Isaiah 60: 1-6 (page 619 in our pew Bibles) "Arise, shine for your light has come". The Spirit of revelation, which is the theme of Epiphany is announced by Isaiah, together with gifts of Gold and Frankincense.
Ephesians 3:1-12 (page 977 in our pew Bibles) The mystery of God's will has been revealed to Paul and he is a steward and minister of this revelation
Matthew 2: 1-12 (page 807 in our pew Bibles) It never says how many Magi there were, only that there were three gifts, each with a special meaning. They included the Gold and Frankincense prophesied by Isaiah, and one other, Myrrh which would attest to the special meaning of Jesus' death.
In Ephesians Paul writes about “the mystery that has been made known to me by revelation”
Having things made known to us, which we couldn’t have known any other way except by direct revelation by God is the essence of Epiphany.
The main story that fulfils that brief about the identity of Christ is Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John and while that is the secondary story used in the West it is the main one in the East.
Nothing could be clearer. Jesus is baptised, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends bodily as a dove and remains with Him accompanied by the voice of God saying “This is my son, the beloved, with Him I am well pleased”
The identity of Jesus is confirmed.
Our main Epiphany story in the West has been as we heard this morning “The visit of the Magi” from the East. Here Jesus’ identity is assumed and the gifts of Gold Frankincense and Myrrh carry symbolic significance about the functions that this Son of God will fulfil.
But the very fact that foreigners visit Jesus and offer him gifts also carries huge significance. These men were not Jews, but recognise the significance of Jesus, so carry with them the universal aspect of God’s (Yahweh’s) place as the God of the whole world.
Some have tried to pour scorn on the story as just a little bit of creative writing by Matthew, but this ignores the historicity of the fact that Matthew calls them “Magi”. They are not kings or wise men they are something much more specific. “Magi” are priests within the Zoroastrian religion that still exists in Iran as a persecuted minority. Iran, in relation to Israel is of course in the East. The Zoroastrians also believed that a saviour would be born of a virgin, and they were also skilled in reading the stars – a kind of cross between Astronomers and Astrologers. Matthew is recording historical fact.
There is also no mention of how many of them there were – only that there were three gifts and it is thegifts that have symbolic value in this story and tell us about what kind of person Jesus would be and what function he would perform.
Gold represents his kingship. Jesus is King of the Jews who were to be the light for the whole world. His universal kingship here is proclaimed, underlined by the fact that these gifts were brought by foreigners.
Frankincence represents the fact that he is a priest. A priest forever after the order of Melchizadek as Hebrews tells us. Jesus is an eternal priest of God most high. What is a priest and what does he do? A priest is a mediator between God and man. The retm for "High priest" in the new testament is only used to refer to Jesus Christ himself. Christians have one mediator, one high priest, and that is Jesus whose Spirit lives within you. You have no need of my or anyone elses mediation. All Christians have direct access to God in Christ.
So he is King and High Priest. What does the Myrrh represent?
Myrrh is used for anointing dead bodies and so refers to the very special and pivotal importance of his death.
Jesus won forgiveness of all our sins and made us Holy in God’s eyes as a atoning sacrifice which is why we proclaim that Jesus “died for our sins”.
This is a mystery that has been revealed to us by Jesus and proclaimed ever since by the church as an article of faith.
Jesus is both King and High Priest and has made us one with God through his atoning sacrifice. This is the faith of the church – proclaimed then, now and forever.