Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sermon -- Epiphany (January 6, 2019)

MATTHEW 2:1-12


In the name + of Jesus.

     Wise men from the east came to worship Jesus.  Many people come to church at Christmas to worship Jesus, too.  The reasons vary.  For some, it is nostalgia.  They went to church as children, so going to church at Christmas is the traditional thing to do.  Others like Christmas because the baby Jesus is cute.  But the Magi did not come to see Jesus because he was cute.  The Magi came to worship Jesus because he is the Lord.
     The Magi had put forth a great deal of effort to see Jesus.  They saw the sign which had indicated his birth.  So, to some extent, they were watching for it and expecting it.  They may not have expected to see this sign in their lifetime, but when it appeared, they knew what it meant and they acted on it.  They made preparations for a journey of hundreds of miles.  Whether that journey was mainly on camel or on foot, it was no easy trip.  They had to be sure they had enough provisions to eat and to drink until they got to Judea.  They also had taken pains to pack gifts—extravagant gifts!  So, this cost them not only time and energy, it also cost them a good deal of wealth to do it.  The wealth was not to make themselves comfortable on this journey.  The wealth was devoted to the one who had been born king. 
     Their time, their efforts, and their gifts were not given out of obligation, but out of pure joy.  The king of the Jews had been born.  In an earthly sense, he had no power or jurisdiction over the Magi.  They had their own king back home.  But according to the word of God, the one born in Bethlehem was king not only of the Jews, but king of the universe.  The Magi made this confession by their actions.  They did not put forth this much effort because Jesus was cute.  They put forth this much effort because Jesus is God, because Jesus is King, and because Jesus is the Savior of the Nations.  He came to the Jews, but he also came for the Magi.  They made their confession by their actions.
     The Magi came to worship Jesus.  We do not make trips to Bethlehem or to Israel to worship.  We make our confession by our actions, too.  We come to church.  Sadly, fewer people in America bother to come to church anymore.  That makes a confession, too.  People, by their actions, confess that they don't need Jesus and his salvation.  They care about other things.  By their actions, they show what that is.
     I suspect that if you ask people why they go to church, they may not be able to give a clear answer.  And perhaps that is why church attendance is dropping in America.  One person had posted on Facebook a sentiment that went something like this: “I believe that church is about praising God.  But I also believe that God can be praised on a car ride, in my living room, at the campsite, and at the ball game.”  If church were only a matter of praising God—that is, what I do for God—then the previous sentiment is true.  Granted, we do praise God here.  We sing hymns, say prayers, and confess the Creed.  But if that is all it is, you can do that at home, in your car, or at the campsite.  So, why do you come?
     The Magi made their confession with their actions.  They took great pains to see the baby Jesus.  They knew the promises even before they left home.  They left anyway.  They came to Jerusalem where the priests and scribes read the prophecies.  They pinpointed the town where Jesus would be born.  The Magi continued their journey.  The priests and scribes did not leave Jerusalem.  They knew the promises, but they were not moved by them at all.  Knowing the facts was enough for them.  The Magi, on the other hand, went to the place where God had come for them.  They made their confession with their actions.  The Christ child mattered to them.
     Likewise, we make our confession with our actions.  We come to church not because God needs us to be here to do things for him.  God is glorious, holy, merciful, and almighty no matter what.  If you rejected every syllable of the Bible, God would not be less glorious, less holy, less merciful, or less mighty.  Neither your songs nor my prayers make God better, and our failure to give them does not make God worse.  Our primary purpose for coming to church, therefore, is not for us to do something for God; it is where God does things for us.  Here, God serves us.  Here, God comes to us with blessing, forgiveness, mercy, and salvation. 
     We make our confession with our actions.  The simple act of coming to church declares to people that you take God's word seriously and that you seriously need God's mercy.  God's word shows us that we do not live up to the standard he demands of us.  We do not honor his word with our actions throughout the week.  Our actions prove that we are sinners, whether we confess it or not.  We withhold our time, efforts, and treasures from others and we hoard it for our own pleasure, comfort, and glory.  We are devoted to ourselves, even being annoyed that God would infringe upon our lives.  We find it burdensome to take the time and effort to pray, to meditate on God's word, or to order our lives according to his Commands.  When we take God's word seriously, we are alarmed by our sins and fear his judgment.
     But God has infringed upon our time.  He entered our world to save us from our sins.  The eternal God entered our time and put forth great effort to deliver us from our sin and from the death it deserves.  The Christ child grew up, faced temptations, and overcame.  He patiently endured the ignorant comments and the intentional scorn of sinful mankind, and he did not fail to love them despite their sins.  Rather, he took up their sins, and he took up your sins.  He paid for your redemption at great cost.  Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)  In fact, he has enriched you with his grace and made you heirs of eternal glory. 
     The Magi came to find the King of the Jews, and yet they knew he had come for the Gentiles, too.  Jesus' kingdom is for all people—regardless of race or skin color, language or accent, or even regardless of one's past.  Here, in Jesus, you find full forgiveness and free salvation.  God does not merely love you in his head, he showed with his actions.  The Christ has come for you—to live for you, to suffer for you, to die for you, and to conquer death for you.  And by his actions, he has secured your salvation.
     We make our confession with our actions.  Yes, we know the facts.  That informs what we confess.  But merely knowing facts about the Bible does not save you.  Even the devil knows the facts.  The priests and the scribes did not receive mercy or forgiveness merely by knowing the facts.  Their confession was clear from their inaction: They heard the word and remain unmoved.  Therefore, we make our confession with our actions.  The Magi did this when they saw the star, when they heard the prophets, and especially when they saw the Christ child.  They fell down and worshiped him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)  The Magi demonstrated their faith by falling to their knees, and then put their foreheads to the ground before the Lord.  They declared themselves to be his subjects; for he alone was the source of their salvation. 
     We make our confession with our actions.  Therefore, we come to church; for this is where our Lord now comes to us with his gifts of mercy, forgiveness, blessing, and salvation.  We rightly fall in our knees as the body and blood of Jesus are given to us for the forgiveness of our sins.  We put forth time, effort, and expense not only to come to receive God's blessings, but also to make sure others know that the Savior has come for them.  For, the way we speak and act toward others makes a confession, too. 
     The Magi fled to the place where the Lord said he would be found.  They were directed by the star and also by the prophets.  That is where they found the one who takes away the sins of the world.  Likewise, we flee to the place where our Lord tells us we will find him for our salvation—to the word and the sacraments.  We gather in Jesus' name to receive Jesus' gifts.  It is the most basic confession we can make with our actions, and it is where God's mercy is delivered to his people.

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

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