This talk was given on Saturday evening, January 25, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.
(Fr. Michael) Good evening! Good to see you all. That’s lovely, really. [Speaking about the remodeled altar area . . . ] That’s a tremendous improvement.
(Sh. Amy) A little change?
(Fr. Michael) And I’ll actually be able to read the prayers tomorrow without having to do this [squinting]. It’s been a little dark up there. So that’s really, really very nice.
(Fr. Michael) And why is it blue? Why is the color blue that we would put in the altar? What do you see when you look up in the sky? Blue. And blue, when you’re decorating a church, symbolizes heaven. So we decorate, and you can decorate many different ways, but blue is one of them because it always represents heaven. And sometimes, and we can get really fancy if we find somebody who can paint, you put stars up there. And maybe a couch up there…no, not that. But it would be something which represents heaven. And I’m going to talk about that tomorrow a lot. I’m going to talk about worship and how it represents heaven and that sort of thing. But this is one heck of a big improvement. It’s really very nice. Who did this?
(Dn. Joseph & Sh. Amy) Jeremy and Calvin did most of it and Ruth and Christa helped with the painting.
(Fr. Michael) Well, thank God. Well, it’s good to get women doing hard work, we should do that.
(Dn. Joseph) And also moved some chandeliers up here and they’ve got the gold and purple around the sides here.
(Fr. Michael) And there’s a sense in which it is, don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t mean it as a criticism, but it’s less cluttered. And in the Christian West, we tend not to be quite as cluttered as what they do in the Eastern Rite, and that sort of thing. People should come in . . . you know you’ve got it right, and we’re still working on it, I understand that, but you know you’ve got it right when you walk into a church and it feels as though it has been prayed in and worshiped in. You walk in and you don’t think of it in any other sense but a holy place, a place that we are offering prayer. And if that happens, then you’ve decorated it correctly. So, this is very, very good. I’m very happy to see it. Take a picture so we can send the Bishop because he hasn’t seen it this way.
OK – What season are we commemorating in the Church? We’ve had Christmas. After Christmas comes?
(Fr. Michael) Epiphany. How long do you think Epiphany goes?
(Children) Until the Presentation?
(Fr. Michael) I hate it when you’re smarter than I am. Well, it goes until the Presentation, you’re right, or sometimes called the Purification, which means it’s flexible. If you look in the Missal on the altar, it lists as many as six Sundays after Epiphany. We’re going to celebrate the third Sunday after Epiphany tomorrow and then the following Sunday is going to be the feast of the Presentation so the Epiphany season ends. Now what would happen that would cut it short . . . I know the Presentation . . . but why? Because, even if the Presentation came, we would still have Sundays after Epiphany. The Presentation is a fixed feast on February 2nd. Why would we completely stop doing Epiphany?
(Fr. Michael) Yeah. Lent is coming down the road. Easter is breathing down our necks. It’s earlier this year. Ash Wednesday I believe is March 6th.
(Sh. Amy) Julie’s birthday.
(Children) Andrea’s birthday.
(Fr. Michael) Whichever. SOMEBODY is going to have a birthday and they’re going to get ashes on them. Which is not much of a gift, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
(Sh. Amy) Hey, I got it last year.
(Fr. Michael) It’s an imperfect world. Now, what do we commemorate during Epiphany? I’ll talk about it more tomorrow, but…
(Children) The coming of the three wise men.
(Fr. Michael) That’s the first thing we commemorate, yeah. Now…by the way, this can be taken down now, but it’s good that it’s up right now. Okay, we’ve got wise men here? A wise man. What happened when Jesus was born? I mean, what does it say in the Bible happened? You’ve got shepherds who are out watching their flocks, right? And what happens, what do they hear?
(Fr. Michael) They hear the angels . . . the angels talk to them. And what do they say?
(Children) Glory to God in the highest. . .
(Fr. Michael) Yeah, Glory to God in the highest, and today he who was born in the city of David . . . a Savior who is Christ the Lord. So these shepherds are out there in the fields taking care of their flocks. And this was an important thing to do because usually these were community flocks. Everybody from the town put their herd together and people would take turns watching them. And if, therefore, you stampeded the flock, you lost everybody’s. I mean, you didn’t want to go back to town because it wasn’t just your lambs that ran off; it was everybody’s lambs that ran off. So they’re out doing their job and the angels come and they tell them, “Glory to God in the highest, a Savior is born,” and what do they do?
(Children) Go to the stable . . .
(Fr. Michael) Yeah, they literally say, “Let’s go take a look at this; let’s go over and see this.” So they head on over. Now, this is not as weird as it seems to us because the Jews expected God to do things for them. They expected God to interact with them and they were expecting a what?
(Sh. Amy) A Savior.
(Fr. Michael) A Savior, a Messiah, whatever word you want to throw in there. They were expecting God to send someone to save them. So, for pious Jewish shepherds standing there out in the dark and the cold, it wasn’t a big surprise. So they went to go and see who it was that God had sent them. Now, they did that because they were God’s chosen people and they were expecting God to do something for them. But they weren’t the only people who came, were they? Who else came?
(Children) Wise men.
(Fr. Michael) Wise men came. We don’t know when the wise men came, exactly. It doesn’t say in the Bible. Neither does it say in the Bible how many wise men there were. We have the tradition of three and there is, in a German cathedral in Cologne, the bones of three men who are supposedly the wise men which are, according to carbon dating, the right age, come from the right time, what have you. They’re there, people come to venerate them, like we have a relic of St. Benedict here, people go there to the relics of the wise men. But the fact is, it doesn’t say how many there were and it doesn’t say when they got there.
They are coming for a different reason, and yet for the same reason as the shepherds. Now, the wise men, these guys, aren’t Jews. They’re not Jews, they’re not expecting, necessarily. They are probably from what, today, is Iran, in that area, Iraq; it would have been called Persia centuries ago, before it was divided up into different countries. One of them is traditionally regarded as probably being from north Africa; he’s black. The other two guys are . . . this guy’s got a turban on; this guy’s got a turban on. And the term “Magi”, which is what they get called, comes from the Greek word “Magus”, and the Greek word “Magus” basically means a learned man, a miracle worker, maybe a magician kind of guy (not necessarily a slight of hand, they didn’t saw women in half or anything like that, that we know of), but probably also men who studied the stars. Now today, we would call it astronomy. Back then they called it astrology and they studied the stars to try to learn about what was going to happen in the world, about the universe, about whatever god they believed in would do. They probably belonged to a religion called Zoroastrianism, which I’m glad I don’t belong to because I can’t really pronounce it and which still exists among some people. You’ll still find groups of Zoroastrians and their famous teacher was named Zoroaster, hence the name. But some kind of religion of Persian and all kinds of stuff kind of mixed up inside there.
Now why would they show up? Because, look at a map, it’s a long way if you’re walking or riding a camel from Iran to Bethlehem. Long trip. So why would they come?
(Sh. Amy) They were following the star.
(Fr. Michael) Yeah, and that works because they were astrologers; they studied stars. But why? I mean, we know the Jews had a relationship with God and God had promised them a Messiah and so they weren’t overly surprised when angels show up and say, “Hey, you’ve got a Messiah.” These guys didn’t know anything, didn’t know what the word “Messiah” meant. It means “anointed one”, by the way. But they didn’t know what that meant. They didn’t know anything about the Jewish religion. They didn’t know anything about King David or King Solomon or Moses or Joshua or any of those people that we read about in the Old Testament. It’s appropriate they’re following a star because they studied the stars, but why would God send the star to guide them? Why would God call them to this area in the Middle East to meet somebody who doesn’t even belong to their religion or represent their religion?
When Jesus comes to the Jewish people, he comes as a Savior, the Messiah, which means that he fulfills all their hopes, all their longings, all their dreams in terms of their relationship with God. They viewed the Messiah, although they got it kind of skewed, they viewed Messiah as the one who’s going to come and release them from bondage to the Romans and was going to be the one who established the Kingdom of Heaven, and this was going to be peace and joy and all this great stuff. Why would pagans come?
They came because Jesus doesn’t just fulfill the promises God made to Israel. If that were true, the only people following Jesus now would be Jews. Jesus comes to fulfill everybody’s longing for God, regardless of what that concept of God to them is – and some people had some pretty screwy concepts of God. I mean, some of the religions that were extant at the time, and still are, were very violent, practiced things like human sacrifice. You sometimes fantasize about getting one of your brothers or sisters? They actually could! It would have been . . . they worshiped stars like these guys or trees or rocks or magical wells or all kinds of interesting things and, yet, whenever anybody is doing that, although they don’t know it, they’re searching for the one true God who created the world. And so the wise men, these three pagans here, who probably had a vaguer idea of what they were going to find than the shepherds did, are responding to God because He is fulfilling their hopes too, their desire for a relationship with God. And all of those things together – Jesus doesn’t just fulfil the Old Testament, Jesus fulfils everything! Jesus fulfils the pagan. Jesus fulfils the hopes and desires of the Buddhist. Jesus fulfils the hopes and desires of the Moslem. They just don’t know that yet any more than these wise men did. And so they come.
And we think they got there sometime within a two year period. Why a two year period? What happens when they . . . who do they see first when they get there?
(Children) King Herod.
(Fr. Michael) Herod, you’re right. First thing these guys do, being kind of official priest types, is they seek out King Herod and they tell him, “We’ve come to worship the new king.” Oh yeah, cool, really cool. Herod was totally unaware that he was supposed to be replaced. So he kind of panics and he says, “Well, you go find him. And then, when you find him, let me know where he is. I want to come too.” So they do, they find him, and being wise men, God communicates to them, and they choose to go back another way.
And then we have that very terrible incident in the New Testament in which, in order to insure that he kills this kid, what does he do? He orders the killing of all the male children two years or younger. So we kind of figure it was like in a two year period. They didn’t show up right after the shepherds. And, in fact, Mary and Joseph may, by that time, have been in Nazareth. But the point is, they came because the world is full of people who genuinely are looking for God. They’re here; you’ll find them walking through Walmart, in supermarkets, all over the place, confused, wondering, “What in the heck is all of this about?” And that’s who the wise men represent. And God, therefore, can take them and their desires and their beliefs and bring them to him. And so they come with their gifts, what are they?
(Children) Gold, frankincense and myrrh.
(Fr. Michael) Gold, Frankenstein and molasses. Gold for what?
(Children) Shows a king.
(Fr. Michael) Frankincense?
(Children) Shows God.
(Fr. Michael) And myrrh?
(Sh. Amy) For anointing his body.
Somebody gave me some incense that was myrrh one time. That was really just nasty stuff. So I never understood why myrrh was regarded as a bad thing. It stinks! It’s just like rotting corpse, it’s just awful. So we only used it on Good Friday as a penance or something like that, but they bring these things.
And then the tradition is, of course, that they go back to their native lands, whatever they were, and they were from three different areas, and preach the Gospel as they understood it – which is that God sent a king; they didn’t get all of that. But that, eventually, they did come back together and that’s how you get three guys who are buried in that cathedral in Cologne whose relics get venerated as the three wise men.
But that’s only the first commemoration of Epiphany – the wise men coming on the feast of the Epiphany itself. The rest of the season is focused on all the miracles that Jesus did to manifest his glory to the world. Because that’s what “epiphany” in Greek means; it means “to show, to manifest something”. Another word in Greek is “theophany”; that’s also used. But “epiphany” means “to manifest himself to the world”. And so we have the Gospel of His Baptism, we have the Gospel of . . . tomorrow is going to be the Miracle of Cana where he turns the water into wine. Those things that he did to do exactly what the wise men came, when they came, and that was to proclaim to the world, “This is the Son of God.” The shepherds, when they did that, all of that, so that people will know and will know who they have to come to.
Any questions? Good. Alright. Well thank you for your attention. We’ll see you in the morning. God bless, take care.
(Benjamin) But it wasn’t alcoholic wine, it was like grape juice.
(Fr. Michael) Oh yeah, sure, right. No, it was wine. You smash grapes in a bag and carry it around in the Middle East for a month or something and you’ve got something more than grape juice.
(Benjamin) You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had people insist that’s the case though.
(Fr. Michael) Oh yeah.
(Dn. Joseph) Oh, Father Michael? Our Subdeacon just got this (icon) as well; it’s “Christ the King”.
(Fr. Michael) Good! Oh, that’s good!
This talk was given on Saturday evening, January 25, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.