Monday, January 28, 2013

LSB Epiphany 3C Sermon - Luke 4:16-30

January 27, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him.”

The Gospel Writer tells us that Jesus had a custom. Maybe it wasn’t the only one that He had, but we are told: “As was His custom, [Jesus] went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” Jesus performs an action that was done by countless others. Gathering to hear what the Lord had said through Moses and the Prophets was the custom of Israel. It was not just something they thought might be good to do, it is what the Lord had commanded them.

There is a reason for that command: the gathering to hear what the Lord had said is how the people of Israel learned about their identity. For it is in the Scriptures that the Lord reveals His identity, as the One who had made Abraham into a great nation and delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, the One who made a Covenant full of promises. Israel was to gladly hear and learn this testimony about the Lord and themselves. These Scriptures taught them the way of life that the Lord had bestowed to them, a way of life that led not only to temporal benefits, but eternal ones as well.

Hearing the Lord’s words and receiving what they convey is what led the Psalmist to testify about them: The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the just decrees of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” This is what drove the custom of Jesus, the same custom that was held by His ancestors, even those in Nazareth, where He had been brought up.

But there is an underlying truth concerning the Lord’s words that leads them to do what the Psalmist says. Why do they revive the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes, endure forever, stand righteous altogether? Because these words testify to what the Lord does for His people. They make known the salvation that He had brought them, was bringing them, and would bring them. Hearing and receiving that witness is what brings joy to the hearts of those who are troubled by sin, guilt, the burdens of life, all the negative events they endure. The Lord says concerning Himself: “I am the One who removes this from you. I am the One who brings you deliverance. I am the One who answers your troubles.”

This is what the people in Jerusalem heard as they gathered and listened to Ezra read the Lord’s words to them: “All the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel…. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Having returned from their exile in Babylon and Persia, these Israelites were back in their homeland. These returned exiles got to hear again—and for some, the first time—what the Lord had said concerning Himself and them: how He had delivered them and promised salvation for them.

So how did the people react to hearing this? “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” We also hear the description of their touched hearts: “All the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” Nehemiah’s statement points the people to what the Lord had done for them: “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The people find joy because the Lord had graciously answered them. He had exalted them from their low estate. He had put their shame and disgrace to flight.

But what happens in Nazareth, when Jesus reads the Lord’s words and gives the sense of them to the people in the synagogue? What happens when He reveals the Lord’s identity and the Lord’s actions for the people? That is what the Gospel Writer also records for us. Jesus reads from Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then Jesus tells the people what those words of the Lord mean: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is telling them that the Scriptures testified about Him, that He is the One who has come to bring joy to the hearts of those who are troubled by sin, guilt, the burdens of life, all the negative events they endure.

After Jesus gives the sense of the Scripture to the people, there is utter rejection of Him. You heard that read this way: “And all spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” But they weren’t really speaking well of Jesus. No, the Gospel Writer’s words are better put: “And they all were testifying [bearing witness] about Him and wondered at the gracious words coming from His mouth.” There is no positive witness given about Jesus, only a negative one. And there is no amazement at what Jesus says, only shock. The people start saying: “How can this guy tell us that He’s been anointed by anyone, let alone the Spirit of the Lord? Who made Him the preacher of liberty? How is Joseph’s son going to give sight to the blind? And what’s this talk about freeing anybody? What is Jesus going to free us from? What are we blind to? Do we need to be freed from anything? Isaiah was talking about the Messiah, and you aren’t it!”

Then when Jesus answers them, giving a statement about being rejected and how the people of Nazareth are no different than the Israelites who rejected Elijah and Elisha, they blow up completely. They reject Jesus as a false prophet, a teacher of blasphemy: “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove Him out of the town and brought Him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw Him down the cliff.” They will not have Jesus as the supplier of life to them. They will not have Him as the Messiah. But this means that they will not receive what the Scriptures actually led up to, what the entirety of Moses and the Prophets had actually foretold.

And this is the problem not just for Nazareth but for Mechanicsburg, Carlisle, Dillsburg, Camp Hill, Harrisburg, Hershey, and Lebanon also. All those positive things spoken of the Scriptures is true: they revive the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes, endure forever, and stand righteous altogether. Not only that, there is a promise concerning an outcome: “Moreover, by them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” They spell out a way of living that you are to follow. But we see how that way of living is being rejected over and over again. The morality spelled out in the Scriptures is dismissed. The righteousness described is tossed over the cliff, just like the Nazareth people wanted to do with Jesus. And there is the popular custom of not hearing one bit of the Lord’s words at all.

But there is one more thing to note—not just an add-on; it’s the real heart of the matter. The Psalmist alludes to it: “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” That matter is the salvation that comes from the forgiveness of sins, the proclaiming of liberty to those who are ensnared by their faults, the removal of blindness from those who know nothing of the Lord’s ways. And the Psalmist declares where that salvation comes from: “Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” The deliverance does not come by setting yourself free, but from having the Lord as your redeemer.

That needed thing—having the Lord as your redeemer—is what the Scriptures testify to. But their testimony is clear: Jesus is the Lord incarnate who has come to be that redeemer. This is what Moses and the Prophets foretold. What Jesus says in the synagogue of Nazareth is true. All those things that Isaiah said would take place by the One anointed with the Spirit of the Lord, they are done by Jesus because He is the Christ, the Messiah. His testimony is also true: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It is fulfilled for you, as the same Jesus who died to atone for your sins and rose again to open Paradise to you has also spoken His words of forgiveness in your ears. He has spoken the words that proclaim liberty to you, setting you free from the slavery of sin and the dungeon of death. He takes you from blindness to seeing Him and the way of life that He has laid out for you. That is the heart of the Scriptures: Moses, the Prophets, even the Psalms all testify about Him.

For you who receive this, you have the joy that the Scriptures bring. You are like the people who gathered to hear Ezra read the Torah and were commanded to be festive and celebrate because of the Lord’s actions described by His words. But all who will not receive this—all those who will not recognize that they are actually in need of divine aid and those who will not have Jesus be their redeemer—then they are like the people of Nazareth. They have the salvation right in front of them, but they go home empty-handed, having it pass through their midst as Jesus and His testimony go away.

That is what these two instances in the Old and New Testaments bring to light on this day. Hearing them read, an exhortation is made. You are again called to gladly hear and learn what the Lord speaks concerning Himself and you in the Scriptures. You are called to have your soul revived, to be made wise, to have rejoicing hearts, to be given enlightenment, to endure forever and stand righteous in the Lord’s sight. That is what will take place for you, but only as you receive what is said concerning Jesus: that He is the only-begotten Son of God, the One conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, the One who has come for us men and for our salvation, the redeemer who proclaims the Lord’s favor. Toss that over the cliff, and all is lost. Receive it and its fulfillment in your midst, and you shall not be grieved, but will have the joy of the Lord as your strength.

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

LSB Epiphany 2C Sermon - John 2:1-11

January 20, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’”

“They have no wine.” That is the message that the mother of Jesus gives to Him. She lets Jesus know that the wedding they are attending is about to take a turn for the worst. It’s going to be a problem, once the guests realize it. What problem is that? Not that the people hadn’t had a drink or two or three or more. That had already happened. The issue is the disgrace and embarrassment that are about to fall upon the groom who will be revealed as a poor host before all his peers. And if the groom can’t even get his own wedding right, just what type of husband and father will he be? What will that household look like in five, ten, or fifteen years?

“They have no wine.” Mary informs Jesus of this. Why does she do so? Because she believes that Jesus can fix the problem. She puts the bridal party’s plight right in front of Him. Perhaps she had been somewhat complicit in it, since she is there as an assistant of some sort to the wedding. She is implying: “You’re about to witness an absolute social disaster. Do something about it.”

So what does Jesus say when He hears His mother’s message? “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’” What type of response is that? Perhaps we think of it as totally negative, a rebuffing of sorts. But that’s not exactly what’s going on. Jesus’ words are revealing the concern about the connection to the problem. It is more literally translated: “What to you and to Me?” or “What does this have to do with both you and Me?” In essence, Jesus is saying: “How does this problem of the lack of wine and the impending shame for the groom affect you and Me in the same way? In what way are we both connected to this issue?”

It is an interesting question to ponder. How did the running out of wine affect Mary? Since she is an assistant to the wedding, the groom’s disgrace will also fall in part on her: the job was shoddily done, a sort of wedding coordinator malpractice. Perhaps she will never be asked to help again with such a festive event again. If she were related to the bride or groom, then Mary would share in the clan’s shame. But how did the running out of wine affect Jesus? If He is just there as a guest, then it doesn’t really matter at all. At such an event, the guests are expected to enjoy the hospitality of the host, not to be suppliers of the food and drink. He is not constrained by the rules of society or the Divine Law to do anything. He is not connected to the issue by any sort of duty.

But when Mary hears Jesus’ response, she does not go away. She does not run around in panic looking for any other person to help. There is no quick assignment given to someone, “Take some denarii and find the nearest vintner.” No, it is much different: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’” Jesus’ mother expects her Son to remedy the situation. She anticipates that He will provide the wine needed. There is hope and reliance on what He will do. She instructs the servants to have the same.

And Mary is correct! For what happens as she leaves the matter in Jesus hands? The matter is fixed, but in a way that no one would have thought of: “Now there were six stone waters jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it.” The servants do exactly as Jesus instructs them. When they do, the solution is provided: “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”

“They have no wine.” That was the message given to Jesus. But now, after He has acted for the benefit of the bridal party, the response message is the exact opposite: “They have wine in abundance.” But not just any sort of wine has been provided. No, there is now 120+ gallons of the finest vintage, the type that would impress the tongues of the best sommeliers and even gladden the hearts of the jaded drinker. That is what Jesus provides. And through that act that Jesus performs by His ability, the groom’s disgrace is removed; he is honored by Jesus had been done for him.

Jesus’ removal of shame and disgrace from the groom corresponds to what had been prophesied by Isaiah. Recall the words that you heard: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord shall give.” There is the promise of the Lord’s action for a shamed and disgraced nation, the people who had been exiled due to their lack of righteousness, their rebellion against the Lord’s will and their idolatry.

But He declares the result of what His actions for them will be: “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Their shame and disgrace will be removed. The exile will come to an end. They will have a place of honor. And this is given because the Lord is pleased to do so; He desires to give His joy to them. That reversal of fortune given to Israel reveals how the Lord is: gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. It shows how His glory will be used for the benefit of people—not because the Lord is constrained to, but because He elects to.

Likewise, the reversal of fortune that Jesus performs by His miracle at the Wedding at Cana reveals something about His identity. The Gospel Writer notes: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” The glory of Jesus is manifested by what He does. It is revealed in His mastery over creation, the turning of water into wine. But there is more than that. His glory is revealed in the reason for His actions.

Remember the response that Jesus gave to His mother: “Woman, what does this have to do with Me?” or “What does this have to do with both you and Me?” That response went to the question of how the situation had placed any burden on Jesus. It is a matter of onus: How was Jesus bound or compelled to do anything? The answer is that He wasn’t. And yet, what does He do? He manifests His glory in providing a benefit for a bride and groom in Cana. He reveals that His glory will be involved in the provision of what is needed, the granting of what could not be obtained. His glory removes the disgrace and shame that had befallen this young couple.

Such use of divine glory by Jesus will define His ministry. That is what His actions recorded in the gospels show. Throughout His life, Jesus will encounter people who are afflicted by all sorts of difficulties, issues that they cannot remedy themselves. And He uses His divine ability to restore them, to overcome their diseases and sufferings. The turning of the water into wine at Cana is but the first of His signs. It initiates a sequence of miraculous acts that reveal His identity as the Christ, the Son of God, so that by believing you may have life in His name. That sequence leads up to Jesus and His glory being suspended from a cross—what is meant to be the ultimate shame—so that the world’s sins may be atoned for and salvation be granted to all who fall under the righteous wrath of God. This is Jesus’ identity. This is His purpose. This is how His glory will be manifested, so that He will have disciples believe in Him.

That result is also meant for you. Jesus comes to bring pleasure eternal, to remove the shame and disgrace that have befallen you. Jesus’ mother told Him the plight of the bridal party: “They have no wine.” His Father told Him the plight of the world: “They have no righteousness. They have no life. They have no hope.” What does this have to do with Him? How does your lack affect Him? There is no constraining or compelling, but Jesus takes on the burden and acts to reverse your fortune. You benefit by being given His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation. These could not be obtained by yourselves; they are given as the Lord Jesus does as His Father commands.

That reversal of fortune happens as Jesus manipulates the creation. He becomes part of it, assuming human nature and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. It leads to the death of God Himself, but also to His resurrection. His gifts are distributed to you, as His servants follow the command, doing whatever He tells them: joining His word to water, to make it a life-giving washing of regeneration; exercising His authority in speech, making their words a sin-loosing absolution; connecting His promise to bread and wine, turning them into His Body and Blood given as a banquet of life everlasting.

This is what Jesus does, so that you are taken from shame and humility to honor and exaltation. What He gives you is the best, just as He gave the Cana bridal party the finest of wines. And so it is no longer said of you: “They have no life.” Instead, you have life to the fullest. That is what Jesus provides, manifesting His glory, leading His disciples to believe in Him. So it is for you, who do the same: “Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.”

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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

LSB Epiphany 1C Sermon - Luke 3:15-22

January 13, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’”

The Lord’s people Israel heard many statements about who they were and their relationship to Him. These statements revealed their identity, their special status that no other groups of individuals possessed. At the heart of those statements were descriptions about the Lord’s actions that He had done for them. From the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, the Lord had summoned Abram to become a patriarch of a nation. Out of all the nations of the world, the Lord had delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and made them great. The Lord had prospered Israel, so that it was a prominent kingdom among the Ancient Near Eastern civilizations. And why had this taken place? Because the Lord desired it. It was well-pleasing to Him. His love and favor had been shown.

These descriptions of what the Lord had done for them are what the Israelites were always to keep foremost in their mind. What the Lord said and did was to become the heart of their faith, the bedrock on which they would establish their trust. Without the Lord’s acts, the people would become nothing. They would be left abandoned. They would have no hope. That is why even in the midst of Israel’s apostasy and falling away from faith, the Lord would send prophets to speak again, exhorting them to remember their identity as the nation that the Lord brought into being, the people of promise.

This is the background for Isaiah’s statements that the Israelites heard centuries ago, the same words that you heard this morning. Speaking prophetically about the nation that would be exiled to Babylon and Persia, Isaiah reveals the Lord’s promise to them: “But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” The Lord states again that He had called the Israelites to be His. The people are called back to faith in the Lord who had brought them into being. As they would put their trust in Him and His promises, they would even endure centuries of exile away from their land.

In fact, the Lord makes a promise for His people concerning what He will do for them: “I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring My sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.” The Lord promises that He will ransom and deliver His people. He will put their exile to an end, even giving up other nations for them. That is the extent of the Lord’s love and favor for His people. That is how far the Lord will go for them, even for people who had been disobedient, who had doubted His promises, who had chased after other gods.

What is set forth in these promises to exiled Israel is how the Lord who is gracious and merciful acts. His statement about giving a ransom for people reveals how He operates: “Because you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” That is His character put into action. It leads to the giving of a ransom for all people to deliver them out of their separation and banishment. But the Lord does not stop at giving nations in exchange for Israel. No, that will not do when speaking about redemption for the world. Instead, what is given is even greater, more precious. The ransom is what steps into the Jordan River and picks up the sins of the world to bear on His shoulders.

The Lord looks at the world and sees its problems. He sees it at enmity with Him, separated by the boundary between holiness and imperfection, righteousness and iniquity. He views the world caught up in the slavery and bondage of sin and death. Your own contributions to your plight are noted by Him: each time that you have violated His commands, every instance where you have doubted anything that He had said, all your chasing after other gods or making yourself supreme in your lives.

And yet, the Lord says to you: “Because you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give a Man in return for you, a Person in exchange for your life.” And who is this Man? Who is this Person? It is Jesus who was baptized for you: “When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’” That is your ransom.

So what does this beloved and well-pleasing Son do? He does not stay wading in the Jordan River. Instead, He walks out of it to take up a mission of rescue and redemption. It is what you will hear for the next 12 weeks, as the Church Year progresses through Epiphanytide to Lent to Holy Week and Easter. But you need not wait another day to hear it. No, it was heard this morning in Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Death and resurrection: that is what the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God does for you. Death and resurrection: those are the acts performed on your behalf because you are precious in the Lord’s eyes, honored and loved.

So the Lord incorporates you into the ransoming act that has been carried out for you. That is what Holy Baptism does. As you step into the baptismal waters, you are brought into union with Christ. You are linked with Him. You enter into a covenant with Him that establishes a new relationship. For now you are no longer independent, allowed to set and determine your own destiny. Neither are you abandoned, left to fend for yourself. No, you have something different, a special status. The Lord says to you: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.” That is the identity that is bestowed upon you.

The incorporation into the Christ’s death and resurrection performed for you effects a change in you. This is what being baptized brings about: “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” The old life is over; a new life has begun. It is similar to how Abram was summoned to become Abraham, the Great Patriarch. Or how Israel was delivered from slavery by the Exodus through the Red Sea to become a free people. Or how the people were prospered by the Lord’s care. The change is made for you, as the Lord’s voice thunders over the baptismal waters and places His name on you. Now you are His. Now you are His people, those whom He strengthens and blesses with peace and pardon.
That is the new identity that the Lord has bestowed upon you. He has created and formed you. He has redeemed you. He has called you by name. He has made you His. It was good and well-pleasing to the Lord to do this for your benefit. That is what being baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection has accomplished for you. Like the beloved and well-pleasing Son, you have died and risen. You are no longer enslaved to sin. No, you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Having the Holy Spirit poured out upon you, your desire is to follow the way of life that the Lord has established for you, to faithfully keep His covenant, to be well-pleasing to Him in what you think, say, and do.

The Lord’s love and favor have been shown to you. He calls you to place your trust in His acts and promises. That is what happens as you put your faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. Likewise, you rely on what Christ says to you about how He distributes His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is why you believe that baptism actually accomplishes something for you, as well as the pronouncement of absolution and the eating of the Eucharist.

Your trust in the Lord’s acts and promises is also why you place your hope in the Lord’s statement concerning a final gathering of His people: “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.” Resurrection awaits you and everyone who has been baptized and trusts the divine promises made in it: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” This is your destiny, your end that the Lord established for you. It is your special status, an identity that no other group possesses. And it is all because you are precious in the Lord’s eyes, loved and honored by Him, having His beloved and well-pleasing Son given in ransom for you.

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

LSB Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon - Matthew 2:1-12

January 6, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.”

The Magi come to Jerusalem looking for a king. They come because they had witnessed something that led them to believe that a new king had been born. This is the testimony that they give when they enter Israel’s capital city: “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 had been seen, a star that convinced the Magi that a new monarch had been born to the people of Israel. The viewing of this star drove them on their journey to Jerusalem.

But there is a problem with the Magi’s question. Not that the content was incorrect; a new king had been born. But the venue for their question was wrong. They expect to find the newly born king in Jerusalem. That is where a monarch of Israel should be found. But when the Magi ask about it in Jerusalem, the reaction they get is anything but positive: “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him….” There is no joy for Herod in hearing about a newly born monarch. His court and city are troubled. It had been troubled before by palace intrigue, including the charges of high treason leveled by Herod against his children and wives and their subsequent executions. And now foreign emissaries come into Herod’s court looking for a new king.

So Herod recalls the ancient promises about a Messiah after he hears the Magi’s question: “assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” Herod knew that a ruler had been foretold, one who was to be the leader of the Lord’s people Israel. But where would this Messiah be born? The answer is given by the chief priests and scribes: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘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.’” Now Herod knows where this challenger will come from. And he develops a plan to find this rival king: “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 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.’”

Herod’s plan of murdering the Messiah would go unfulfilled. But from the visit to Jerusalem, the Magi are given the missing piece of the puzzle for their quest to find the newborn king. The missing piece is that prophetic statement, the promise issued from the Lord about the Messiah through the words of Micah the sage. From the rising of the star, a phenomenon of nature, the Magi had come to know that a king of the Jews had been born. But this king would not be found in Jerusalem. The natural place to find the Messiah was not where He was to be located. Left to that knowledge, the Magi would wander through all the streets of Israel’s capital but never see the one they came to worship. But when the divine, prophetic words are made known to them—even by an evil and murderous tyrant—the Magi find the Messiah. They are directed and led by what the Lord had spoken.

This is what the Gospel Writer emphasizes: “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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 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.” The Lord’s words are what bring the Magi to Bethlehem. There they find the Messiah who was born. He is found not in the place where they thought He would be, but in the place where the Lord had promised. And this is how the Infant Jesus is first revealed to be the Messiah, the promised Redeemer of the world, to the Gentiles. The knowledge of this is given to them through the Lord’s words.

This great revelation about Jesus’ identity is what the apostle Paul also makes known for you, as you heard this morning: “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Jesus is the One who was born king of the Jews. He is the Messiah, the Christ who was promised. And through His work, salvation has been won for the Lord’s ancient people Israel and for members of other nations who are brought to the knowledge of His will: “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. This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.”

But how is this mystery made known? How is this conveyed, so that you and others may receive it? Where does one find the mystery of Jesus’ identity and work revealed? It is not in the earthly and natural things. That can bring a person close, just as the star brought the Magi to a near proximity of the Messiah. But the Lord’s divine words of promise need to be heard and received. They carry the gospel; they bring the unsearchable riches of Christ to people. This is how you have become recipients of the grace that the Father has offered to you through the gift of His only-begotten Son, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us and carried the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.

This is why the Church must focus on being the speaker of the Lord’s word in this world. Through that word, the identity and work of Jesus are proclaimed and made known. The natural things can reveal the love of Jesus. Make no mistake, the love of Christ is shown through the social work that the Church and its members do. Such work is part of your life as disciples. Because you have been shown the greatest generosity by the Father—the giving of His Son for your salvation—and have also benefited from the gifts of His creation, you reflect that generosity in offering your money and possessions for others. Because you have been given life, you act to support the life of others. This is what drives our parish’s cooperation and involvement with social ministry organizations, with Lutheran Malaria Initiative, and with our local adoption and abortion alternative groups. This is good, right, and salutary to do.

Yet, these acts can be like the star that led the Magi to go to Jerusalem. Certainly there is the reflection of the Father’s love to people in them. But it is in the word of gospel that the identity and work of Jesus is revealed. And that is why the Church speaks that word in this world. Without that, the people—even you—would be left in Jerusalem and not reach Bethlehem. It is the word of gospel that brings you to the Messiah, so that you can worship and honor Him. More importantly, it is the word of gospel that brings the Messiah’s merits to you, so that you can eternally enjoy the fullness of His divine presence. It is the word of gospel that you hear—that the promised Messiah has come, that He has fulfilled the promises spoken about Him, that He has made atonement for your sins, that He has conquered sin, death, and Satan—that brings you into the Father’s household and makes you His heirs. That is the mystery revealed about Jesus through the divine words: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

This is how the Old Testament promise has been fulfilled for you and the rest of the members of the Church. The Lord says: “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.” That light and glory of the Lord is not a star. No, it is the person of Christ, the Messiah born in Bethlehem, who died and rose again for you. His identity and work have been revealed to you through the gospel words. They shine the divine light in the darkness of your sin and guilt and imperfection. That is why you must be intentional and diligent in hearing the words of the Messiah, the gospel that testifies about Him—not only in the Divine Service, but also in the other venues where this word is read and heard. That is how you will be led to enjoy in heaven the fullness of God’s divine presence.

But the Lord also promised: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” That is more than just a foretelling of the Magi’s appearance. It is a promise about what will happen as the Lord’s word, the testimony of Jesus’ identity and work, is spoken and declared in this world. The nations come to the Church’s light, the Messiah who is revealed in the gospel—the words proclaimed and the visible words of the sacraments. In them, the glory of the Lord is shown. Through them, the Morning Star shines brightly, so that the identity and work of Jesus are revealed. That is how others will not be left wandering in the shadows of this world, lost in the thick darkness of their sin and guilt and imperfection.

By the same gospel words that brought you to faith in Jesus, they also will be led like to the Messiah and the benefits of His identity and work for them. So the manifold wisdom of God will be made known through the Church in this world, revealed through you who have been made partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. This is the Epiphany that we celebrate today, when the Magi found Him who was born king of the Jews. And we look forward to the glorious revelation of this same Jesus as King of All Creation when He returns.

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