THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
January 6, AD 2023

To the Most Reverend and Right Reverend Hierarchs,
 Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers,
Deacons, Subdeacons, Acolytes, Seminarians, Monastics, Laity and Friends
of The Archdiocese of America, the Anglican Vicariate,
 and the Diocese of East and Southeast Asia:

Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

CHRIST IS BAPTIZED! IN THE RIVER JORDAN!

There shall come a man out of Israel’s seed.... I will point to him, but not now; I bless him, but he draws not near: a star shall rise out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel…. Numbers 24:7,17 LXX

Those of you who have been exposed to the Advent sermons have heard me say that it is utterly impossible to integrate the nativity stories of Luke and Matthew. Each author had his own audience and his own purpose in writing his own story. And the stories, we must always remember, are not history: they are the presentation of the Gospel to the audience for whom the author was writing. We might, today, call such writings theological explanations of the Good News.
 
Matthew’s is a very carefully produced document that relies on the Jewish Scriptures (though not necessarily in Hebrew – the Septuagint was more widely known.) His gospel begins with the genealogy of Joseph, who is a just man, a term used in Scripture only of Noah – from whom all humans are descended, Noah, the new source of God’s life in God’s world. Joseph, like an earlier Joseph, learns from God through his dreams. This child that Mary is carrying, conceived through the Holy Spirit, is the Davidic messiah: although this depends on Joseph’s adoption of Jesus as his own child. And Joseph, like Joseph of old, dreams and learns from הוהי God , and then brings his family into Egypt thus escaping an attempt on his life.
 
And it is amazing to us to realize that Jesus’ escape from Herod is remarkably similar to the story of Moses’ escape from Pharaoh. But when we look at the parabiblical documents that existed at the time of the birth of Jesus, we see how they had been expanded to include that Pharaoh had been forewarned that a child was to be born who was a threat to his crown. So, he decided to kill all the male Hebrew children. At the same time, these same documents show, the father of Moses had a dream that warned him that his already pregnant wife was to bear a child who would save Israel – this child would escape Pharaoh’s massacre. The parents acted to save the life of Moses – and later on in his life Moses returned to his people from his flight to Sinai when he heard from הוהי God that “All those seeking your life are dead.” – Matthew exactly quotes Exodus so that his readers/hearers will know exactly what he is saying to them.
 
Then Matthew continues his analogy with the matter of the Magi and the star – a further account of Moses we often fail to associate with the nativity/salvation. Matthew combines this account about Moses with the picture of a Messiah descended from David – and Matthew had prepared us for this with his very first words: “The genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David.” This is the passage in Numbers, involving Balaam. You remember: Moses was leading the People of God through Transjordan to the Promised Land. He encountered a wicked king who, like pharaoh was determined to kill him. It was Balak, the king of Moab – and he summoned a famous seer from the east, a man named Balaam. Balaam was a practitioner of the occult, an enchanter, one who in Jesus’ time would be called a magus. Balaam came with his two servants, but refused to curse Moses and Israel. “There shall come a man out of Israel’s seed . . . I will point to him, but not now; I bless him, but he draws not near: a star shall rise out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel. At the time of Jesus, the expanded stories indicated that David was the star that would arise. And arise he did, in the savior, Jesus. Note that in Matthew’s story that not only did Herod act like the pharaoh of old by killing all the Hebrew male children, but he tried to do so by using a magus from the east. Balaam saw the star of David rise; and so also Matthew’s magi saw the star of the king of the Jews at its rising – a better translation than “in the east.” In this series of Old Testament allusions, Matthew has proclaimed the entire story of salvation. The magi and the star tell the story of salvation: a story presented to both Jews and Gentiles; a story with a double response of both acceptance and rejection. Matthew, after all, knows about the resurrection.
 
Matthew is writing to a church that is primarily gentile now, even though his special audience is heavily Jewish in their understanding of scripture. The faith that must be involved comes to all, including the gentiles, through the very fact of nature itself. (Paul reflects this in Romans.) And so it is, Matthew shows, that it is the Gentiles (magi) who can interpret the signs of astrology, and respond with faith. The birth star brings them the good news of salvation; but it is incomplete. They must go and seek the truth from the source. The gentiles, says Matthew, can perceive God through nature, but the full meaning comes through the Jewish scriptures. They can worship, but they need the Scriptures to explain it all to them. The scriptures give them the answer, as the priests tell them where to find the Messiah. But, paradoxically as Matthew points out, those who have the benefit of the scriptures and are able to read where the Messiah will be, not only fail to worship – they actually conspire to destroy him, and the wicked king decrees his death. But God spares his son, and ultimately brings him back from another country.
 
Now, you see, these Old Testament stories of Joseph, Moses and Balaam have been woven into a new fabric of the passion and resurrection of Jesus. The same people are present: the secular ruler, the chief priests, scribes – all are aligned against Jesus who has only God on his side. But God is victorious because he brings Jesus back. Note: those who have the scriptures reject Jesus; but the gentiles come, and with the help of scripture, find and adore him.
 
Matthew is presenting to us the revelation of God. God has made himself present with us – Emmanuel – and he did so in the life of the one whose story comes next in Matthew’s writings. Indeed, Matthew says, when you read the story that follows, you will know that God is present in this Jesus; indeed, he is so present that Jesus is the Son of God. This message is offensive to some, but to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, he is salvation in fact. Thus, you see, the Magi for Matthew, are the forerunners of those who respond to the preaching of the apostles as they proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.
 
Just as Balaam said “I see him, but not now; . . . a star shall rise from Jacob and a man shall come forth from Israel,” so also the magi in Matthew’s story see the star of the King of the Jews at its rising; they also see, but not now, the Jesus whose kingship will not be visible in history until he hangs on the cross – beneath the title “The King of the Jews.”

Wishing you a Blessed Feast of The Epiphany of Our Lord.

Fraternally in Christ,

+Anthony Metropolitan Seal 1 inch

Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan
The Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of America

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