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Sermon on St. Matthew 2:1-12

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ January 3rd, 2011

Sermon on St. Matthew 2:1-12

The Epiphany of Our Lord

+ Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, hath come;  and the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand. +

The first half of today’s Introit is a liturgical text known as “Behold, He has come” (Ecce advenit). “Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, hath come, and the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand.” This liturgical text, along with our Gospel Lesson, will teach us about the identity and work of our Epiphany Lord.

Who are the main characters in the Epiphany story? Jesus, of course, was cutting His teeth in Bethlehem and was probably entering the toddler stage. Herod the King, the villain of Epiphany, was also a key player. He is known as “Herod the Great,” and he was a great architect, designer, and builder. He made some of the finest aqueducts, seaports, and even vacation resorts of his day. But he was notoriously evil in his lust for power and glory here and now, gladly arranging the death of his own sons to guard his throne! And then there are the Magi or wise men from the East. Ironically, the wise men are probably the best known characters of Epiphany, yet we know the least about them. They may have come from Persia, intellectual heirs of the wise men of the days of Daniel the prophet in the Old Testament. With apologies to the Christmas carol, they weren’t really ‘Three kings of the Orient,” but multiple Wise Men from Persia; probably astrologers, scholars, and religious gurus of their day. Above all, they were those who were wise enough to seek the newborn King of the Jews. “Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, hath come . . . and He is Jesus, the Christ.”

This eclectic cast of characters invites us to ask, Who is the most important person in the Christian faith and life? The Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the center of our faith, the content of our worship, and the reason for existence of the church. This, of course, is offensive to the sinful flesh. We want to be the center of our own existence, the maser of our fate, and the captain of our destiny. Herod reminds us that the herod-in-us wants to crucify Christ and say, “I am king and I’ll lead my life my way.” But it can’t be our way, for our thoughts are not of God and our ways are not His ways. Repent! But the wise men teach us that Christ is here for us and He will overcome sin and death in our stead. He will take our desire to be like God, to rule our own lives, and to live life on our terms and nail it to the cross. So the wise men were right to seek the newborn King of the Jews, but in a way that was more profound than they knew at the time. He was a King, but His Kingdom was not of this world. His throne was a cross, His crown was made of thorns, and His scepter was the forgiveness of sins, won by His own blood. His kingdom was the kingdom of the crucified One, His power was made perfect in weakness, and His true glory was in His humiliation. Ye it is this King on a cross who is the most important person in our life, for he alone is our salvation.

So where do you go to find a king in Judea? To the capital city, of course – Jerusalem. That’s where you’d find the temple, the high priests, and even King Herod’s palace, at least when he wasn’t taking it easy at his various other estates. But King Herod was troubled by the Magi’s search for a newborn king. He was the king and none other. Neither wife nor son nor newborn baby who fulfills the entire Old Testament would tell him differently. Herod’s subjects said it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son, and who could argue? Even Herod’s instructions to the wise men were a facade, a way to find the boy Jesus and kill Him. But Jesus did not come to rule Jerusalem as a great earthly power, but to be rejected in Jerusalem and die for our sins on a cross outside Jerusalem. So where would you find such a king? In Bethlehem, a small suburb that most of us would never have heard of if Jesus had not been born there. “Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, hath come . . . and He is born in Bethlehem, for you.”

This raises the question for us, Where do you go to worship Jesus? You can’t literally go to the cross, for it no longer exists. And you can’t find Jesus in your heart, your home, or the lower-cased world of cyberspace. So where do you go to worship Jesus? Yo go to church, the place where Christ is present in baptism, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper. He is here in baptism, drowning our sin and giving us new life with God. He is here in absolution, fully and freely forgiving our sins. And He is here in the Lord’s Supper, giving us His body to eat and His blood to drink. The church is all about the real presence of Christ for us, i.e., the good news that the same Jesus who was adored by the Magi, crucified and risen for us, is still with us in the church. So do not think for a moment, Dearly Beloved, that the wise men have an advantage over us that they got to see the boy Jesus in the house at Bethlehem. We get the same Jesus and all His gifts, right here in the Christian church. As Luther puts it so well in the Small Catechism, “In this Christian Church [the Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth.”

And what did the wise men find in Bethlehem? They followed the star, guided ultimately by God, using the first-ever GPS. The star stood over the house where the boy was living, no doubt under the watchful eye of mother and father, who would soon flee into Egypt and eventually return to Nazareth. “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.” They acknowledged Jesus as “a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” just as the angel said to the shepherds. They offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, before returning to their country by another route, once again avoiding Herod’s sword. And since then, every Gentile who believes and is baptized joins these mysterious wise men to fall down and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. “Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, hath come, and His kingdom and power and glory are here for all men.”

This scenario invites us to ask, What do you get from Jesus? At first, it is tempting to say that we actually give something to Jesus, just as the wise men gave Him the finest gifts of their country. But there’s always more to the Christian faith than first meets the eye. The primary giver in the Christian faith and life is Jesus, who gives all wise men forgiveness, life, and salvation in His name. What do you get from Jesus when you go to church? First and foremost, the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness, there is also rich and abundant life. And where there is life in Jesus’ name, there is even salvation, God’s action to save us from sin and eternal death. Then, and only then, we offer Him our adoration and praise. We give him the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, of loving Him with our heart, mind, and soul. But again, it is first and foremost about God giving us His gifts in Christ, for “Divine Service” means “the work of God.” And even the gifts we give to Him are simply “giving” Him what is already His.

In short, the who, where, and what of the Epiphany story teaches us the good news that Christ has appeared among us as the Son of Man and the Son of God. He is our Lord and Ruler. And he brings the kingdom and the power and the glory, as we pray for it in the Lord’s Prayer. And so today we pray, “Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, hath come, and the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand.” And His hand is open right now to share that kingdom with you, even in His true body and blood. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

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