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The Visit of the Magi - Epiphany Sunday - Matthew 2

A service for Epiphany Sunday based on Matthew 2 and focused on the double-sided story of the visit of the Magi.

The Visit of the Magi
Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2:1-18

Theme of the Service

The visit of the Magi is the narrative that forms the worship service for this day. This story of the visit by these three "wise men" is a double-sided story. On the one hand, it is a story of adoration, welcome, and a proclamation that Christ is born to be the king of the Jews. On the other hand, it is a story of rejection by a threatened king and a massacre that speaks of the spiritual conflict that Christ's arrival stirs up.

“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."
Isaiah 9:6


Prelude: "As with Gladness Men of Old" [see music notes]
or "Bright and Glorious Is the Sky"
or "We Three Kings"

Introit: "See the Glowing Star," Kemp [see music notes]
or "Los magos que llegaron a Belén/The Magi Went to Bethl'hem Long Ago" SNC 118

*The Call to Worship
O come, let us worship the Lord
and consider what wondrous things God has done:
The Magi who study the heavens follow a guiding star!
O come, let us worship the Lord
and consider what wondrous things God has done:
The peoples who live in the shadows see a glorious light!
O come, let us worship the Lord
and consider what wondrous things God has done:
The Christ who embodies the Word unveils the hidden plan,
making us joint heirs of the promise of salvation through the gospel!
O come, let us worship the Lord,
for God has done wondrous things!

* Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting
Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

*Song: "As with Gladness, Men of Old" (st. 1-4) PH 63, PsH 358, RL 228, SFL 143, TH 226, TWC 181


The Call to Confession

Our Corporate Confession

Generous in love-God, give grace!
Huge in mercy-wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I've been;
my sins are staring me down.

Response: "God, Be Merciful to Me" (st. 1) PsH 255, TH 486

You're the One I've violated, and you've seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I've been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.

Response: "God, Be Merciful to Me" (st. 2)

Soak me in your laundry and I'll come out clean,
scrub me and I'll have a snow-white life.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.

Response: "God, Be Merciful to Me" (st. 3)

Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I'll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I'll let loose with your praise. (selections from Psalm 51, The Message)

Response: "God, Be Merciful to Me" (st. 4)

The Assurance of Pardon

Let us receive our assurance from the testimony of David who said that when he
acknowledged his sin to God and did not cover up his iniquity, when he said, "I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord," he found that God forgave the guilt of his sin! May his
testimony assure you of God's forgiveness to you this day. (from Psalm 32:5)

Song of Praise: "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (st. 1, 4, 7) PH 466, PsH 501, RL 362/363, RN 32, SFL 19, TH 164, TWC 130, UMH 57

Hearing God's Will for Grateful Living: Romans 12:1-2

The Children's Moment


Anthem: "How Far Is It to Bethlehem," Ferguson [see music notes]

*Song: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (st. 1, 4) PH 43, 44, RL 193, 194, TH 201, 202, TWC 154, 155, UMH 230

The Prayer for Illumination
Our Lord and our God,
now as we hear your Word,
fill us with your Spirit.
Soften our hearts that we may see your ways.
Fill us with your light.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

The New Testament Reading: Matthew 2:1-18
The Word of the Lord,
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: "The Visit of the Magi"

Anthem: "The Coventry Carol," Pitcher [see music notes]
or Responsorial: "Lord of the Universe" PsH 362


The Prayers of the People

The Offertory: "Coventry Carol," Dobrinski [see music notes]
or "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing"

The Offering

*Song: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" (st. 1, 3, 4) PH 22, PsH 354, RL 229, TH 218, TWC 174, UMH 220 [see music notes]

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Song: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" (st. 5)

Postlude: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" [see music notes]
or "Trumpet Tune," Purcell

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. This message, though focusing on the three Magi, is a much larger story and will be understood well only when it is seen in its total context. The Magi were following what they believed to be God's leading (a star). Herod was frightened and angry by what he considered to be a serious problem (another king). Joseph and Mary, with their child, were caught in the middle. Another set of people, also caught in the middle, paid a high price for the conflict that erupted here-the parents in Bethlehem, thrown into grief at the murder of their children. You may choose to expand on the internal process in the Magi that led them to come seeking and to worship (v. 2), or the internal process in Herod that made him "furious" (v. 16), or the grief in heart of Bethlehem's parents that made them weep (v. 18), but in the final analysis the focus must be on the manifestation of the identity and calling of Jesus and that this world could not accept that.
  2. Therefore, a full proclamation of this event will happen only when it is considered in the light of Revelation 12:1-6 and what John is told about the "conflict behind the scenes." The woman, the dragon and the son all play critical roles in that drama. They represent the war that has been going on ever since the fall into sin in the spirit world, prior to Genesis 3. This conflict continued throughout the Old Testament and attempted to stop the birth of Christ. Having failed, efforts now continue to destroy him or divert him from the task to which he is called. Not only can the story of the Magi be understood only in this light, but events in our world will make sense to us only in the same light. The manifestation of Christ always causes a conflict to break out because he is king in the midst of a history-long conflict between two spiritual kingdoms.
  3. We must ask ourselves whether we have really come to grips with the reality that thorough discipleship involves a counter-cultural commitment!

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

1. The music suggestions for the prelude, based on "As with Gladness Men of Old" [DIX], "Bright and Glorious Is the Sky [DEJLIG ER DEN HIMMEL BLAA/CELESTIA], and "We Three Kings" [KINGS OF ORIENT] can be found in the following sources:


  • Held, Wilbur. 6 Hymn Settings for Epiphany. Morningstar MSM-10-206 [1999] (E-M).
  • Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 5. SMP KK323 [1984] (E-M, can be adapted for piano).
  • Leavitt, John. Christmas Suite. Augsburg 11-10857 [1998] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. Three for Epiphany. Morningstar MSM-10-203 [1992] (E-M).
  • Pelz, Walter L. As with Gladness Men of Old. Concordia 97-5873 [1985] (M).
  • Wold, Wayne L. God with Us. Augsburg 11-10975 [1999] (E-M).


  • Manz, Paul. Ten Chorale Improvisations, set 7. Concordia 97-5308 [1975] (E-M).
  • Wold, Wayne L. Suite on Bright and Glorious Is the Sky. Augsburg 11-11041 [2000] (M).
  • Wood, Dale. Seven Folk Tune Sketches. H.W. Grey GB 357 [1966] (E-M).


  • Linker, Janet. Augsburg Organ Library - Epiphany. Augsburg 11-11073 [2001] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. Three for Epiphany. Morningstar MSM-10-203 [1992] (E-M, very engaging).


  • Dobrinski, Cynthia. We Three Kings. Agape 1390 [1989] (3-5 octaves, M).
  • Page, Anna Laura. We Three Kings. Concordia 97-7009 [2003] (3-5 octaves, level 2+).

2. The Introit "See the Glowing Star" ("Song of the Wisemen") arranged for unison voices by Helen Kemp is published by Choristers Guild CGA-629 [1993] (E-M). The alternate suggestion "Los magos que llegaron a Belén/The Magi Went to Bethl'hem Long Ago," which is based on the same Puerto Rican carol [ISLA DEL ENCANTO], can be found in SNC 118.

3. Alternative organ harmonizations for the opening hymn "As with Gladness Men of Old" can be found in

  • Burkhardt, Michael. As Though the Whole Creation Cried. Morningstar MSM-10-555 [2001].
  • Busarow, Donald. All Praise to You, Eternal God. Augsburg 11-9076 [1980].
  • Thiman, Eric. Varied Accompaniments to Thirty-Four Well-Known Hymn Tunes. Oxford ISBN 0 19 323210 3 [1937].

4. The anthem "How Far Is It to Bethlehem" arranged for SSA voices by John Ferguson is published by Augsburg 11-10756 [1997] (M).

5. The anthem following the sermon is an arrangement of "The Coventry Carol" for SSA voices by Gladys Pitcher in the collection Thirty Old and New Christmas Carols, published by G. Schirmer HL50308820 [1961] (E-M). The alternate suggestion is a hymn-"Lord of the Universe" (PsH 362). An ensemble could sing each verse, with the congregation responding with the refrain.

6. The offertory suggestions are based on "The Coventry Carol" and "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" [AZMON].


  • Dobrinski, Cynthia. Coventry Carol. Agape 1537 [1991] (3-5 octaves, M).


  • Bouman, Paul. Partita on Azmon. CPH 97-6506 [1995] (M).
  • Cherwien, David. Groundings. Augsburg 11-11119 [2001] (E-M).
  • Hobby, Robert A. Three Hymns of Praise, set 6. Morningstar MSM-10-542 [2000] (E-M).
  • Jordan, Alice. Worship Service Music for the Organist. Broadman 4570-27 [1975] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599 [2004] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. Ten Chorale Improvisations, set 9. Concordia 97-5556 [1980] (E-M).
  • Smith, Mark Brampton. Partita on Azmon. Morningstar MSM-10-718 [1996] (M).


  • Sherman, Arnold B. Acclamation on “Azmon." Agape 1363 [1989] (3-5 octaves, M).
  • Sherman, Arnold B. Our Great Redeemer's Praise. Red River HB0018 [1997] (3-5 octaves, level 3).

7. An introduction to the closing hymn can be found in Michael Burkhardt's organ collection Five Christmas Hymn Improvisations, Morningstar MSM-10-111 [1991] [E-M]. Alternative harmonizations for "Angels from the Realms of Glory" [REGENT SQUARE] can be found in the following organ collections:

  • Burkhardt, Michael. Festival Hymn Settings for the Christmas Season, set 1. Morningstar MSM-10-126 [1995].
  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, bk. 1. Ludwig O-05 [1975].
  • Goode, Jack C. Thirty-four Changes on Hymn Tunes. H.W. Grey GB 644 [1978].

8. The postlude "Angels from the Realms of Glory" [REGENT SQUARE] can be found in the following sources:

  • Kerr, J. Wayne. Christ Is Born! Augsburg 11-11037 [2000] [E-M].
  • Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 5. SMP KK323 [1984] [E-M, can be adapted for piano].

Another suggestion for organ or organ and trumpet is "Trumpet Tune" by Henry Purcell in the collection Album of Trumpet Tunes, published by Boosey and Hawkes E.A.36412 (E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. Two of the readings in this service are taken from The Worship Sourcebook, recently published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources, and Baker Books. The Call to Worship is found on page 496; the Prayer for Illumination on page 504.
  2. The Corporate Confession of sin suggests that the congregation participate in this confession responsively. The words of confession are from Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Psalm 51 in The Message. If your congregation would not be comfortable with its use, we suggest that the words of the NIV or NRSV be used. The congregation responds with verses of the familiar hymn of penitence "God, Be Merciful to Me." Making this confession responsively, utilizing both spoken and sung words, will readily engage the heart of the worship.
  3. The statement used for the Assurance of Pardon suggests that we remain with the experience of David and use his words from Psalm 32. When David testifies to his receipt of pardon we are welcomed to do the same.
  4. The Children's Moment could be located in a variety of places depending on the subject to be treated. We placed it so that it could be an explanation of the service of confession-why we have just made confession to God, what it means to have our sins forgiven, and how Jesus' ministry provided that on the cross.
  5. You will find many suggestions and ideas for "Prayers of the People" in The Worship Sourcebook, pages 173-234.