You might not have noticed it, but this Wednesday was Epiphany, the day after the 12th day of Christmas, the day the church has decided to celebrate the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, and really the "Revealing" (that’s what Epiphany means) of Jesus as true God and Lord to all nations.
You’ve heard the magi sung about as three kings. You’ve seen them in the Nativity scenes, you might even know the names tradition has given them (Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior, if you’re curious). But the truth is, we really don’t know that much for sure about them, just that they — however many they were, wherever they came from, and whatever they were called — saw the star, knew the promise, and went looking for their king.
Yet, even without all the details we might like, they teach us a powerful lesson: Wise Men Bow. The mighty bow. If you read the story in your Bible, you’ll notice plenty of seemingly powerful people: King Herod the Great — his generation’s greatest builder bar none, a ruler who governed with an iron fist, even killing family members he suspected (wrongfully) of treason; the chief priests (their name gives you a clue of their prestige); and then these Magi, maybe not so powerful in Palestine, but where they came from — people listened to them.
And they all treated their power in different ways. Herod manipulated to try to put an end to the threat posed by the "king of the Jews" the magi asked about. The Priests went through the motions to impress people with their importance, giving the answer to the wise men’s question of where the one their whole religious system was about — but not following up and trying to find the one they were supposed to be waiting for.
Sadly, that’s how you and I all too often view power, might and wisdom. We fight to show how great we are, taking down anyone who would try to humble us. Or we get caught up going through the motions, looking for our value in accomplishments. But in our text, Herod and the chief priests are the bad examples. The true wise men, the ones with real power — bow.
Our text tells us they asked Herod: "Where is the king of the Jews who has been born? We saw his star in its rising and have come to bow down to him." They were holding on to a promise 1,400 years old, where God promised "A star will come out of Jacob" who will crush the head of their enemies, clearly a picture of the Messiah that God had said would crush Satan’s head already in that Garden of Eden. Wise men hold on to that promise — and the magi jumped at the chance to see it fulfilled.
And when he did, they couldn’t help but bow down. The mighty bowed. They laid down all their importance, all their tasks, all their responsibilities and income and even their comfort and convenience, and they made that brutal trek — just to bow down, to worship the one who came to fill the promise.
And that’s the real beauty of this story. The truly mighty one had bowed down to become that infant. God, the one who fills heaven and earth and holds the stars bowed to need to be held, covered, protected by that girl named Mary. God kept his promise of humbling himself to step into our race to save us. That infant came to take our place, to suffer the pain we deserve, and to defeat our death.
That’s a gift that humbles even the proudest heart. Come join me and all other wise men and women, and let’s bow to our King.
In Christ, Amen.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.