Posted on January 11th, 2014
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Preached at Immanuel on January 6, 2014
When we read Holy Scripture, there are two important questions to ask. The first is, “Is it true?” We have the testimony of many martyrs and saints that the record of Holy Scripture is not only truthful, but truth itself, testifying to Jesus who is the Truth.
But there is a question that haunts the troubled conscience: “Is it for me?” The Shepherds at Christmas, and the Wise Men at Epiphany, rejoiced with great joy. The good news is that this great joy is for all people. But when the conscience is troubled, when we know and feel our sin deeply, the devil torments us by saying, “This good news is not for you. You are too sinful, too broken, too corrupt.”
One of the first questions the earliest Christians had to deal with was, “Is this good news for us Jews only, or is it for the Gentiles also?”
Matthew’s Gospel is framed in such a way so that at the beginning and end, Gentiles are included in God’s plan of salvation. At the end, we have Jesus sending His Apostles to all nations with the gift of Baptism and instruction in His doctrine. And here at the beginning, we have Gentiles – and practitioners of pagan religions, magicians, at that – worshipping the Christ Child.
What does this mean? It means: This good news is for you. Jesus came to reclaim all the banished children, Jew and Gentile, sinners, the broken, the lost, the rebellious. Even Magi, magicians of the dark powers.
These magicians followed a star, perhaps seeing it as the star prophesied in the book of Numbers (24.17), “A Star shall come out of Jacob.”
But the star led them to the Word, and the Word of Scripture led them to the Word made flesh. For the star got them to Jerusalem, but then left them with no other resource but Holy Scripture, from which they learn that the Child is to be born not in Jerusalem but Bethlehem, the city of David, the house of bread.
From this we see that our lives must be guided not by signs or feelings, but by the clear message of Scripture alone. Many have fallen into great error by trying to adjust Scripture to fit their conceptions of God and what they determine is reasonable. We must run the other way, adjusting all of our feelings, ideas, reason, and desires to what God says. His Word is truth.
Now think about this journey that the Magi took. It doesn’t seem worth it, to travel so far, does it? They went perhaps a thousand miles. This is the way our mind runs: we make calculations, cost-benefit analyses, as to how we spend our time and our money. And as the friends and family of the Magi no doubt thought it was madness to travel to Israel to give gifts to an unheralded Baby, so it may seem madness to contribute money to the church, spend time on church business, and especially foolish to devote hours to Bible reading and prayer. What could be more worthless and unproductive?
But nothing matters more than this Child. So the Magi made the journey, encouraging us also to live our lives not as the world counts value, but in light of death and resurrection, eternity.
Thus the Magi squandered their treasures on the Baby they found in Bethlehem. And their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh declare who this Child is: God in the flesh, a king, and a sacrifice.
The incense is for divinity. As incense was burned in the temple, so now the heavenly aroma of sweet incense is offered at the temple made of flesh, Whom Mary cradles in her arms.
Her child is Son of David, a king, and they offer the King a tribute of gold. Through this gift, they provided for the Holy Family as they abandoned work and possessions to flee to Egypt.
And finally, they give myrrh in anticipation of the Child’s burial. Jesus has come to be a lamb led to the slaughter, to be the One on whom the sin of the world is laid.
As we offer our own costly treasures, we continue this confession that Jesus is Lord, we provide for His family the Church, and we remember His death as we die to our greed and become free of our bondage to earthly possessions.
And then, they go home!
It’s easy to overlook, but there is an important message for us in the Wise Men returning home.
For home is where our calling is. Family and work, serving our neighbor. We serve God when we go home and care for our families, do honest work every day, and help and befriend whomever God puts in our way.
The Magi went home by a new and different way. This too is part of Epiphany: as we have seen the light of Christ, now we walk by a new way, drowning the old Adam and eager to put on the new man, the life of joyously following the Ten Commandments.
So rejoice, my friends, on this great festival! For the light shines in the darkness for both Jew and Gentile, and the darkness that haunts you will never overcome this Light.