January 06, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 Ephesians 3:1-12
Have you ever read mystery stories? Honestly, there was a long time during which, although I was an avid reader, I never had any interest in reading mysteries. But at some point, I took a class that studied the genre of mystery stories for a required credit in English literature. For that class we were required to read, and study, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and a dozen others. But in studying this subject, we learned a new word that stuck with me despite being a word that is a little uncommon. We learned the word, “denouement.” Here’s an official definition.
Denouement (pronounced Day-noo-mawhn)
noun: denouement; plural noun: denouements; noun: dénouement; plural noun: dénouements
The final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together, and matters are explained or resolved. The climax of a chain of events, usually when something is decided or made clear.
synonyms: culmination, climax, conclusion, solution
What this means, at least as we discuss mystery stories, is usually the part of the story where the detective calls everyone together and points out the guilty person, or explains how the mystery happened, and clears up all the confusion that the reader has been wrestling with during the story. This is usually the climax of the story and from then on, most of the story is just housekeeping and explaining how everyone lived “happily ever after.”
But by now you’ve noticed that this morning’s message is entitled, “Mystery Revealed” so I’m sure some of you are wondering what that’s all about. In reply, I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while because before I get to the end, it will all become clear(er). We begin 800 years before the time of Jesus in the writings of the propher Isaiah where we hear these words that describe the Messiah that was to come (Isaiah 60:1-6):
60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
Even in such a quick reading, we can immediately see several things that sound familiar to us from the Christmas story: a messiah that brings light to the world and dispels the darkness, nations that are drawn to toward the light of the new messiah, wanderers, expatriates, and captives that return to Israel from afar, kings of other nations who worship him, and who send gifts of gold and incense. And we see the fulfillment of many of these prophecies in the coming of the magi in Matthew 2:1-12.
2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Nations came to the light of his star to worship him and bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And while all of God’s lost children have yet been repatriated into Israel, we remember that Jesus often said that his mission on earth was to rescue the lost sheep of Israel. And if we continue reading the scriptures, we also find Paul’s explanation of the mystery of Jesus Christ as it relates to Isaiah, Jesus, and the coming of the magi in Ephesians 3:1-12.
3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
Paul says that the mystery of the messiah was revealed to Paul, and the mystery is that through Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have been invited back into the family of God. And once this mystery was revealed to us, then we realize that we can see that revelation from the beginning of the Christmas story. We realize that the genealogies of Jesus, found in the gospels, show us that Mary and Joseph came from a family that welcomed in foreigners and strangers, and we realize that the story of the magi is a story about gentiles and foreigners being among the first worshippers of the newborn messiah king.
The revelation of Paul, the mystery that is revealed, is that not only is the Christmas story a beautiful story, not only is it “good new of great joy” but that the messiah Jesus came “for all the people” and it wasn’t just all the Jewish people or for all the descendants of Abraham. The story of Christmas is good news of great joy for all the gentile people, and that means all of us. The arrival of the magi in the Christmas story is the part of the story where we show up. While the shepherds were the Jewish outsiders, the magi are the aliens, the strangers, the ultimate outsiders. This is one of the reasons that the Orthodox church celebrates Christmas in January, today, at Epiphany. The arrival of the magi is the part of the story that includes us, it is the gentile denouement, the climax of the story where everything is revealed.
Epiphany, and the arrival of the magi, is the part of the Christmas story where we are invited in and where we become a part of God’s family.
Epiphany means that Christmas isn’t just a Jewish story.
It’s our story.
And we are invited, in fact, as the church, we are commanded, to tell the world so that the story of Christmas, and the love of Jesus Christ, can be everyone’s story.
How’s that for a Christmas present?
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