Monday, January 7, 2013

Sermon -- Epiphany (January 6, 2013)

MATTHEW 2:1-12
WE HAVE COME TO WORSHIP HIM.

In the name + of Jesus.

     When Magi came to Jerusalem, they made a confession: “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.” (Matthew 2:2)  The Magi only came to Jerusalem because the Lord had revealed the news to them through a star.  We know precious little about what kind of star this was.  Even among scholars, their best guesses remain guesses.  But what we do know is that the Magi credited the star with revealing to them that the King of the Jews was born.
     King Herod did not know that Jesus had been born.  It was not revealed to him by a star.  He did not even know it from the Scriptures.  So he called in the priests and the scribes to find out what had been foretold about the King who would be born to the Jews, the Messiah.  The Scriptures had foretold that they should have expected a star.  Speaking even through a pagan prophet, Balaam, the Lord had foretold: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17)  The star had arisen.  The King was born, as the Lord had promised.
     The question lingered for the Magi and for Herod: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)  Herod consulted the ones who should know.  Sure enough, the priests and scribes knew exactly where to look.  They said, “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.’” (Matthew 2:5-6) 
     Each continued to make a confession by their words and their actions.  The Lord had revealed good news.  The priests and scribes quoted God’s revelation, but they did not go and see.  They would not waste their time.  Herod heard the revelation from the Magi and from the Prophets.  He wanted the newborn king killed.  He would not tolerate a rival.  The Lord had revealed his good news to the Magi first by the star and then by the Scriptures.  The star summoned them to Jerusalem.  The Scriptures sent them to Bethlehem.  Then the star pinpointed the very house.  The Magi made no secret of their intentions.  “We saw his star … and we have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) 
     In writing the account of the Magi, St. Matthew highlights the surprise that they came at all.  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…. (Matthew 2:1, emphasis added)  You could almost imagine the people who saw them say, “What are they doing here?!”  After all, Jesus was the star out of Jacob.  He is the scepter from Israel.  He is the King of the Jews.  And yet, the Magi came.  They confessed, “Even though we come from pagan astrologers, he is our star.  And even though we are foreigners, he is our king.  He holds the scepter for us.  We have come to worship him.”
     In many ways, the reaction is the same regarding you.  Any time we gather around God’s word and sacraments, people could justifiably be asking, “What are they doing here?!”  Whether you are kneeling by the manger or kneeling at God’s altar, you don’t deserve a place here.  Your origins are no different.  You were conceived in sin.  You had no claim on God’s kingdom.  For, you have transgressed against the Lord.  You and I have been like the priests and the scribes.  We know what the Lord says.  We know what the right thing to do is.  But instead of doing what is right and good and kind, we do nothing.  It is always easier to do nothing.  It is always easier not to lend a hand and not to sacrifice a minute of your time.  It is easy to tell the Lord, “I don’t have time to come and kneel before you.  I’m so busy.  I have things to get done.”  And I’m sure you do.  We all do.  We fault the priests and scribes because they put forth no effort to come and see the newborn King.  But aren’t we under the same condemnation for our negligence?
     Or worse, we are as guilty as King Herod.  Every heart has one throne in it.  Herod had no room for anyone but himself.  He would kill Jesus before he would honor him.  How often do your words and actions confess, “Lord, this is my time.  This is my will.  This is my opinion.”?  That is what we confess with every sin we commit.  We would not have Jesus as our King.  Rather, we confess, “Right now, I will be King.  This time, I will be lord.”  With such sinful hearts, we have come again to God’s house.  The angels and archangels might well be asking, “What are they doing here?!”
     Dear Christians, you are not here because you are better or smarter or more worthy than anyone.  You are here because God graciously revealed to you that a Savior has been sent for you.  You are here because the Lord has called you through the Gospel to know that forgiveness is yours through this Savior.  The Lord has revealed that Jesus Christ is God who has come for you to deliver you from your sins of neglect and rebellion.  He is not a King who slays you for your sins.  Rather, he is a King who would be slain for you for your sins.
     Therefore, you come as the Magi did.  We have come to worship him.  We fall on our knees before him in humility.  We acknowledge that he is God.  We confess that he is our Savior.  And even if the devil would taunt you and challenge you by asking, “What are you doing here?!” as if you don’t belong, then confess: “The Lord has called me here.  He has revealed his mercy here.  He delivers his forgiveness to me through this Savior who has been born.  I am here because I need him.  So, even though I have been rebellious, he is a merciful King for me.  And even though I have sinned against him, he is a Savior for me.”  We have come to worship him, and we are eager to receive the gifts he brings.
     The Magi arrived at Bethlehem and fell in worship before Jesus.  They presented Jesus with gifts to honor him.  And even their gifts make a confession.  With gold, they recognize Jesus as their King.  Frankincense was often combined with sacrifices.  And so the frankincense confesses that Jesus would be the sacrifice which pays for all of your sins.  Myrrh is used for embalming the bodies of the dead.  And so the myrrh confesses that Jesus would go to the grave wrapped in aloes and myrrh to deliver you from death and the grave.  Jesus came to die for your sins and rise to give you deliverance from death and hell.  Jesus came for you.  He is your King and brings you into the kingdom of God.  The Herods of this world may attack it, but they can never destroy it.  Your King forever reigns.  His sacrifice always atones.  Your eternity is safe.
     The Magi went to Bethlehem to find God revealed in human flesh.  That is where God’s mercy was revealed.  Jesus is the only one who could supply it.  Today, we kneel where the Lord reveals and delivers his mercy and forgiveness.  We gather at God’s house because here the word is preached and here the sacraments are administered.  Here, God reveals your salvation.  We have come here to worship him, knowing that he is the one with the gifts which save.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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