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Epiphany, The Mystery of The Star of Bethlehem, And 'The Gentile Christmas'

Please forgive me. I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of this piece.

I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing.

Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment.

For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). So, all that being said, settle in since this is going to be a detailed look at what it is we celebrate on January 6th each year.

One of the things that I've enjoyed since fully embracing becoming a Confessional Lutheran is learning about the Church Calendar and the various holidays and seasons we celebrate (CLICK HERE if previous hyperlink doesn't work) in the process of preaching Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind.

For instance, I learned that yesterday we celebrated what's called the Epiphany. What does that word mean? What is it all about?

Q: I was wondering if you could explain Epiphany to me a little better. Also, when was the Circumcision of the Lord? 
A: Epiphany is from a Greek word, meaning to "reveal" or "make manifest." The season of Epiphany is our time to focus on the revelation of "who" Jesus is: both true God and man. On the Festival of Epiphany, Jan. 6, we hear the reading of the visit of the wise men (Matthew 2:1-12). In that event, these foreigners bowed down in acknowledgement that this infant was indeed the Christ, the Son of God. The Sunday after Epiphany we hear the story of the Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). Here, God the Father confirms that this man standing in the water is His beloved Son. The following Sunday we hear the story of the changing of water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11). Through this event, Jesus revealed his glory and his disciples put their faith in him. According to Jewish law, all males were circumcised on the eighth day -- one week after their birth. We don't know the actual birth date of Jesus, so we don't know the day of His circumcision either. But since we have set aside a date for observing His birth, Dec. 25, we then set aside Jan. 1 (eight days later) as the date for the naming and circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:21). The significance of this day is that our Savior began His long ministry of submitting Himself to the Law in our place. Also, this was the first shedding of His blood, and points, in a small way, to the ultimate shedding of His blood on the cross. 

Growing up in the LCMS here in Western New York (having been baptized, confirmed, and married in a Lutheran church), how sad and unfortunate is it that I never once had any of that taught to me -- let alone presented to me -- in a single sermon that I could recall!?! Sad.

So, if you're curious like me, and you want to hone in on the Festival of Epiphany to understand why it's an important day for us as believers, then here's a meditation for Epiphany that was published by Rev. Will Weedon, LCMS Director of Worship, International Center Chaplain...

In the darkness, a light shines. Isaiah says that the light is the Lord and that it is His glory that arises and beckons nations and kings to Its rising. And the picture is truly beautiful. 
A people that had been huddling in the darkness and in fear, are suddenly drawn. They all head to the light. A big homecoming feast — sons and daughters and abundance all stream toward the light, camels from Arabia, and mysterious visitors bearing gold and frankincense, all proclaiming the praises of God, the God who comes among us to shine His light in our darkness. 
In the darkness, a light shines. They look up and ponder. They’d never seen such a star as this before. They discuss what it could mean and finally decide that it can only mean one thing: the long-awaited, long-promised, long-storied King of the Jews has finally been born. And so they prepare their presents and begin their journey. Only when they arrived, it’s as though no one had noticed. No big celebrations. No national joy. Just business as usual. Darkness as usual. In perplexity they inquire where the newborn King can be found. And so their question stirs the ancient darkness. For Herod’s heart is dark, make no mistake about it. He’s a murderer and has already murdered close kin for fear they were after his throne. Now news of a newborn King? 
The darkness stirred in his wicked heart and the people’s hearts were darkened by fear of the mad man who was their ruler. Perhaps darkness also crept into the hearts of the wise men as they stood before the creepy king. 
Could they have been wrong? Herod asks the chief priests and scribes where the Christ, so long foretold, was to be born. He tells the wise men: “You’ve got the wrong city. He’s in Bethlehem. Down south. You go find Him and then bring me back word so that I too may come and worship Him.” 
And with hearts hopeful and still battling the dark they set out and there it was again: the mighty light, the star they had seen at its rising, shining through the darkness and leading their way until they saw at last its beams bathing one house in celestial light. 
Led by the light, they enter into a humble house and find another Light. Light brighter than any star. They see the Child in His mother Mary’s lap and they fall down before Him. They worship Him, this little Child, who is Light of Light and very God of very God made human flesh, and they offer their gifts and head back home away from the mad man, their hearts changed forever by what they had seen. 
Into the very heart of darkness, where the ruthless kill their rivals and where people of common sense fear the ruthless and tremble, into the darkness of hate and violence, fear and despair. In that darkness, a light had been kindled that would never go out. 
Like Herod of old, Saul of Tarsus was once a man of darkness. It filled his heart and he raged against the light that shone from the Child grown to manhood. He wasn’t afraid to use violence and intimidation, persecution and suffering, to try and stamp it out. “It’s a LIE!” he insisted to the people. “It’s a bloody lie. Don’t speak of Him. He’s nothing but a fraud and these lunatic followers of His are sweeping you away with their foolish story.” 
But then the day came when he literally saw the light. The light that the Child is and which He shines into this world. The light of Divinity shining through conjoined humanity. It knocked him from his horse, turned his life upside down and inside out, and set him on a new course. The darkness was driven from his heart that day by that shining light on Damascus’ road. Light that embraced him, forgave him, loved him, gave him the promise of a life never to end and sent him as its messenger. 
And Saul the persecutor became Paul the humble apostle. He was given a mystery to proclaim: the light that shines in the darkness? It’s not a light for only this or that people, or this or that person. It’s a light for all — even those with hearts as dark as Herod or Saul of Tarsus. That light shines to make all together heirs of God, members of one body, partakers of this great promise. 
What is that promise? That the light has come. That the light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not, cannot and will not overcome it. No matter how terrifying the darkness may be for you at this moment, no matter what beasts lurk in the shadows and rage and seek to destroy it. The light has come, and the light that is in Jesus Christ is simply a love that no hatred, divisions or fear will ever be able to snuff out. It is a light that reveals God’s plan and gift in Jesus: one family gathered around one table celebrating one feast in a joy that never ends and where there is no more fear, darkness, tears, death, suffering, pain. All the old things, passed away. The new things, here. Here and present now, shining in His light. And you, you are welcomed and summoned into that light. 
Here is the mystery of the Church! As through a door open from heaven (Revelation 4!), her light streams out into the dark and cold night of this world and shows the lost the way home. 
So the Church shines the light of eternity, the light that is her secret joy and inner life, the light that is fellowship with God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit into the darkness. That light summons all to arise and come home. It draws them. 
Epiphany light — the light that is for all — the Christ who is Savior of all men. 
The light who went into our deepest darkness, who knew our suffering, who cried our tears, who died our death in darkness upon His cross to forgive all our sin. He is the light that could not be snuffed out. Risen, glorified, seated at His Father’s right hand, the very promise that light triumphs and that the love of the age to come will be the final word in this world. 
So Saul of Tarsus learned. So Isaiah foresaw. So the wise men were brought to believe. So we proclaim until the day when what we believe in a mystery is manifest for all to see — the day when the light of Christ shines visibly upon this world and transfigures us all. 
Today we worship Him with Isaiah and the wise men and St. Paul. Today we bow before Him and let Him feed into us in the Eucharist His light, His all-encompassing love and forgiveness, so that our lives too may shine and bear this witness: “Behold, the Lord, the Ruler has come, and the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand.” [Introit] Come, let us worship Him, the Light who shines in the darkness. Amen. 
The following were anciently read on Christmas Day in the Daily Office, but they may also serve as an introduction to the Divine Service on Christmas Day. 
About Unwrapping The Gifts 
Unwrapping the Gifts is a bimonthly publication of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Worship Ministry devoted to providing resources for worship. Everyone involved in planning worship is encouraged to subscribe to the Unwrapping the Gifts RSS feed. Reproduction for individual, church or school use does not require permission. © The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295 • 888-843-5267 • infocenter@lcms.org • www.lcms.org

Beautiful, isn't it? But we're not done yet.

Here's a beautiful video that Concordia Publishing House (CPH) produced this year that should help tie it all together...

What Is Epiphany? 
On Epiphany, we give thanks to God for Jesus Christ, revealed in the Gospel as the Savior for all people. May this video illuminate the meaning of Epiphany and encourage you to let the light of our Savior shine through to a world living in darkness. 

Again, as a new Lutheran, I absolutely L-O-V-E resources like that!

If you know anything about me by now it's that I also love Apologetics. That is, I love being able to discuss WHY I believe what I believe and not just WHAT I believe with other people.

Perhaps this affinity for Q&A's is a direct result of my escape from American Evangelicalism to becoming a Confessional Lutheran. Either way, there are always a few common criticisms, objections, and questions presented by skeptics this time of year.

Many of our apologetics efforts tend to focus on the Incarnation and Virgin Birth (and for good reason too). Today, however, I would like us to take a brief look at another aspect of the Christmas story that is often overlooked, but just as compelling -- the Star of Bethlehem.

Most of the debate seems to center around one key question.

Was the Star of Bethlehem real, or was it something that was just "made up" by the early Christian Church in order to "sell" the Christmas story like skeptics will often claim?

Of course, we all know the answer to that question, but did you know that there is some IRREFUTABLE SECULAR EVIDENCE available to us that proves that what we believe is true?

In fact, it's so convincing that it's similar to the historicity of our cherished faith whenever we confess the words "Under Pontius Pilate" like Pastor Sam Schuldheisz once reminded us.

Now, before I continue down this road, I want to make something crystal clear:


Now that we got that out of the way, we can continue by taking a look an an intriguing documentary I became aware of.

An acquaintance of mine recently posted a link to an extremely well-done documentary on the Star of Bethlehem that I'd love to get your feedback on.

This is the sort of presentation that should humble the proud and silence the critics (Romans 1:20; 1 Corinthians 1:27). This is the sort of presentation that could easily be used by us Christians as a "springboard" to opening the door to a religious discussion with non-believing family and friends that will, in turn, give us the opportunity to confess Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind.

That being said, you need to set aside some time and watch this project in its entirety because it will help you to foster an even deeper sense of awe and wonder for our God, His creation, and His Son Jesus Christ.

I know, it's not as if we need something like this as a reason to feel and respond that way (hello! Jesus' life, death, and resurrection to save me, a wretched sinner, from my sins is enough to do that!).

Still, if this documentary on the Star of Bethlehem is accurate and legit -- and my layman's brain can't find anything that would discredit it and/or cause me to second-guess anything here (so please tell me if you notice something that I may have missed) -- then this is pretty incredible stuff!

The best part? It was created by a Lawyer -- not an Astronomer or Scientist -- who simply became interested in the history of the Star of Bethlehem, and so he did an extensive study of it by examining all of the facts.

He relied on Biblical texts, Jewish Historians (such as Josephus), and Astronomers (experts such as Kepler and Copernicus) to prove to himself the veracity of the Bible's claims.

Using modern Astronomy software, he then went back in time to the period in which the Eastern Star would have been viewed in the sky, and he began piecing together his findings.

Both mind-blowing and meticulously researched, this 2007 film is certainly worth your time this Epiphany season, because the result of his hard work is nothing short of amazing. If nothing else, perhaps it will at least generate some good discussion here in the Comments Section below.

The Mystery of The Star of Bethlehem 
Scholars debate whether the Star of Bethlehem is a legend created by the early church or a miracle that marked the advent of Christ. Is it possible that the star was a real, astronomical event? From Producer Stephen McEveety (The Passion of The Christ) comes an amazing documentary on the Star of Bethlehem. This presentation as seen by tens of thousands in the U.S. and in Europe explores the exciting truth of Scripture and reveals the evidence for God's existence as seen in the stars above. Presenter Rick Larson walks you through Biblical and historical clues revealing the incredible significance of this celestial event as well as the vastness of God's creativity. Discover the secret of the Star -- a secret of magnificent beauty. 

So, what did you think of that?

Again, I know we don't need something like this to "strengthen our faith" or anything, but I pray that this has left you with a greater sense of awe and wonder toward our Creator God this Epiphany season. Better yet, it just might be the talking point/topic the Holy Spirit uses to draw a skeptic (John 6:44).

Finally, to bring it all home for us, or in keeping with the theme, to lead us to the truth like a star in the night sky, please take just a few more minutes to read a beautiful sermon by Pastor Charles Henrickson. Here's a small excerpt...

"The Gentile Christmas" (Sermon On Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6) 
It is often called “the Gentile Christmas.” I’m talking about Epiphany, of course, the festival we are celebrating today. The Epiphany of Our Lord is one of the major festivals in the church year, one of the biggies. It’s a fixed-date festival, meaning it always falls on a certain date, regardless of the day of the week–like Christmas is always on December 25. Epiphany is always January 6, right after the twelve days of Christmas. So if January 6 happened to be on a Friday or a Tuesday, for example, we’d be having service. But this year, as happens every once in a while, January 6 happens to fall on a Sunday. So we’re here anyway. So today is both a Sunday and a major festival. A double reason to celebrate! 
The Epiphany of Our Lord. This festival celebrates that time when the star of Bethlehem led the wise men to the Christ child. This was a significant, breakthrough event. It indicated early on, even in Christ’s infancy, that his coming was not just for the people of Israel, but also for the Gentiles. That is why, as I said earlier, Epiphany is often called “The Gentile Christmas.” I want to explain that now, and show how this is good news for us and for the people around us, who need the light of Christ, the light of the gospel, as much as we do. 
First, let me explain what I mean by “the Gentile Christmas.” If Epiphany is “the Gentile Christmas,” then what is Christmas itself? Would that be “the Jewish Christmas”? 
[Continue Reading...]

Amen! At the end of the day, it's not about camels, and kings, and stars, but about the King of kings and His scars...FOR YOU!

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, as impressive as this presentation is, and as remarkable as the Star of Bethlehem was as an integral part of God's marvelous creation and plan of salvation for all of humanity, let's make sure we worship Him and not what He created.

Yes, the Star of Bethlehem was a "Star of Wonder / Star of Night," but it was only a star.

The real "star" of Advent/Christmas/Ephiphany is Emmanuel, the Jewish Messiah, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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