Epiphany, 2013 (January 5)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “The Coming Light”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew chapter two.
Everybody loves a good mystery, don’t you think? It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about an Agatha Christie type who done it, or the mystery of who ate the last Christmas cookie, no matter how you cut it, we sons and daughters of Adam love a good mystery.
And this story has mystery to go around a plenty. A child is born in Bethlehem, with the claim of no human father. Angels appear in the skies, announcing the coming of the King of Kings. And then, sometime later you have these mysterious visitors from the East. We know very little about them, truth be told. They are called “magi,” from which we get the words “magic” and “mage”. The prophet Daniel had been called a mage, or wise-man, years before when he was in captivity. Do these wise men in our Lord’s story know of the prophecies of Daniel? We don’t know what drew them. We only know that they followed the star and landed in Herod’s court in Jerusalem. They got close, but not quite close enough.
Now I’d like to stop for a moment here and speak about how people come to Christ. Epiphany is really the season for evangelism or outreach. As a Christian congregation, we are about bringing people to Christ. But it is easy for us to try to box people in to a certain mold. How people come to Christ is almost as much a mystery as is Christ Himself.
There is no approved path. There is only the fact that many are lost and, like the magi of long ago, they may have some of the answers, but not all of them. How do they get from questions and uncertainties and unknowns to the revelation of Jesus Christ? When people walk through these doors, what they know and understand about their spiritual condition varies pretty wildly.
And truth be told, we all go through spiritual ups and downs, times of obvious faith and times of darkness and uncertainty. There may be moments when everything seems clear and obvious. But there are those other times when all you can see is the darkness, when uncertainty seems to hold sway, and when there are a lot more questions than there are answers.
So when the star seems to go out, the magi go to the most obvious place for a king to be born. They go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city of peace. But they would find no peace there. Only a suspicious, jealous old man who wanted no part of this new-born king. When King Herod heard of their coming, He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. When we hear the story of the newborn king, we think Christmas trees and bright lights, joy and family. But when Herod heard news of this king, there was only darkness. Death was in the air.
So it should not surprise us that when Herod sent them on their way to Bethlehem, his request drips with almost Disney-like villainy, ““Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”” (Matthew 2:8 ESV)
Like so many in our journey to Christ, there are bumps on the road, even roadblocks in our journey to Him. What seems obvious becomes unclear, and truth may be hiding out in the strangest of places. But they go to Bethlehem, even with Herod’s threatening request in their ears.
And when they arrive in Bethlehem, the star leads them to where the child was. We don’t actually know how old Jesus was at this point. Two years old, maybe? This certainly is not the same night He was born. But they go, and there find the child with Mary, his mother. They fall down and worship him.
Can you imagine the contrast they must have seen? They went from the king’s court in Jerusalem to a house in a backwater town, where shepherds felt at home, not exotic magicians from the East. This was no place for a king! And yet it was. For as we will see in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ reign as king is not like any other king’s reign. He rules not with tyranny and fear, but with forgiveness and kindness. And He does not rule from a faraway court, issuing laws and regulations to further oppress. No. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. He is right here, right now, in this very place.
The magi, upon seeing the child, bow down and worship Him. If you were a stranger to the Lutheran liturgy, one of the things that might strike you as odd is that there is a lot of bowing, even kneeling. Like the magi of old, we confess that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And where He is, there is God’s grace, His royal robe strewn about us, to cover us and our sin. So we bow. We bow to the altar, for here Christ’s body and blood are present under the bread and wine. That is truly Immanuel, God-with-us, for He is here, now. Even I, as your pastor, bow to you after the Lord’s Supper, because Christ now dwells in you. You are all kings and queens, for you are sons and daughters of the King of Kings.
But back to our magi. They bowed down and worshipped Him, and brought Him gifts of gold, of frankincense, and myrrh. They are gifts worthy of a king. Gold reminds us of the Tabernacle and Temple of old, the Ark of the Covenant where God dwelt upon the mercy seat. And frankincense and myrrh were both expensive spices, used especially for burial. Jesus would later be buried with such spices after He died on the cross.
So why is all of this here in the Bible, and why do we remember a day like Epiphany? The magi’s arrival is a constant reminder for us all that the Gospel is for everyone, not just a select few. It reminds us that not everyone takes the same path, but that in the end, it is the Word of God which draws all of us to Him and to His great salvation. It draws us to the simple, beautiful picture that God hides Himself in a lowly child so that everyone, everyone can know that they have a place in this family which is His Church. You are welcome here. This is your home, with the Christ-child. Come and continue to receive His gifts with saints and angels and magi and shepherds, with the Church of all times and all places. This is your home. He is here for you even now.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.