Epiphany of Our Lord Revised Common Lectionary Year B

Epiphany of the Lord: Year B

Highlighted Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Summary of the Text

The celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord can be at once both wholly familiar or somewhat confusing, especially for those who grew up in less liturgical traditions. What causes the confusion? Perhaps nativity scenes are partially to blame, where both Christ’s birth and the reception of the Magi from the East are celebrated in one combined scene. Children who grew up carefully placing the figurines of the Magi alongside the nativity scene may be surprised to have an entire worship service dedicated to the Magi’s arrival. But, as we will see, this text is filled with rich themes of the Christian life. Whether preached as part of an Epiphany service or as a standalone, there is much here for us to consider. 

The text begins with a rather matter-of-fact description of Magi, most easily translated as “astrologers” from the East coming to Judea by way of a “star.” Let’s begin our discussion with these Magi. Who were they? Why had they come? 

Commentaries are in general agreement that they would have been astrologers, most likely from Babylon or Persia (interestingly two of the foreign empires who ruled over Judea previously (albeit in very different ways)), their worship would have been inter-mixed with their observation of the cosmos, sharing at least some similarity with those today who find supernatural truth in the movements of the heavens.

Another question we might ask, when did they arrive? The night of Jesus’ birth? Most likely not. However, it would not have been much later as the Holy Family were still in Bethlehem, where Mary presumably was recovering from birth and caring for the baby Jesus. When I (Stu) preached this text a few Christmases ago, I was struck by the fact that God would use foreigners, whose worship would have been deemed “idolatrous,” as ones who would testify to the one true God and king.  

Oftentimes as Christians we like to insulate ourselves from outsiders who think differently than us. And yet, in this text, we see foreigners, whose longing to worship draws them to Judea to worship God Himself. Such a passage brings to mind Luther’s famous aphorism, that “sometimes the curses of the godless sound better than the hallelujahs of the pious.” Are we willing to listen and learn from those outside our neat little circles of influence?

The text describes a “star” which the Magi followed to Judea. Interestingly enough, there is some question as to whether it was an actual star itself. Astronomers have noted that planetary movements naturally travel from east to west, not north to south. One commentator, Louis A. Barbieri wonders if “‘the star’ which the Magi saw and which led them to a specific house was “the Shekinah glory of God? That same glory had led the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years as a pillar of fire and cloud. Perhaps this was what they saw in the East, and for want of a better term they called it a “star.” All other efforts to explain this star are inadequate (such as a conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars; a supernova; a comet; etc.).”

In any event, this star led them to Bethlehem, where they met Herod the Great, considered by most Jews as a tyrant king, whose authority came not from God, but from the Roman Empire. As a possible contrast of authority, Josephus, the extra-biblical Jewish source of many of the main actors and events that occur during Jesus’ time, tells us that after their victory Herod pleaded with Pompey to be given civil authority over the Palestinian area and ultimately was granted that power. Herod, whose authority would never be fully accepted by the Jews, is willing to kill an innocent child, if it will help him keep his power. What are we willing to do to hold on to our power? 

When the Magi arrive they present gifts to the king baby and His holy family. It is perhaps in the gifts that the tradition of three Magi may have developed. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are each mentioned as the specific gifts given. Much has been speculated about these gifts. Christian tradition has seen significance in each of the three gifts, specifically related to Jesus’ identity and ministry. Gold reflects his kingship, the frankincense his priestly role, and the myrrh his sacrifice on the cross (myrrh was traditionally used to prepare bodies for burial) The text doesn’t explicitly say this, but the preacher may feel inclined to take this interpretation. There are other themes we could consider here, including epiphany itself. An epiphany generally relates to the concept of revelation, of something that was once hidden and has now been revealed. 

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

Nothing makes one so dizzy as human reasoning, which sees everything from an earthly point of view, and does not allow illumination from above. Earthly reasoning is covered with mud. Therefore, we have need of streams from above, so that, when the mud has fallen away, whatever part of the reason is pure may be carried on high and may be thoroughly imbued with the lessons taught there. This takes place when we manifest both a well-disposed soul and an upright life.

John Chrysostom, Homily 24 (John 2:23-3:4)


Key Illustration

The Transfer of Energy

In physics, power is defined as the transfer of energy. In a light bulb, for example, electricity is transferred into light and heat. A 100-watt light bulb is more powerful than a 60-watt light bulb because there is more energy transferred. The same is true in leadership. It is a leader’s ability to transfer their authority to others that actually gives them their power.

Simon Sinek, What Leaders Can Learn From Mandela’s Selflessness and Sacrifice

Comment: In the Epiphany of the Lord, we see two examples of power and authority. The first, given by Rome is that of Herod. It is the fleeting type of authority that is given to us as human beings. The other type of power comes from God alone and rests on the head, in this case, of a baby boy. While the first type of authority and power is corrupt, willing to take the life of a newborn, Jesus’ authority is one of transference. He gives himself up, so that we might have eternal life. The metaphor above by Simon Sinek is helpful, but can be extrapolated out even further. Jesus emptied himself (Phil.2) not just so we can be leaders, but experience abundant life, both here and the life to come.

Additional Sermon Resources

Liturgical Elements

Call to Worship

Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

He will judge the people with righteousness and defend the cause of the poor.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

The mystery of the ages is revealed; the eternal plane of God is known to all.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

Let us kneel down before him to give him honor, glory, and praise.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

Let us offer him all the treasures of our hearts and our lives.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

Submitted by Austin D. Hill


Prayer of Confession

God of glory, you sent Jesus among us as the light of the world, to reveal your love for all people. We confess that our sin and pride hide the brightness of your light. We turn away from the poor; we ignore cries for justice; we do not strive for peace.  In your mercy, cleanse us of our sin, and pour out the gifts of your Spirit, that, forgiven and renewed, we may show forth your glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ.

Time of silent reflection and confession…


Submitted by Austin D. Hill


Assurance of Pardon

 Adapted from 1 John 1:4-7

And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.



1 Timothy 1:17

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.