The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Exotic Epiphany

Every time I read out loud the Gospel for Epiphany, I get to the word homage and realize I should have looked it up. Is homage pronounced ah-mage or ham-mage? It’s an exotic word I don’t use outside of Epiphany. But I’m relieved to learn that either is correct. In either case, the magi offer the infant Christ “an expression of high regard.” 

Let’s not forget that the magi are pretty exotic visitors. A member of our parish made some flamboyant headpieces for our annual Epiphany procession of the three magi. Most of us would probably not want to be seen in these “crowns.”

We’re so used to seeing wise men at the crèche that we don’t realize how strange they really are. They’re certainly more intriguing than the pedestrian, sleepy shepherds on the hillside. These magi are pagans, gentiles. They may have been astronomers, fortune-tellers, magicians or practiced occult artists. They’re certainly colorful.

These exotic magi show that Jesus is Messiah not only for his own people but for all the diverse and exotic people of the earth. The Gospel has other exotic twists. Treasure chests of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold for a king, but incense and myrrh foreshadow Jesus’ death and burial. No room for sentimentality here — there will be rejection and death and sacrifice. There will be a power struggle. King Herod is threatened by news of this infant king.

And then there’s that star. It leads not to the halls of power but to this helpless, vulnerable infant. The magi travel a great distance to offer their homage to this mysterious newborn.

After hearing the Christmas and Epiphany Gospels year after year they become so familiar to us. After all, the carols are sung and recorded by believers and non-believers alike. Yet the message is exotic and exciting and eccentric. An “epiphany” is an aha experience, after all.

The profound truth of Epiphany is that God’s love is for all the world, for all nations, for all people. Christ is born that God’s faithfulness might be made manifest, made known, revealed to all the ends of the earth. Go tell it on the mountain, we sing. And for the part of us that is a bit outside the box — exotic, eccentric, unusual — that part is welcome as well.

We, too, seek to be wise women, men and children. We, too, seek a savior who will bring justice, peace and righteousness. We, too, come to pay homage to the one who delivers us from sin and death. We, too, seek to begin a new year with openness to all the wonders and surprises before us.

For the most exotic part of Epiphany is our God — a God whose love is extravagant, whose grace is boundless, whose star shines with mercy and hope. O come, let us adore. O come, let us offer homage.


Ronald Marshall

Ronald Marshall

Posted at 3:05 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/2/2013

I like the stress in Pastor Mueller's sermon on the word homage, as well as on the exotic and the extravagant. But there's also a gaping hole in it. What's missing is the word from Micah that gets the magi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem -- so that they can do what they set out to do, namely, worship Christ and offer him gifts. Fortunately we have a few days yet before Epiphany Sunday to fix Mueller's sermon -- as well as Martin Luther's wonderful example from 1532 to help guide us (Luther's House Postils, 3 vols. ed. E. Klug, Baker House, 1996). What Luther adds from his sermon is this: "[The] example of the wise men serves us . . . . that there might be no confusion . . . concerning this event; if we want to seek and find this child, we must believe the Word, stick to it, and not allow ourselves to be diverted from it. If we disregard the Word, the offense has already occurred. For the child is so humble and wretched to look at that it is impossible for one to approach by one's reason, apart from the Word. Reason and worldly wisdom cannot comprehend or believe that this child, who can find no room where he might be born, is a King and Lord, a King so great that he is the world's Saviour. It is meant to be preached through the Word and comprehended in the Word, and to enter our hearts so that we believe it. And as his birth is poor and wretched, so his entire life is likewise nothing but poverty, privation, suffering, misery, shame, and disgrace. The one who loses the Word and merely with human eyes regards him lying in the manger, in the stable, and so on, has already lost him" (1:198). What Luther adds is crucial, for without it our Epiphany celebrations will be berift of faith, as he explains. 

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Embracing diversity