January 6, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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, 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.’”
Tonight, Christmastide, the time that marks Christ’s nativity, comes to its close. Tonight, Epiphanytide, the time that marks Christ’s revelation, begins. You have heard the prophecies foretelling the Christ. You have heard the announcement made to Mary that she would be the mother of the Son of the Most High. You have heard the herald angels declare that the Savior has been born for you in the city of David. You have heard how the Babe of Bethlehem was named Jesus, just as directed from on high. And now you have heard of visitors who come to worship the One born king of the Jews. All of these events show how the presence of the Redeemer sent to the world was revealed.
This revelation of the Redeemer’s presence is the way that the light that Jesus brought into the world overcame darkness. The hymn you sang this evening speaks of darkness being overcome: “The people that in darkness sat a glorious light have seen; the light has shined on them who long in shades of death have been.” Light shines and people come to it. That is what the Lord had promised He would accomplish. The Prophet Isaiah spoke that divine promise: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, 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.” This light is what the Christ brings. He is the Lord’s glory seen in the world, as John’s Gospel heard on Christmas Day made known: “We have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
But who is meant to see this light and glory? Is it to be concealed, like a lamp under a bushel? Is it set to be like a spotlight that shines only on one particular area? The Lord’s declaration tells you that this light and glory that the Christ brings is to be like a beacon, something that draws and attracts people: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” People of other ethnic groups will be pulled by the light that shines in Israel. Foreign nobles will be drawn to its brightness. That is what the Lord promises with some detail: “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. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 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 appearance of the Magi, the wise men in Israel marks the fulfilling of this promise. The world’s Redeemer had come, as foretold. His presence would be noted, as prophesied. So the Gospel Writer tells us: “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, 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.’” A star proclaims the king is here; it had revealed the Christ’s presence. So the Magi come looking for Him. They come to behold His glory and to worship Him. The wealth of the Gentile nations is brought, as the wise men give Jesus their gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They do as the Psalm exhorts: “May desert tribes bow down before Him and His enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render Him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before Him, all nations serve Him!”
In that moment, the true identity of the Babe of Bethlehem is revealed. This is no ordinary Boy, but the Incarnate God. This is no heir of a carpenter, but the descendant of David who is to rule and be recognized by the nations. These visitors from the East are the first of many from the nations who worship Jesus and call Him Lord. The star brought them to the One born king of the Jews. But He is also to be crowned and have dominion over all things, to possess all authority in heaven and earth.
The Magi come to the light and glory of Christ, so they can be redeemed by it. They are to be partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus, to be recipients of the salvation that He brings not just for people of Hebrew descent, but to the world. The beacon of light and glory that shined in the Christ has attracted generations of others from the nations. Jesus’ birth drew the Magi to Bethlehem to witness and worship Him. Jesus’ death would draw all people to Himself. And in His resurrection, Jesus would send out His light and glory to the nations, incorporating countless numbers of individuals into His kingdom of grace. Emanating from ancient Palestine, the light and glory of Christ has become your beacon of salvation, so that you can rightly call Him Lord and become His subjects, worshiping and serving Him.
This is what you hear from one who was sent to carry that light and glory as an apostle: “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of His power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Christ’s light and glory shines through His Church. Carrying His authority into the world, the ability to speak the words that effect forgiveness, life, and salvation, the apostles and their successors have brought people of all nations into Christ’s kingdom.
So you have been made to see Jesus as your Redeemer, your King, your Lord. You receive Him as the One sent to overcome the darkness of your guilt, your mortality, and your frailty. The light and glory of Jesus has come to you, borne by those sent to carry it out to you. Hearing the Gospel accounts of who the Babe of Bethlehem was and what He accomplished as an adult, you recognize Him as your Savior. He answers the pleas spoken by you and others as prayed in the Psalm: “May He judge Your people with righteousness, and Your poor with justice!… May He defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!” That is what the Christ does for you: He gives you His righteousness; He defends you from all evil; He redeems you from the curse of sin; He overcomes your Adversary, Satan.
But none of this is known by nature. None of this is built into the heart, soul, or mind of people at birth. No, this is what is revealed to you. This is what the light and glory of Christ brings to you. Without that, you would still be covered in darkness, ignorant of who Jesus is or what He has done. But the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ have taken place. He has sent out His beacons to enlighten you. What the Prophet Isaiah said has become your truth: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, 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. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” The Lord’s glory has been visited upon you, so that you are children of light. Now you stand as beacons of that light for others to see and receive, as you proclaim the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel that you have heard.
This Epiphany Season is about revelation of that promise according to the Father’s purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. It is the promise that comes from Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies of old. Those prophecies of old have been applied to you, so that you are fellow heirs with all who are recipients of His grace and truth. That grace and truth is carried to the nations, to you and all nations far away from Bethlehem. So you can worship Jesus here and now. You confess Him as Lord here and now. You recognize His light and glory present in His Word and Sacraments here and now. And when the Christ returns and reveals Himself as King to all, you will join the Magi and all others who received and worshipped Him for eternity.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.