Saturday, January 7, 2023

Epiphany 2023

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord, preached on Epiphany 2023.

One of the oddest things about the Magi is that they did not turn their attention to the star but rather to where the star pointed.  If you or I had seen a bright light in the heavens that was not there any other night, we would have focused our attention on the star.  We would have stayed where we were and watched the progress of the star across the night sky.  But not the Magi.

Some have thought the Magi to have been astronomers.  If that were the case, they would not have focused their attention on where the star was leading but on the star itself.  But it is clear that they did not see the star as the end, only the means to the end.  They were in pursuit not of a star but the Lord of light.  It led them to Jerusalem.

You might have expected them to know to go to Bethlehem but they can be forgiven this mistake.  Anyone and everyone would have believed the King of the Jews would be born in the capital of the Jews.  After all, it was the city of David’s throne, if not the city of David’s birth.  

Perhaps this visit to Jerusalem was not a mistake.  It would have given Herod and the religious authorities thirty years to get their act together before John appeared as a voice in the wilderness and the public ministry of Jesus began at the font.  In the end, the rejection of Jesus did not even wait until He was revealed as Messiah.  It began already with the promise of His life that was hidden in the face of a baby.

The scholars were not ignorant – only unbelievers.  They knew the prophecy and where the Messiah was to be born.  Scripture certainly has more than one city associated with David and the Messiah.  So while they were headed to Bethlehem, Herod was making plans to put to death the first born sons who had not reached their third birthday.  

So deep was the unbelief that instead of waiting to see what kind of King was born in the city of David, they knew instinctively He must be killed.  But as much as they knew the city where the Savior would be born, they missed the city where He was to die.  Not Bethlehem but Jerusalem.  The throne of David that this King had come to occupy was not a seat in a palace but a cross on which He was to die the death that would set His people free.  

The star was not finished.  As it had led them to Jerusalem, so now it lead them to their real destination – the Bethlehem.  The light that had led them was not the object of their attention but the King in diapers who waited for them in Bethlehem.  If anything, this is what made them wise.  They were content to worship a baby, to kneel down before a child, to offer the baby gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They saw in this child what they had never seen before – the face of the Word made flesh who is come to rule from the cross to overturn the reign of sin and death.

As the star had made the Magi wise by the light to see the Light of the world, they were made wiser by the Spirit who warned them not to return to Jerusalem, not to share with Herod all they had seen and heard, and not to announce the birth to a king who was a tyrant and an ogre.  When they left, they took with them the revelation they had seen and heard in hearts of joy and peace.  But for Joseph there was no peace.

As soon as they were gone, Joseph received another visit from an angel warning him to protect the Messiah born of Mary by the Spirit and hide in Egypt.  Jesus was born to die but not on the timetable of a brutal Herod who did not blink at taking the lives of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem.  But the Savior is vulnerable and depends upon the wisdom of Joseph, the godly man whom the Lord appointed for just this duty so that He will decide when His hour has come.

Still, in between a silent and sleeping village, the visit of shepherds and angels, and the star that led the most unlikely folk into the presence of the King and Savior whom the Father had sent, there was peace and there was joy.  Willingly and of true affection and faith, the Magi knelt before the baby, laid down their gifts, and worshiped Him.

Not much as changed.  As the world sleeps in the slumber of its delusions, the light still shines bringing unlikely people into the presence of their King and Savior.  They come on bended knee to receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  They open up their hands and deliver to the Christ the tokens of their faith in the gold of their money, the frankincense of their prayers, and the myrrh of our worship.  You are the wise.  The light has brought you to Christ, brought you here to where Christ bestows His gifts, and where you respond with praise and thanksgiving.  Thanks be to God! 

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