Sermon for January 6, 2013

Matthew 2:1-12 (The Epiphany of Our Lord—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

January 6, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text for this morning is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 2:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

             Headlines are meant to be attention getters.  Whether on the television screen, in the newspaper, or on your internet home page, headlines are there to grab your interest in the article or story presented so that you will read it or watch it.  Headlines are a way of saying, “Look!  Check this out!”  In our Gospel lesson today we have two just such attention-getting headlines set off by the word, “behold,” or “Look!” 

             “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king—Look!  Magi from the east appeared in Jerusalem!”  This is headline making news!  What are they doing here?  The magi were not “kings” as the popular American carol suggests.  Magi were not “wise men” in the sense that they had any learning in matters of biblical truth and piety.  Magi did not worship the God of Israel and were most often servants of kings and rulers who oppressed the people of Israel.  Magi were in league with a supernatural power that opposed the one true God.  No one would have expected magi to come in search of the Child-King whose birth was prophesied in Holy Scripture.  So Matthew’s first readers would have been shocked and surprised by this headline: “Look!  Magi from the east have arrived in Jerusalem!” 

            But arrive there they did, searching where you’d expect to find a king of the Jews, in the capital city, Jerusalem.  But that’s just it, the Magi were searching.  They didn’t know where to find this new King.  Jerusalem with its chief priests and scribes should have expected the birth of the King of the Jews as prophesied in the Old Testament, but those religious leaders were unaware of the birth of Jesus until these Magi from the east arrived and announced it to them.  Although the Magi were aware that the King had been born, they were unable to find him until they are guided first by the Scriptures (the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea) and then by the star (because they had no idea where Bethlehem was).  So Matthew’s second big headline—          Look!  The star that they had seen in the east when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  The Magi needed divine guidance to get to the house where the child Jesus and his mother were living. 

            Look!  The things the Magi know that are worthwhile all had to be revealed to them!  They were ignorant people to whom God revealed the Christ.  And that was pious Joseph’s headline also.  “Look!  The things that Joseph knew that were worthwhile had to be revealed to him!”  Could Joseph have been expected to know God’s ways of salvation when he suddenly found that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant?  No, God had to send His angel to Joseph in a dream to reveal to Him what was going on, that Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was going to give birth to the only Son of God, and Joseph would name Him Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins.  Peter, also, gets the same headline.  When he confesses Jesus’ identity as Christ and Son of God, is this worthwhile knowledge of insight his own doing?  No, the heavenly Father revealed Jesus’ identity to Peter and enabled him to confess.  “Jesus answered [Peter], ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’” (Mat 16:16 ESV)

            So what do you think our headline would read?  Probably the very same!  “Look!  The things you and I know that are worthwhile—that Jesus is the Savior, that He died and rose to win our forgiveness and eternal life, that we are children of God by faith—these things had to be revealed to us.”  Otherwise, we would never know them. 

            Imagine not knowing Jesus Christ by faith.  Maybe, like so many, you heard about Jesus.  He was a good teacher, a righteous man.  Some even claimed He did miracles—healing the sick, raising the dead.  But knowing about Jesus isn’t knowing Jesus.  The Magi knew about Jesus, “He who has been born King of the Jews.”  They saw His star and came to worship Him, but they didn’t know Him.  They couldn’t find Him unless God revealed Jesus to them. 

            And so it is for you and me.  Left to ourselves, we can’t know Jesus and worship Him.  We can’t find Jesus because, like the Magi, we don’t know where to look.  Can we find Jesus in astrology, looking to the stars for insight through some horoscope?  Can we find Jesus in doing pious works, good deeds, following all the right rules?  Do we have to go to a mountain somewhere to commune with nature?  We could search endlessly and never find Him who is truly worthwhile.  So rather than us search endlessly in all the wrong places, God reveals to us definitively where Jesus is to be found—in His Word and in His Sacraments. 

            Like the Magi, you and I were ignorant people to whom God revealed the Christ.  By nature, as spiritually blind, dead people, enemies of God, we could not by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him.  We, like the Magi, would always go to the wrong places in search of the King.  But God the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel.  He has invited and drawn us by the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection to partake of the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus.  St. Paul summarizes for us, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1Cor. 15:3)  In other words, it is in this Gospel that Jesus reveals Himself to us as the only Savior of the world who died on the cross to purchase our forgiveness and total release from all our sins.  It is in the Gospel that Jesus comes to us and finds us lost in our sins and under the power of death and the devil.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus cleanses us through His Word of Absolution, His Word and water in the washing of Holy Baptism that really does take away sins and creates saving trust in Jesus.  St. Paul declares in Romans 1 that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  This Gospel is the means by which the Holy Spirit offers us Christ and all the blessings of Jesus and creates faith in us to believe in Jesus who reveals Himself to us in the Gospel.  Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  St. Peter writes by the power of the Holy Spirit, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)     

            What’s more, our Lord also comes to us with His very Body and Blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine in His blessed Supper.  It is in this pure Gospel of Christ Himself that, by faith in His words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” you and I find Jesus who reveals Himself to us in Word and Sign, truly present in His Body and Blood, once crucified, now risen and glorified.  Jesus comes to us here and reveals His love to us as He gives us the very forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that He won for us on the cross.    

There’s no way we would have thought to find Jesus in these places—Word, water, bread and wine.  There’s no way we would have thought to seek Jesus at the font, the pulpit, and the altar.  But that’s just it.  We didn’t seek, the Lord did.  As He revealed to the Magi His one and only Son through the Scripture and by the guiding of a star, so God has revealed Jesus to us through the Scripture—the Gospel in Word and Sign, Word and Sacrament.  So, look in His Gospel Word.  Look in His Gospel Sacraments, Baptism and Supper.  There God reveals His Christ to you.  There Jesus reveals Himself, His love, His forgiveness and life to you.  Amen. 

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