Epiphany: School lesson

“Anbetung der Könige”, which was commissioned by Friedrich the Wise from the German painter Albrecht Dürer for the town of Wittenberg in the middle of the 16th century.

Before the Christmas holiday´s we used Dr. Martin Luther´s translation of Bishop Ambrose of Milan´s composition “Veni redemptor genitum” to introduce the Adventide and the glorious incarnation of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ in Bethlehem promised from of old and at last fulfilled in our world and age. Now after the high holidays the festive season continues in the Epiphany of the very same Lord. He, who did not just arrive for the benefit of those Jews in Judea – but also for the heathen nations and whole world, shows himself as who his is. In him, we can visualize God, who in Jesus Christ has himself effectively cancelled his old commandment by giving us a living image (Icon) of himself in flesh and blood.

Albrecht Dürer depicts the venerable magoi from the East as royal representatives of the old world (cf. Ps.72:10ff): Africa, Asia and Europe falling down in reference before the King of kings and Lord of Lords – a little baby boy on the holy Virgin´s lap – she the mother of God and humble maid-servant of the Highest. Three kings Melchior, Balthasar and Caspar deduced from the threefold gifts: Gold, incence and myrrhe. They are there just like the ox and ass mentioned in Isaiah 1,3, because they have come to see the King of the Jews. Obviously, like all symbolism, this trilogy is subject to some interpretation, which can be true or false, misleading or right on target. Caelius Sedulius uses it to reflect on the natures of Christ – the duality of divine and human is complemented by the category of royality in vers 2 of his memorable canticle: Hostius Herodes, impie… (5th Century) again translated by Dr. Martin Luther and available in the SELK Hymnal 423. It is a good outline of our Lord´s Epiphany – a short catechism of his appearance among us – bringing us life and salvation aplenty from on high.

Was fürchtst du, Feind Herodes, sehr,
Daß uns geborn kommt Christ der Herr?
Er sucht kein sterblich Königreich,
Der zu uns bringt sein Himmelreich.

King Herod did not make it into either the Apostolic nor Nicene Creed as Pontius Pilate did. Still, he gained further notoriety by setting off the persecution of the Christ, although this “King of the Jews”, whose star the men saw in the East, clearly doesn´t seek a worldly kingdom as he confesses at the end of his short career when suffering under Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world!”. King Herod sent his legions to kill him – and just to make sure murders the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem, sending little baby Jesus off to Egypt in full flight after the angelic warning and fulfilling a further prophecy, this time the one from Jeremiah 31:15-17:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

This holy Gospel for the 28th December (Holy Innocents) underlines with the Gospel of St. Stephen´s Holiday on the 2nd Day of Christmas (26th December) that the high and holy festive season of Christmas is not some sentimental and emotional feel-good myth designed by Hollywood & Co, but rather shows realistically that our Lord came into this very world – not some illusionary utopia. It is a world, where innocent babies are killed by the high and mighty. It is a world, where innocent servants of the Lord are stoned, poisoned and keelhauled by those, who fancy themselfs as special envois from onhigh – like the high-priests serving Herod on his mission of death and Saul, who presided gleefully at the merciless killing of St. Stephen.

Little Jesus being carried off to Egypt and the Holy Innocents carried all the way home into heaven.

Dem Stern die Weisen folgen nach,
Solch Licht zum rechten Licht sie bracht.
Sie zeigen mit den Gaben drei,
Dies Kind Gott, Mensch und König sei.

The wintery skies show a meriad of stars – if you´re view is not clouded. Yet, one was of special significance and the wise men from East were able to tell it´s meaning. After all it was the heavenly sign to announce “The new-born king of the Jews!” We don´t hear of any others being able to read this godly message. Not even the scribes and high priests in Jerusalem could make it out. Thankfully, however they had the Holy Scriptures – the Old Testament and they knew, that the promised Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem – the house of Bread – accourding to the prophet Micah. The Holy Bible – the Old and New Testament – is the true light on our path to find eternal life, because it points us – like the holy star up in the Christmas sky did to the blessed men from the East – directly, perfectly, clearly and authoritatively to our Lord Jesus Christ. He, himself calls us through this witness – and blessed are all, who do not take offense at Him.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.
And he will be our peac
e”

(Micah 5:2ff)

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this
.

(Isaiah 9:1-6)

Die Tauf im Jordan an sich nahm
Das himmelische Gotteslamm,
Dadurch, der nie kein Sünde that,
Von Sünden uns gewaschen hat.

Our Lord´s Baptism by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan

Our Lord IX did not come to dissolve the law, but to fulfill it. Therefore, he requested Holy Baptism from the hands of St. John the Baptist – to fulfill all requirements of God´s holy Law “for us and our salvation”. He did that at the start of his public ministry – when he was about 30 years old. It was ongoing appearance of our Lord, showing himself as who he was, so that we would recognize God´s own and very beloved Son – listen to him, obey him and follow his ways. He, who was without sin, took upon him the sins of the world, so that everybody, who trusts in him, will be saved. This is not just for the Jews in Israel, but rather for all nations – right to the ends of the world. For as he said in his final testament: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – and teach them everything, that I have entrusted to you!” (cf. Mt.28:18ff). This gospel of Jesus´Baptism is dedicated to the 1st Sunday after Epiphany.

Ein Wunderwerk da neu geschah:
Sechs steinern Krüge man da sah
Voll Wassers, das verlor sein Art,
Roter Wein durch sein Wort draus ward.

Our Lord at the wedding in Cana

The first miracle Jesus did, was changing water into wine. Here depicted in a Greek icon, showing the married couple, the wine jars and holy mother of God talking to her son. It´s the gospel for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. We will hear more then. For now it´s time to join in God´s praises for sending us His son – and have him appear among us, so we would recognize, how good, friendly, merciful, gracious, loving and compassionate is our God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen.

Lob, Ehr und Dank sei dir gesagt,
Christ geborn von der reinen Magd,
Mit Vater und dem Heilgen Geist
Von nun an bis in Ewigkeit.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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