Epiphany: The Clash of Christianity and Science
I don't know who said this: The story of the magi is that of the natural philosopher, the empirical scientist, and the abstract thinker concerned with truth seeking the revelation before which he knows he must bow. I don't agree. This seems to say more about the wise men than Scripture says. I do however know that in the Epiphany, we see the clash between Christianity and science in bold relief.
Take the star. What was it? I have Lutheran and secular publications dating back to 1996 giving you all the possibilities of what this star might have been. Answers are sought in prophesy, astronomy, astrology, myth, and legend. Whatever the suggestions, science concludes it cannot have been as God's Word says it was: "The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Child was."
How about the so called wise men? The Greek is magi. Just who were they? We're they really wise enough to see their way past false gods to the True God or does Epiphany show their pagan religion for the false foolishness it was as many in the early church thought? Were they pagan priests, kings, scientists? The Bible only says they were magi. The Liddell-Scott Greek dictionary says that magi were one of the Median tribes who were the priests and wise men in Persia who interpreted dreams. Herodotus, 500 B. C., said that because they had played a hoax on the Persians a festival called Magophonia or "Killing of the Magi" was celebrated each year. If magi were found in public, they could be killed (iii, 79, 186-7).
All I can tell you is that the Scripture records the so-called wise men doing a very stupid thing. They go to King Herod, who was known to be mad with paranoia over someone usurping his throne, and ask where is the one to be born king of Jews? The Epiphany with its wandering star and its whacky wise men is ready made for the science of today to make fun of.
So is the worshipping of a Baby Jesus. The Bible says they "bowed down and worshipped Him." And they "presented Him their treasurers." This smacks of Lamaism where they find an obscure little boy, declare him to be the next Dali Lama and regard him as the "God-King." The science-minded in our day see the Epiphany story as nothing but that, and what's our defense. The Bible says so. And what does the non-Christian, scientists or not, care about that?
In the Epiphany, you can see a clash between Christianity and science, but in the soul, believer or not, scientist or not, it cast light there. No one can deny the existence of ungodliness and worldly lusts that are exposed by Light coming into the world. No one can deny that a God exists who is eternally powerful and divine. It is obvious that everything has a beginning. That not only life but matter is not self-generating. Anyone can see that everything is decaying, winding down. There must have been Something before all this, and that Something must be a Someone. A Someone who is intelligent and beyond man, Someone divine. You don't have to prove to anyone that they couldn't have created all this. They know it took someone far beyond them to do all this.
You don't have to prove there is ungodliness in this world; everyone sees it. Neither do you have to prove that worldly lusts exist. Be a person an atheist, a Buddhists, Muslim, or agnostic, he knows there are lusts in him that he doesn't want there. No amount of science even the so called soft science of psychology can explain away these lusts. They live, rage, and raise their ugly heads everywhere.
No one needs proof that he needs redeeming and purifying. No one needs proof that he is sold to something other than himself. He can see that the good he wants to do, however meager it might be, he just doesn't do. The evil he doesn't want to do, no matter how ugly it might be, he still does. And no one can deny that he needs to be purified. All religions have purification rituals, even atheists. They think by doing good, doing their best, or by following a code they've thought up they can purify themselves.
You don't need science to prove to people that they need to be bought back from something that owns them and holds them captive. You don't need science to prove to people that they need to be cleansed from something that leaves them feeling dirty. Listen to the songs of the world, watch their movies, hear their comedy, look at the haunting painting entitled "The Scream." In all of these you'll hear the echo of the chains that bind us all and you'll smell the stench we all bear.
And the last thing you don't need science or anything else to prove to people is that they can't redeem or purify themselves. Any pagan religion shows this, but even the unreligious shows this when they say, "Well, that's just the way I am." Or when people confess to self-loathing, low self-esteem, self-hatred they are saying they aren't satisfied with themselves and can do nothing about it. Likewise, the intentional suicides or those killing themselves softly through drugs or alcohol are all saying what science need not prove: I'm so lost, so captive and I can't find my way back or out. I'm so sick and disgusted with myself and no amount of washing myself will make me clean again.
Epiphany does show a clash between Christianity and popular science, but that clash is not recognized by the soul and the clash is not in what really appears in the bright light of Epiphany. What really appears is the grace of the saving God. The NIV says, "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." The NASB, the KJV, and the ESV are stronger "The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men." Epiphany has long been called the Christmas of the Gentiles. Though Jesus was born in an obscure town in Judea, He was born for all. He draws all. Though we know little about the magi, we know these 3 things. They were drawn to make a journey of two years. They worshipped and gifted a Baby as King and God. And they were not rejected by Him.
You don't have to prove to someone what the Star of Bethlehem was or who the magi were in order to say in Christ the grace of God has appeared brining salvation to all men. And don't put an asterisk next to men*. It doesn't say bringing salvation to all men*, *that is all believers, all Christians, all good people, all heterosexuals, all who try their best, do their best, ask Jesus into their hearts. Epiphany is the celebration that God's grace has appeared bringing salvation literally to all people.
Paul tells us how come this is true. Christ appeared and gave Himself in place of us to do what we can't do: to redeem and purify us. Redeem means to buy something back by paying a price. 1 Peter tells you about the transaction. He says, "You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemedbut with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or spot." He took our place which means it was Him under the Law, Him who kept it perfectly, Him who suffered, Him who bled, Him who died instead of us for not keeping the law.
You know the feeling that you have that you are irredeemable? That if a person really knew what you were guilty of in deed, in word, and certainly in thought they would know you are beyond saving? Well God knows and sent His only beloved Son to take your place. To reach as far down as you had fallen, to pull you up where He is, and to take your place where you are. He paid for this exchange by His Son's innocent life and guilty death.
At the Epiphany, the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to all men by not only redeeming them through Jesus but by purifying them. Stop looking inward; stop focusing on how badly you stink. Focus on the Christ who Paul says is the sweet aroma of God for salvation. Think in God's terms. He speaks of His Son as an atoning sacrifice for the world, as Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. When Jesus the Lamb of God carried away the sins of the world, your sins were there. When Jesus quenched God's wrath against the world's sins, you can be sure His wrath against yours went out too. When the blood of Christ cleansed the world of all sins, you can be sure yours were washed away in that flood.
Now for the piece de resistance, now for what cannot be resisted in Epiphany by any science but only by unbelief. The Epiphany of God's grace, our Salvation, our Redeemer, our Purifier trains us, instructs us, disciplines us, in the best sense of that word, so that we can live justified and godly lives in this present age which Paul elsewhere calls evil.
Because Christ has appeared you can live in this evil, fallen world justified, just as if you'd never been kicked out of the Garden, just as if you'd never eaten the Fruit that stuck in your throat and choked you to death, just as if you have no reason to fear God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening. In Christ, Almighty God takes your hand that He has cleansed by the Blood of the Cross in the washing of the Water and the Word, and you walk the rest of your days just as if God has no more against you then He does His only beloved Son.
Because God in Christ has appeared bringing salvation to you, you can live in this evil, fallen age not only justified but godly. A godly' life is not a goody-two-shoes life. It's a life lived in, with, and under God. It's life where you swim daily with God in the pool of your Baptism by remembering you've been baptized into Him. It's a life where you are absolved daily for your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost returning you to your Baptism where all broken relationships with God are mended. A godly life is one where you live in daily communion with the God of all things by means of the Body and Blood of Christ you eat and drink.
I am not sure true science truly clashes with true Christianity, but I am sure that fallen men always clash with God. I'm equally sure that Epiphany is the celebration of God's grace appearing in tangible flesh and blood to bring resolution and reconciliation to that clash. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany of our Lord (20170108); Titus 2: 11-14