Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany Sermon -- Matthew 2:1-12

January 6, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.’”

This Advent and Christmastide, you have heard much about the Christ’s being a light. Zecharias’ song praised the Christ whom his son John would go before: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Simeon’s song praised the Infant Jesus, identifying Him as the Lord God’s salvation—“a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.” And to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, you heard John’s description of the Christ: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John’s statement about Christ goes further: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” That phrase—“which enlightens everyone”—is essential to the celebration of the Epiphany that takes place this evening. It complements the statements of Zecharias and Simeon. For these men testify about Christ’s salvific work—that it is meant for one group of people, those who are darkened, blinded, enshrouded. The Christ’s appearance is to bring deliverance to people who are afflicted by a communal problem: the lack of righteousness, the bondage of sin, the curse of God’s justice.

The Scriptures depict this universal affliction as darkness. It hovers over everyone. It covers all people. It is not limited to any ethnic group, geographic region, political territory, or even historical era. No, the darkness extends to all corners of the earth and endures for all moments of time. Because all are affected, all need to be treated. Because all are victims, all need restoration. Because all are afflicted, all need healing.

But what did we hear about the Christ’s birth? When the angel delivered the message to the shepherds of Bethlehem, it said: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And in response to this great event, “a multitude of the heavenly host [praised] God and [said]: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’” Everything surrounding the birth of the Christ indicates that His work was not limited to earthly segments of the population.

What takes place with the Visit of the Magi—what the Church celebrates on this Festival of the Epiphany that closes Christmastide—is the concrete evidence of that great truth about the Christ’s work. From Isaiah’s prophecy, you heard the statement made about the Christ and His work: “Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. . . . A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.” The prophet indicates that the Christ will draw people to Himself, people from all regions. There will be heirs of His salvation from all nations. And when they come to Him, they will bring their praises of the Lord God.

This is what first takes place with the Visit of the Magi. Recall what they said when they arrived in Jerusalem: “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.” They desire to see this promised Christ, but not simply to gaze upon His face. They go to offer their praises to Him. The Magi come to see the fulfillment of the divine prophecies, prophecies that stated that they would be recipients of His salvation. They know the words of Isaiah that you heard tonight and others, including that statement read at midnight on Christmas Eve: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” They know the words of Daniel, one who was counted among the Magi: “There came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was present before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.”

The Visit of the Magi marks part of the fulfillment of these prophecies. As they encountered the Divine Word, the promises made by the Lord God, and came to believe them, the Magi received the Christ’s salvation. Belief in the promises leads them to go to find the One of whom the Scriptures spoke. So they inquire: “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.” Seeing the star again, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Arriving in Bethlehem, “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.” The Magi worship the One who brings salvation to them—light to shine in the darkness of their sin and death, a light even greater than the star they followed.

So the words of the prophets and Zecharias and the angels and Simeon are fulfilled. John’s description of Christ stands true: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” The salvation that the Christ achieves through the offering of His perfect self for the sins of the world is not bound to any earthly segment of the population. No, it is meant for all who believe, just as you heard on Christmas Day: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” When the Lord God makes someone His child, all earthly divisions are invalidated. Being born of God trumps all ethnicities and nationalities. It makes one a member of a holy kingdom and grants a heavenly citizenship.

What the Visit of the Magi embodies is what Paul writes of to the Ephesians: “The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Membership in the household of God the Father is granted to those who believe the promise of Jesus Christ. That is what makes one a part of God’s chosen people. And that is what makes this Epiphany Day significant for you. The Magi show how salvation comes to you: through belief and worship of the Christ who was born to save. They show you that Isaiah’s prophecy applies to you: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” The divine glory that Christ possesses is exercised for your benefit, so that you have the divine light of His righteousness shine upon you.

That Christ’s work is meant for the salvation of the Gentiles forms the basis of Paul’s statement that is for you: “This was according to the eternal purpose that [God the Father] has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.” It is God the Father’s will that you also believe in Christ and receive the salvation that He has brought. His eternal purpose caused all these things to take place for you.

When considering what Christ has done and whether you are to benefit from it, you need not ask what nationality you are or whether you are in the right segment of the population. No, you need only do the same as the Magi. Do you suffer from darkness in your lives? Does sin enshroud you? Does the shadow of death haunt you? Do Satan and temptation constantly bring gloom to your days? If so, then Christ is for you. His light is meant for you. His salvation and forgiveness and mercy are for you.

Believing in His name, you have been made children of God. You are born of God. You are heirs of God. You are part of the household of God. That is what you have been made, what you have become because of Christ’s actions and the choice of His Eternal Father. The One born King of the Jews also has dominion over you. You are members of His Body. You have boldness and access through your faith in Him.

So like the Magi, you may come on this day to worship Christ. You may lay your gifts before Him. But more importantly, you may come to receive again the salvation that He has for you. “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.” Christ’s light swallows the darkness of your sin, dispels the shadow of your death, expels the gloom of Satan’s chains. But it isn’t a future or past thing. It is for the present day. You need not go to Bethlehem, for Christ is here. In this place and you may worship Him. In this time you may receive His benefits for your salvation.

All of this is “according to the eternal purpose that [God the Father] has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the great message of this Epiphany Day. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” May you so receive it according to the Word of Christ, just as the Magi did through believing the great prophecies about Him!

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

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