells us what he did for us. Now we also have this grace, this undeserved gift. As Paul was given the privilege to tell the Gentiles, we are given the privilege to tell others and to unfold this mystery to others. Even though we are unworthy for this task, God gives it to us and enables us to carry it out.
But perhaps sometimes we are content to leave this mystery as a mystery. Perhaps we ignore this mystery and we fail to dig deeper into this mystery, to learn more and more about what God has done for us. Perhaps we have lost that sense of just how great it is to understand this mystery, that God is my Savior. We have heard it over and over again and our ears begin to tune it out. Then when it comes to telling others it doesn’t seem so important a job. It seems that the job is unworthy of us rather than we being unworthy of the job.
That is when we need to hear again that even though we are not worthy of heaven, God rescued us through Jesus Christ and made us worthy so that not only could we be his messengers, but we could also share eternity with him.
This certainly is a mystery that has been revealed. The light of the world pierced your spiritual darkness and revealed God’s wisdom to you – Christ came for you. He died for you and now you have the privilege of telling others.